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THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 8 (Belarus, Montenegro, Norway, Russia, Sweden + Switzerland)

Well, I did it! 43 reviews down, ZERO to go.

As you may/may not have noticed, I didn’t start my Eurovision reviews this year until mid-April. Over the past 28 days or so, I’ve worked my butt off and written an average of 1.5 reviews every single day – in between going to work, cooking enough food to keep myself alive and occasionally interacting with other humans socially. Sure, I haven’t ironed for a month, my floordrobe has to be seen to be believed, and I have unpaid bills stacked up to the ceiling…but Eurovision is priority number one. Everything else can wait.

I hope at least one of you has enjoyed my 2018 ramblings. If you’ve enjoyed them so much you want to go back and read them again before the contest kicks off – or if you’ve found me for the first time and want to catch up – here are all the links you’ll need for fast access: 

  • Round 1 feat. Armenia, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta + The Netherlands
  • Round 2 feat Azerbaijan, Estonia, Poland, Romania + Spain
  • Round 3 feat. Albania, Finland, Greece, Lithuania + Moldova
  • Round 4 feat. Australia, France, Georgia, Ireland + Latvia
  • Round 5 feat. Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Portugal + Ukraine
  • Round 6 feat. Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Macedonia + San Marino
  • Round 7 feat. Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Serbia, Slovenia + the United Kingdom

And then there were six. Before we dive headfirst into Eurovision week, I need to talk about Belarus, Montenegro, Norway, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland. Is there a douze-worthy song up the sleeve of Alekseev, Vanja, Alexander, Yulia, Benjamin or Zibbz? Maybe there’s a few, as far as I’m concerned. If you want to know what I think and how I scored their entries, keep reading – and for the final time, scroll for the poll to vote for your favourite!

 

 

My thoughts Sometimes rumours become truths, and that’s how Alekseev ended up representing Ukraine at Eurov…wait. That’s not right. It could have been Alekseev flying the blue-and-yellow flag this year, had he not pulled out of the Ukrainian selection to try his luck in less merciless Belarus. That’s not where the drama stopped (it practically went on Forever). But, many debates in the Eurovision community and withdrawals by fellow Eurofest contestants over the age of this song (i.e. was it eligible to go to the ESC as per the EBU rules and regs) later, Alekseev is in Lisbon after all. And he’s there armed with the original melody and English lyrics of a Russian-language song that was definitely publicly performed prior to September 1st. That date rule is a bendy one, isn’t it? And I’m down with it on this occasion, because I freaking LOVE Forever. This song is everything I want in an old-school Eurovision power ballad. It’s dynamic, dramatic in that classic Eastern European way (Work Your Magic comes to mind as a reference point), has a massive chorus which in turn has two massive money notes in it (which spawned the iconic Twitter account Alekseev’s Mouth) and, like a few other songs this year, takes me back to the ESC glory days of 2004-2008. The octave change in the first verse is an attention-grabbing opening to the song, one that’s hypnotic in its bold, loud moments, and spellbinding in its softer moments. And the melody throughout is haunting enough to give me the shivers. Now, I know what you’re thinking: This is clearly not at the forefront of modern music and isn’t exactly a masterpiece, so why am I making it out to be The Best Song Ever? Well, I don’t have a good answer to that. All I know is that if you could get Eurovision songs delivered like pizza, and I ordered an epic lights-and-shadows power ballad with a sprinkling of cheese, Forever is what I’d expect to be delivered to my door. The only things I’d pick off it, if it were a pizza, are a few questionable lyrics. ‘No need to worry, rain falling down, it’s our happiest story and there’s no one around’ ain’t the stuff of lyrical legends. I’m also bamboozled by Alekseev’s ability to blast his way through Let’s Get It Started by the Black Eyed Peas, in English without any trace of an accent (for his Voice Ukraine audition….you MUST YouTube it!), despite the fact that a few years later his singing English is heavily accented. That’s what makes me wish, since the EBU would probably have allowed it, that he was singing this song as Navsegda on Tuesday night. Not that anyone’s going to be listening to what’s coming out of his (Twitter-famous) mouth when he’s got a BED OF BLOODY ROSES protruding from his back. If the sight of that is as laughable as the press are telling us (us = me ‘cause I don’t watch rehearsals), Belarus are on the borderline of qualification. I suspect they might be sacrificed in this deadly semi, and that will upset me forevAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaah.

2017 VS 2018? I wasn’t a huge fan of Naviband’s song (don’t hate me), so 2018.

My score 10.5

 

 

My thoughts I realise that anything Montenegro sent to the ESC straight after Space would have seemed like a stark contrast – but to go for a majestic Balkan ballad, right off the back of a song that referred to wet dreams, is a plot twist and a half. Bringing us the best possible Montenegrin option (their NF was pretty shocking) is Vanja, and if Inje wasn’t missing the magic ingredient that makes a Balkan ballad sensational (Željko Joksimović as composer) I’d be praising the Eurovision gods for its presence in Portugal. As it is, I’m kind of feeling it. It’s a slow-moving, slow-burning number that doesn’t quite explode into a climax worth waiting for (to use Slavko-approved language) but feels grand anyway. If Lejla by Hari Mata Hari is a Chanel, Inje is a Wal-Mart…but that’s only by comparison. Still, I normally go so (dancing Italian) ape over big Balkan ballads, I was wondering why exactly I couldn’t go crazy over this one. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s due to what isn’t there rather than what is – because what is there is adequate, if not remarkable. It’s slightly too slow-paced to whip up excitement; the melody of the chorus is simplistic when I personally prefer my BBs to be extra-rhythmic; and there are times when I could call it boring, even though I don’t want to. I guess I want the whole thing to level up. Like last year, when I loved the camptastic Space but wanted more from Slavko’s performance (wind/dry ice/a horde of hot, half-naked, oiled-up male dancers seductively waving huge, feathered fans), I like Inje, but I’m asking more of it than it wants to give. I want more drama, more atmosphere and more complexity (I’m very greedy, I know). I’m waiting now to see if the performance fills in some of the gaps – maybe when I’m watching it, I’ll get the spine-tingles I so desire. Or not, as Montenegro’s had as many staging misses as they have hits. They do have a capable, confident performer in their corner, which is a giant plus. Vanja may not be in the same smouldering category as Željko Joksimović, or be quite as compelling as Knez (and unlike Knez, is not an expert at making doves disappear and sawing people in half) but he holds his own. And he’s surprisingly hilarious on social media: a fact that may not help him succeed in the contest, but has won him a lot of admirers thanks to his snappy Inje-hater clapbacks. Vanja? More like VanJAAASS. Because he’s such a dope dude, I regret to predict a DNQ yet again for Montenegro, even knowing that every time they’ve sent a Balkan ballad in the past they have made it to the final. Third time unlucky, I reckon. This song would be a nice addition to the final 26, so if I’m wrong, I won’t complain.

2017 VS 2018? The disco-dance power and smuttiness of Space wins.

My score 7

 

 

 

My thoughts Any Eurofans out there who thought ESC record-holder Rybak wouldn’t end up representing Norway this year were very naïve. I know, because I was one of them. That was in spite of his irresistible performance of That’s How You Write A Song winning me over, after I’d already made the most drastic change-of-mind possible on the song itself. It went a little something like this: Listen No. 1 (with high hopes): ‘What the HELL is THIS?!?!? It’s TRASH, is what it is! You should be ASHAMED of yourself, Alexander!!!’. I was so disappointed, I could have cried myself to sleep that night (but didn’t ‘coz I’m a grown-ass woman and pulled myself together). Then came Listen No. 2, my reaction to which was (inexplicably): ‘Holy crap, this is AMAZING!!! I have never known the true meaning of musicianship until this moment!’. Okay, so I’ve dramatised that reaction a tiny bit to show you how much of a 180-degree turn I did. But boy, did I change my tune. I can’t even remember why I was so appalled in the first place…maybe because the song is a humungous throwback to an era that isn’t yet retro-fashionable again. I no longer care about that, and I definitely don’t care that Alex’s instructions for writing a song are wildly inaccurate. I’m too caught up in the bubblegum fun of the mid-tempo disco music, simple lyrics that make for a karaoke dream song, inevitable violin solo, and showstopping final third. I even love the scatting…what have I become? The onscreen scribbles may have been borrowed from Francesca Michielin, but they’re used more interactively á la Bulgaria in Kyiv, and look great on TV. If you’re thinking I need a reality check and should throw in some negatives to prove I haven’t gone completely insane…too bad. I swear, if anyone other than Rybak was peddling this track, I wouldn’t have come around. It’s not because he is who he is, with that Eurovision legacy, but because he has the ability to sell the song like his life depends on it. And I’m not just buying it – I’m throwing fistfuls of kroner at him while screaming hysterically. He instructs us to ‘believe in it’ in the THYWAS chorus, and he seems to practice what he preaches, pouring boundless energy and charm into his live performances. And he still looks so youthful (more on that in a second) that his childlike enthusiasm is infectious, not creepy. The thing I do find annoying about this, Alexander, is that you couldn’t wait another twelve months to make your (possibly) triumphant comeback TEN years after Fairytale. Nine years just bugs me. Also annoying (as it doesn’t apply to me), how has this guy barely aged, when he was 23 at the time of his win and is about to turn 32? Potential humanoid cyborg alert! More importantly, I might have to issue a potential two-time Eurovision winner alert while I’m at it. I can’t believe I’m even saying it, but Norway’s shift to 2nd in the odds after Rybak’s first rehearsal show how dangerous he could be. A safe top 10 result is more likely, but I am yet to discount this entry from the first-place fight.

2017 VS 2018? It’s another case of ‘I love them both equally and could never choose!’.

My score 10

 

 

 

My thoughts When Russia gives Eurovision their all, they go BIG (baking sweet treats live on stage and everything). When they really want to win the contest, it’s crystal clear. The only thing big about Yulia’s 2018 entry is the papier-mâché mountain she’s been forced to sing it on top of (the hills are alive…with the sound of mediocre music). And what’s crystal-clear about I Won’t Break is that, while Russia did good by keeping their promise to Yulia after last year’s Drama (drama so sizeable it deserves a capital D), they didn’t do good by her when they came up with this as her comeback track. It goes without saying that this song runs rings around last year’s almost-entry Flame Is Burning. But that’s not saying much, and unfortunately, plenty of the same problems remain. Once again we’ve been presented with a song that is a) unexciting and uninspired, b) belongs in a different decade, c) features wannabe-inspirational lyrics about strength and resilience and how there is light even in the darkest of places, blah blah blah, and d) in a language that Yulia is obviously not 100% comfortable with and cannot clearly pronounce with genuine feeling (which she shouldn’t be expected to). All of this is just on a smaller, much more bearable scale. I mean, I can sit and listen to I Won’t Break without wanting to punch a hole in the wall. But it’s still light years away from making a Best of Russia at Eurovision play list on Spotify. The beat is good, and I like the melody and the way it develops. But the lyrics are vague and clichéd, and overall the song is just not that interesting – it’s one of those you can imagine playing in the background of an Olympics montage (in this case, moments in which athletes triumphed over adversity) and that’s rarely a sign of imminent ESC success (Heroes aside). My biggest issue of all with this entry is that insistence – by whom, I’m not sure – that Yulia sings in English. It’s not her comfort zone. But for all I know, she was the one who insisted on it. I have to wonder, after trying so hard to win in Stockholm and losing to Ukraine, of all places (and Australia, but I don’t think Sound of Silence bothered them much compared to 1944), what happened to Russia’s A-game? Did Sergey accidentally leave it in the stage wings of Globen, where it was picked up on the sly by Christer Björkman and added to Sweden’s already stellar Eurovision toolkit? With the right song and the right approach, Yulia could be portraying Russia at their ESC best, and even though I Won’t Break makes Flame Is Burning sound…well, just as bad as it was, it still only gives her half a chance of success, if that. Yet we know Russia can do amazing things on the Eurovision stage. They certainly have the funds for it. I’m sure that mountain cost a pretty penny, but it wasn’t a wise investment piece. Is it a gimmick that will help them reach the lofty peak of the final, or is that 100% qualification record of theirs about to be destroyed? I can’t decide, but this must be the most dangerously close to a DNQ that they’ve ever been. I want Lazarev-level Russia back next year, please.

2017 VS 2018? There is nothing that isn’t better than Flame Is Burning.

My score 7

 

 

My thoughts Sweden may not be alphabetically last in this round of reviews, but this is my 43rd review for the year – i.e. I wrote it after the Swiss one below. I decided to save Sverige for as long as possible, like I was eating a particularly delicious slice of chokladkaka and leaving all of the frosting until last. Why? Well, if you’ve read literally any of my posts before, you’ve probably picked up on my Swedophile status: they’re my favourite Eurovision nation, I speak a fair bit of Svenska and am always teaching myself more, and I’ve traveled to Stockholm twice in the past two years (for the ESC in 2016 and for the Melodifestivalen final in 2017). Needless to say, I’m biased as heck when it comes to the country’s contest entries, and you won’t be shocked to discover that Dance You Off is my #1 song of this year’s comp. Some Eurofans hate it and think it’s trash; others aren’t bothered either way; and then there’s people like me who think it’s INCREDIBLE and actually cried a little when Benjamin won Melfest in March (okay, so I might be the only person who cried). I understand why the song doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I’ll tell you why it appeals to me. Firstly, Benjamin’s musical stylings are right up my street, and I love every song he’s released prior to this – Do You Think About Me, One More Time and last year’s Melfest entry Good Lovin’ in particular tap into the polished, slick and summery dance-pop I have a weakness for. Then there’s the resemblance between Dance You Off and two cracking songs by another of my favourite artists, The Weeknd – Can’t Feel My Face and I Feel It Coming. Those two songs and DYO all take inspiration from the late 80s and early 90s, and mesh those influences with late 2000s pop trends to create effortless cool. THEN there’s my tendency to fangirl over anyone who can whip out some falsetto and smooth dance moves simultaneously (I am aware that Benjamin is too young for me and has insanely hairy Italian arms, but I can still admire his talents, right?). You can add to that simple, but at times downright genius lyrics – ‘Treated you good, we were gold, I dug you like you were treasure’ = OH YES. Last but in no way least, there’s the fan-bloody-tastic staging concept that sees Benjamin bring a music video to life on a stage within a stage. Visually, this is so impressive – the first time you see it especially, but I’ve watched this performance more than any other and I’m still in awe. Unfortunately, because Sweden is criticised more harshly than any other Eurovision country if they don’t have a surefire, mass appeal winner on their hands, I feel this entry is receiving more hate than it deserves. But in a nice act of revenge, it will probably do better than a lot of people think. Don’t discount the fact that many people will see Dance You Off in all its light-up glory for the first time during Thursday’s semi, and even if they don’t like the song, the staging is easily spectacular enough to suck up votes like a vacuum. When Sweden inevitably reaches the final, they might not do quite as well as they have the past two years (though I believe this should do better than 5th) but there’s a top 10 place with their name on it. I hope that some day soon, Sweden stops being punished by Eurovision fans for their streak of success (even if it’s for selfish reasons because I’m sick of seeing hate comments directed at my favourite songs). Regardless…Team Ingrosso, NU KÖR VI!

2017 VS 2018? 2018, but they were both jättebra.

My score 12

 

 

 

My thoughts Ahh, Switzerland. The land of Lys Assia (RIP), excellent cheese and chocolate (what more do you need?), and consistent choosers of the best possible Eurovision entry from their NF. Sadly, they’re rarely rewarded for that last national trait – maybe because their best offering can’t quite compete with the best offerings from most other countries (harsh but true). The Swiss actually had two awesome, you-better-pick-that songs in this year’s Entscheidungsshow, and one of them was indeed Stones. There’s something about this song that is just plain cool and very likeable. It’s Americana-inspired soft rock that’s 100% authentic, 0% artificial – unlike the other Americana song we have in Lisbon via the Netherlands. Corinne and Stefan do spend half their time in Los Angeles, so there’s the explanation for that. It’s brimming with attitude, and the lyrics are definitely on track to being my favourite of the year – they’re especially tight in the chorus, but original and well-rhymed all the way through. The only part I’m not a fan of is the precursor to the final chorus, where it’s rammed down our throats that these two ‘ain’t standing alone’. It’s a little cheesy and not on par with the rest of the song, but that last chorus and the mic-drop ending later, and all is pretty much forgiven. Even though I’m an Australian whose studying days are over, this song makes me want to go on college spring break just so I can attend a party feat. warm beer in those classic red cups, and hopefully scream-sing it at the top of my lungs before jumping off a balcony into someone’s swimming pool. I’m not going to, but dang, the pull is strong! I love that vibe. Stones in general is laid-back and relaxed but has bite, and it’s a good combo. It’s not right up there with my most beloved songs of 2018 – not right now, at least – but as I’ve said before, there are only a few I truly dislike this year and this one is well above those in my ranking. Of course, if Switzerland had sent Compass by Alejandro Reyes, they’d be firmly inside my top 10 and wouldn’t have to worry about being booted out. I’d also be more confident of a qualification then, but with Zibbz I’ve been back and forth. I feel like they can, and therefore might be sacrificed from semi numero uno. There are so many powerful acts and big-hitters up against them, and Switzerland does not have a great recent track record (they last qualified in Copenhagen). However, I have heard good things about their rehearsals, and with this year looking more unpredictable by the minute, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them slip through. It’ll be 9th-14th in the semi, I think – and if it’s 9th or 10th, the final result is likely to be lower than left-side scoreboard. Just being involved in Saturday night, though, would be a step closer to leveling up for a country that’s been sent home early three years in a row.

2017 VS 2018? 2017 by a Stones-throw (my god, I’m hilarious).

My score 8

 

 

And that is that! THANK THE LORDI. Before I go and have a lie down because this race to smash out 43 reviews in a month has exhausted me beyond belief, I’ll give you a look at today’s ranking:

  1. Sweden (12)
  2. Belarus (10.5)
  3. Norway (10)
  4. Switzerland (8)
  5. Russia (7)  
  6. Montenegro (7)

In news that will surprise no one, Sweden tops my list with an easily-earned douze. Belarus and Norway are not far behind. This was a generally high-scoring lot of songs, and I’m glad I got to end on a positive note.

If you’re wondering when I’ll unveil the entire EBJ ranking for 2018, wonder no more: it’s happening ASAP. Definitely before the first semi final, and probably alongside my predictions for SF1 – so keep an eye on my social media over the next few days if you don’t want to miss a thing (I’m @EurovisionByJaz everywhere).

Now it’s time for you to do your Eurovisual duty:

 

Feel free to post your personal ranking of all six – or even all 43 songs in the Lisbon line-up – in the comments. If you have thoughts on anything ESC-related, basically, I’m happy to hear them.

Okay, I’m seriously going to go pass out now. I’ll be back before it’s too late (a.k.a. before that first semi begins) with my promised predictions. Who’s in and who’s out? At this point, I’m still confused about that, so I’ll get back to you…

 

Welcome to Eurovision week – it’s going to be a great one!!

 

 

 

 

And Now, For The Not-So-Beautiful Messes: The five biggest on-stage mistakes of Eurovision 2017

Didn’t see this coming in the wake of last week’s top 5 performances of 2017 countdown? Well, neither did I. Consider my face officially palmed.

I actually have the awesome Anita from Eurovision Union to thank for inspiring this companion piece to that post: a countdown of the countries that didn’t, in my opinion, get it all right in terms of their song’s staging and/or performance in Kyiv. I’ve deliberately not made this about the five worst performances, since there wasn’t a single country that I’d say got everything wrong (although one came close). Instead, I’ve singled out the elements in a handful of acts – dodgy vocals, horrifying costume choices, bad backdrops etc – that dragged them down…and in the case of a few, may have had a hand in their non-qualifications.

Have your say on the biggest stuff-ups of Eurovision 2017 in the comments. Remember, honesty is the best policy (and there’s no fun in 24/7 sunshine and rainbows, so get critical!).

Oh, BTW – you can (and should!) still vote in the People’s Choice polls of the 2017 EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards. They’ll close in a few days’ time and the results will be revealed soon after that, so do your Eurofan duty while you have the chance!

 

 

 

#5 | Montenegro steers clear of OTT…for worse, not for better

I’m starting with something that was too inoffensive rather than too offensive, especially considering the source. From my very first listen of Slavko Kalezić’s Space, I was expecting to see it on stage in the campest and most fabulous fashion imaginable. I’m talking buff, topless male dancers who had marinated themselves in body glitter in the hours leading up to the show; galaxy-inspired visuals that alternated between dramatic (for the verses) and flamboyant (for the choruses; and plenty of overuse of the core Eurovision elements – wind and fire. I was confident in Slavko’s ability to make this dream of mine come true, given that he was to 2017 what Tooji was to 2012 – only Space didn’t require the reining in of camp that Stay did. So you can imagine my disappointment when he appeared on the Kyiv stage by himself, with only a mediocre costume change and his beloved Rapunzel braid for company. It’s not that he couldn’t command the stage on his own, because he strutted around like a boss and did the hairycopter with full enthusiasm. But when a song so obviously calls for one to go full gimmick on its ass, one should obey. Space needed more colour, more choreography and a crowd (of five other people) to be everything non-Eurovision fans think the contest is. Not so much to give it a shot at qualifying, since that was unlikely to ever happen (sadface), but just to make the most of the saucy, sassy lyrics; the fun, upbeat vibe; and Slavko’s larger-than-life personality.

 

#4 | Switzerland sugar-coats their staging of Apollo

I’ve got a job for you: take all of the 2017 entries that were chosen via a national final, and compare how they were staged initially to how they were staged at Eurovision. For the most part, you’ll notice that not many changed drastically, and those that did mostly improved on their presentation. Timebelle’s Apollo, then, is the exception and not the rule, because it went downhill between NF season and contest week. In fact, the only way Switzerland went up was by sticking Miruna at the top of a spiral staircase, which she eventually descended anyway (in stilettos, without breaking a sweat or any bones, which does deserve a high five). What we saw and what we heard clashed like crazy. Apollo benefited way more from the dramatic and modern NF staging, which could have been built on for ESC purposes. Yet that was discarded in favour of cheap and predictable background graphics, the inexplicable staircase (Why was it there? What did it add?), and an equally inexplicable yellow dress that I thought was less Beauty and the Beast inspired and more like the repurposed outer layer of a certain big bird who lives on Sesame Street. And let’s not forget more pastel shades than you’d find in the maternity wing of a major hospital. Overall, the look of this would have worked wonders for the right song (minus the tacky backdrop) but it took a good song and made it below-average. If I were Switzerland, I’d be contacting Sacha Jean-Baptiste right now to book her for Eurovision 2018.

 

#3 | Australia’s hit-and-missed high note

Contrary to what you might think, I don’t enjoy bringing this up in conversation time and time again. However, as patriotic and proud of Isaiah’s work in Kyiv as I am, I can’t deny that when we’re talking about the biggest broadcast boo-boos of the year, that notorious note he aimed for during the semi final HAS to be mentioned. I don’t recall ever hearing the guy drop a note while he was singing his heart out on The X Factor last year, so perhaps the grueling rehearsal and media schedule of Eurovision took its toll…or maybe it was a combination of nerves and trying too hard. Whatever the cause, to say that Isaiah failed rather than nailed that note – one accompanied by a pyro curtain, which is the international symbol for ‘This is the moment that’s supposed to win you over and secure your votes’ – would be an understatement. It turned out to be a moment that had me convinced Australia had just lost out on a spot in the grand final instead. Thankfully, because his jury semi performance was more X Factor and less cringe factor, Isaiah did slip through in a still remarkably high sixth place. He then went on to make up for the vocal mishap to end all vocal mishaps on the Saturday night, though it has to be said that the initial pyro note still wasn’t up to scratch. Whenever I watch either of his performances back in the future, my hand will be hovering over the mute button as the two-minute mark approaches.

 

#2 | Albania dresses Lindita up for a wacky wedding…WTF?!?

I could complain until the cows come home about all of the questionable costuming choices made by the 2017 delegations. Belgium? Should have worn the jumpsuit from the flag parade. Poland? Shouldn’t have worn white. Israel? What were they thinking putting him in a shirt when shirtless clearly would have been the best way to go? But right at the top of the heap – though at the bottom of the pile in terms of suitable sartorial selections – is undoubtedly Albania. I don’t know what kind of performance Lindita’s ‘Vegas showgirl meets drunken 3am Vegas bride’ outfit would be appropriate for, but it was just plain ridiculous when paired with World. I don’t get the thought process behind it, assuming there was one. It proved to be such a distraction that I couldn’t even concentrate on Lindita’s mind-blowing vocals, which hadn’t been an issue when she won Festivali I Këngës with the song formerly known as Böte. Unfortunately, this look wasn’t a one-off, as she wore something equally frightening (in nude, not white) on opening ceremony night. She obviously felt pretty and powerful on both occasions – she doesn’t strike me as a person who’d wear what she was told if she wasn’t 100% happy about it – but in my eyes, a black bin liner would have been a better choice both times. You know, like the one Croatia’s Nina Badrić wore back in 2012.

 

#1 | Spain’s…well, everything 

Many of us fans felt sure about two things prior to this year’s contest. One, that Italy would walk it, and two, that Spain would finish dead last. We may have been wrong about the former, but the latter did its predicted duty. Poor Manel – he had a terrible time at Objetivo Eurovisión thanks to The Mirela Incident, and then couldn’t prove anyone wrong by defying our ESC expectations of him. You might wonder why, if you’re unacquainted with both Do It For Your Lover and his rendition of it in Ukraine. Well, the song was weak to start with – great for roaring down the road in a convertible on a summer’s day en route to the coast, but too much of a repetitive flatliner to stand up in a song competition. It could have been saved by some genius stage concept, who knows…but Spain had the total opposite up their hibiscus-patterned shirt sleeve. The surfer idea was good in theory, but the execution was on par with High School Musical 2, if High School Musical 2 had been lumped with a production budget of $100. Low-quality graphics – including a Kombi van that kept on rocking without any danger of anyone knocking, an overhead shot of Manel and his band on surfboards that they just didn’t pull off, and a general air of over-casualness – made the package pretty unappealing. The fact that it was an entire verse before anyone turned around to face the camera/audience was also a turn-off. And just when we thought Spain might scrape enough points to NOT finish 26th, Manel’s voice decided to re-break at a pivotal moment, which sealed the deal. I’m sorry for seeming extra bitchy about this (you must be craving sunlight after all this shade I’ve thrown) but I’m being cruel to be kind. Both Manel and Spain deserve a LOT better.

 

 

Do you agree with any of my picks, or do you think I’M the one making the mistakes? Which competing countries of Eurovision 2017 made the wrong decisions when it came to putting on the best possible show?

 

Next time…you’ve voted (I hope) and now the EBJ Eurovision Excellence Award winners – People’s Choice + my personal choices – can be made public. First up, I’ll be handing out (pretend) trophies in the categories of The Artists and The Songs – followed by The Performances, The Show and The Results. The celebration of Kyiv’s bests and worsts will continue, and you’d be as crazy as Lindita Halimi’s costume designer if you missed it!

 

 

 

JAZ JUDGES EUROVISION 2017 | Australia, Belarus, Iceland, Ireland, Montenegro + Spain

Hello again, and welcome to the second-last round of my Eurovision 2017 reviews! Obviously nothing has changed in my life since I was at university, because I’m still battling to get stuff done by certain deadlines. Just expect a lot of reviews in a short period of time, and everything will be fine (something I’m telling myself at least three times a day at the moment).

There’s just two days to go until the first semi final, and all 42 songs have now been rehearsed on the real-deal stage. We’ve seen our likely winner in action (monkeying around to massive rounds of applause) but that doesn’t mean we have to stop talking about all of the other songs. So that’s what my mum (she keeps coming back, even though I figured I’d have scared her off by now) and I are up to today.

Keep reading to find out what we think of the songs from Isaiah, NAVI, Svala, Brendan Murray, Slavko Kalezić and Manel Navarro. Spoiler alert: there are some major disagreements involved!

 

 

 

My thoughts A seventeen-year-old fresh from a TV talent show win – which followed an audition during which he forgot his lyrics (for the second year running) – wouldn’t have been my ideal choice for my country’s 2017 Eurovision act. On paper, it doesn’t sound that promising…and me bringing all that stuff up makes me sound mean, I know. But I wanted to make the point that when Isaiah was revealed as our act in March, I had a LOT of doubts that he was ready for such a big-scale show. As it turns out, I think he’s grounded and mature enough, and has gained enough on-stage confidence in the wake of his X Factor victory, to do Australia proud next week. He’s going to do that with a song that may be missing the x factor (ironically) that saw Guy Sebastian and Dami Im smash their respective shots at the contest, but has been a major sleeper hit with me. Don’t Come Easy is a soulful ballad that Sam Smith would totally approve of, and it couldn’t be any more suited to Isaiah’s voice. Lyrically, it could be more suited to his age – it’s hard to buy such tales of woe and heartbreak from a seller who’s still considered a kid in many ways (he can’t legally drink, gamble or complain bitterly about adult responsibilities). But if he can use those epic eyebrows to emote as much as possible, and not just sing the words – even though he’ll sing them terrifically – his age may end up being just a number. Most people watching him belt out the song in front of his own super-sized face (check out some rehearsal footage if you’re confused RN) won’t be worrying about it. I hope the staging doesn’t end up being a worry and lives up to what Australia’s put together the last two years, as both times it has made our songs stronger competitors. Don’t Come Easy has grown on me a lot since I first heard it, and now I find it really sticks in my head and makes me feel some feels (not on a Finland level, but there’s something there). There’s potential in the build of the song to create an explosive moment, like Israel did last year, and I believe we’ve even got a pyro curtain to help that along (just like Hovi did). If it all comes together, then another top 10 result is achievable. I don’t think top 5 is on the cards, but I will be waving my Aussie flag with pride (and probably a sweaty palm) in any case. 8 points.

My mum says… I own and treasure a copy of Sam Smith’s In The Lonely Hour, so the fact that this song could have fit right in to that album’s tracklist will give you a good idea of how I feel about Don’t Come Easy. I really like it! It’s retro in a wonderful way, with powerful music and lyrics that are set off by Isaiah’s incredible (especially for a teenager) voice. There’s a bit of an Adele feel to the soul of the song as well, and yes, you guessed it – I also own all of her albums. Is this a biased review? Nope, because I listened to it without knowing which country it was representing. Now I know, I’m proud. 8 points.

Australia’s score 8.00

 

 

 

My thoughts This song is like a musical version of Nathan Trent – so adorable you can’t help your urge to hug it so tightly it almost suffocates. The difference between the two is that the cuteness of Story of My Life doesn’t totally win me over, even though I acknowledge that it’s there. I think it’s fantastic that we get to hear Belarusian on the adult Eurovision stage for the first time ever thanks to NAVI – and I’m so appreciative of the fact that their entry is one of just four this year to feature 100% non-English lyrics *weeps internally*. I also think the sing-along factor of the song is a real asset, giving it an anthemic quality not often found in folk music. But – and you can call me bitter and/or soulless once I’ve said this – the overall ‘aww!’ vibe of Belarus that a heap of other fans feel, I don’t AT ALL. I wouldn’t skip the song if I was shuffling the 2017 album, but I wouldn’t wait for it to play with bated breath. For the sake of Belarus succeeding in the contest, and for the sake of filling the final with as many foreign languages as possible, I hope NAVI do qualify on Thursday. If they don’t, though, I’ll be okay with it. Overall, SOML is too repetitive and maybe too folksy for my tastes. 5 points.

My mum says… I couldn’t have less of a clue what these two are singing about, but it can’t be anything heavy going – the whole song is light and bright, and I really got into it. I especially like the use of instruments. However, that final stretch of hey-ho shouts went on way too long for my liking. That space could have been filled with something less repetitive, and in turn I’d have been giving this entry more than 6 points!

Belarus’ score 5.5

 

 

 

My thoughts There are some songs you can’t help but cut to the chase with when you’re talking about them. And cutting is an appropriate term to use when talking about Svala’s Paper, which I worship. At least 75% of my devotion to the entry has to do with Svala herself, a.k.a. Iceland’s answer to Gwen Stefani. She’s an age-defying, super-stylish GODDESS of a woman, and I am the personification of the heart eyes emoji whenever I think about her. But Paper also rubs me up in all the right ways. It’s like the cutting-edge, 1980s-inflenced love child of Margaret Berger’s I Feed You My Love and Aminata’s Love Injected – two songs I love to pieces. It’s ice cold and Svala is the ice queen with impeccably styled hair and makeup, plus bone structure that would have made Michelangelo weak at the knees. Not to say that I’m fixating on her cheekbones when she’s performing such an earworm of an electro-pop ballad (IDK how else to describe it). I’m actually getting lost in the dreamy atmosphere that the 80s synth sound provides, which contrasts beautifully with the slick production. It’s a perfect marriage. My only problem with Iceland this year is Svala being a visual force to be reckoned with, yet she’s singing a song that should bring out a vulnerable side based on the story told by the lyrics. She’s a little too intense, pulled-together and in control to pull off Paper with 110% authenticity. At least, she has been up until this point. From what I’ve seen (like, one photo) and heard (*insert long, long list of Eurovision sites/podcasts here*) of the rehearsals, she still needs to soften to match the emotions present in the song. Even if she does, I’m not that confident in Iceland’s ability to score themselves through to Saturday night. But I reckon this song would be an interesting and very contemporary (feat. a throwback sound that somehow makes it even more modern) addition to the final line-up. After the country’s shock DNQ last year – and failure to make the final the year before that – they seriously need a pick-me-up. I don’t want Svala using her Paper to wipe away tears of post-semi sadness. 10 points.

My mum says… This is far from being the worst entry I’ve heard, but it’s also far from being one of my favourites. I quite like Svala’s voice (though I’m incredibly jealous that she looks so young for her age and am wondering if it’s too late for me to up and move to Iceland) but I’m not a fan of a metaphor based on office supplies. I find the lyrics a bit lame in general. It’s just not for me! 5 points.

Iceland’s score 7.5

 

 

 

My thoughts Ireland – or at least those responsible for their recent Eurovision entries – needs a slap. Either that, or Sweden needs to hurry up and overtake them in the wins department so they’ll have to step up rather than falling back on the old line ‘Oh, but we’ve won the contest more than anyone else!’, which is usually accompanied by an entry of the same mould they were sending in the 2000s…which in turn paid tribute to the songs that won for them in the 1990s. Not much has changed in 2017, as the country’s collective face is still looking like it needs a high five. However…my relationship with Brendan Murray’s Dying To Try (not Trying To Die, thankfully) is love-hate. Here’s what I love: the first minute and a half. The understated start, the echo-y beat that kicks in, the melody, the frailty of Brendan’s voice (Svala needs to borrow some of that) and even the lyrics, which are a little cliché but have been neatly phrased and sparingly used, are all really nice. And, if the songwriters had carried on with another verse similar to the first, then a bigger second chorus that transitioned into an even more explosive final chorus without using a cringingly passé key change, all would be well. Instead, the entire second half of the song is one long, whiny chorus that doesn’t tell us anything we don’t already know. It’s like they literally couldn’t be bothered to write anything after that first chorus, so they dragged it out in order to fill as many seconds as possible. Except, it hasn’t. There’s an emptiness there as you wait for a second verse that never comes. I mean, who’d mix up a bowlful of cake batter and then only pour half of it into the pan? Ireland, that’s who. It’s a wasted opportunity of a song that could have totally tickled my fancy. I honestly love the first half enough to give it 10 points, but the rest deserves about 3. I’ll settle somewhere in the middle and give Dying To Try 7 points.

My mum says… THIS IS A GUY?? Mind = blown. It’s not like I’ve never heard high-pitched male vocals before, but I was completely convinced I was listening to a lady here. That aside (because it has nothing to do with what I think of the song) it’s a nice ballad with a good beat and a soothing quality. I think that comes both from the music and from Brendan’s voice. This is quite an emotional song – not so much that I’m in need of a tissue or ten, but enough to make me feel something. I like that in my music. I do think that this can be categorised as a forgettable ballad though. Describing something as ‘nice’ often leads down that path. 6 points.

Ireland’s score 6.5

 

 

 

My thoughts I never, not even in my wildest dreams, imagined that we would someday have an entry competing in Eurovision that could be considered camper than Deen’s In The Disco and Zoli Ádok’s Dance With Me combined. But Montenegro has given us the gift of Slavko’s Space, and I am SO here for it. It’s like a highly sexualised Alcazar made it to the contest with the help of a sponsor that manufactures hair extensions. What about that description makes it a bad thing? Nada, people. This is a BANGING disco-dance track that somehow doesn’t seem dated and lame like San Marino’s – possibly because it’s right up Slavko’s flamboyant street, and he owns the shit out of it. He whips his hair back and forth (I’m hoping it doesn’t fly off into the audience during the broadcast…or am I?), struts like it’s an Olympic event and has me lip-syncing along with the most outrageously pornographic lyrical metaphors I’ve ever encountered in a Eurovision song (mainly because the line ‘I trample in your arse’ from Slovenia’s 1999 song turned out to be a misheard lyric). I enjoy every second of every minute, even if I feel like my pleasure should be guilty. Generally speaking, I want Eurovision to evolve and be much less of what skeptics think it is (i.e. all novelty, cheese and the worst word ever – ‘kitsch’), but at the same time, I love that Space brings a touch of schlager back to the show. We’ve got plenty of edgy, deadpan entries this year – think Azerbaijan, Belgium, Iceland and Latvia – plus a classic ESC ballad from Portugal. So Montenegro are bringing some variety along with a suitcase exclusively reserved for body glitter (I assume). Uptempo, catchy and oh-so-danceable, this is the song that’s most making me miss the Euroclub. I would have busted some memorable moves to it on that dance floor, let me tell you. Unfortunately, I can also tell you that it probably won’t qualify, as sublime is likely to beat ridiculous (with the exception of Romania). As I can see that coming from a mile away, I won’t be too upset about it. But I’ll console myself anyway by playing it on full blast at every opportunity, until my neighbours file a complaint regarding excessive noise and sexual innuendos. Bring it on! 10 points.

My mum says… It’s hard to stay focused on how catchy the tune of this song is when the lyrics are so suggestive. That’s an understatement, really – Slavko seems to be less about suggesting than explaining in detail. Just when I thought ‘When you look this f*%$ing beautiful’ was the most controversial (almost) Eurovision line I’d ever heard! I could be convinced to dance to Space, but for the most part I can’t get past the ridiculous, R-rated lyrics. 5 points.

Montenegro’s score 7.5

 

 

 

My thoughts I’m not going to mention the words ‘Mirela’ or ‘contigo’ in this review (apart from mentioning them to say I won’t be mentioning them) because I think it’s about time we all moved on from The Spanish NF Incident of 2017. Manel Navarro is the one rehearsing in Kyiv right now, and Do It For Your Lover is the song representing Spain this year – that’s all there is to it. Speaking of which, there’s not a lot to this song apart from some simple charm, a cruisy surfer vibe and the most repetitive chorus since Ivi Adamou’s ‘La la la la la la la la la la la la la la la loooove.’ Those three things don’t add up to something spectacular, but I have to admit to liking this more than most other people I come across. Any music that sounds perfect for playing while on a road trip, with the windows down and no responsibilities to speak of for a few days, is bound to appeal to me to a certain extent. DIFYL ticks about 60% of my boxes – it’s inoffensive without being too bland, but it doesn’t push any boundaries either, and that repetition of the title (in case we forgot it, it was declared that Manel would repeat it 947 times in three minutes) is pretty irritating. As a result, I enjoy the Spanish-language verses more than any other part of the song. Manel’s aesthetic is casual street busker, which isn’t the sort of thing that does super well at Eurovision: Douwe Bob was a more polished exception. With his song failing to light a fire even for me, the odds are against him to strum his way out of the final’s bottom five. It might be time for Spain to revaluate their approach to the ESC on several levels, unless Manel shocks us all and defies our expectations. I can’t picture it, but I could live with it for sure. 6 points.

My mum says… Well, you can tell where this one comes from, and I like that about it. The Spanish parts are nice, easy-listening material, and I sort of wish that English didn’t feature at all in the song. It’s when that kicks in that things get monotonous. I especially dislike the stutter effect stuck in after each chorus. There needs to be more to a song than Do It For Your Lover has at its disposal to win me over completely. 6 points.

Spain’s score 6.00

 

 

 

That’s our six taken care of for this round…and here’s the ranking: 

  1. Australia (8.00)
  2. Iceland (7.5)
  3. Montenegro (7.5)
  4. Ireland (6.5)
  5. Spain (6.00)
  6. Belarus (5.5)

Naturally, I’m HORRIFIED that Australia topped the list. Not. Congrats go to Iceland for not being far behind, and commiserations to Belarus for being very far behind. Lucky for them that this scoring couldn’t have less bearing on the actual contest results.

There’s six more sets of scores for the mini EBJ jury to hand out, and then the full ranking will be revealed! Drop by on Monday to check out our thoughts on Belgium, Croatia, Greece, Israel, Ukraine and the United Kingdom. Trust me, you don’t want to miss my mother’s reaction to a man duetting with himself.

In the meantime, let me know how you’d rank today’s tracks. What do you think will happen to them this week as the competition gets going? I want all the dirt. You guys know how nosy curious I am.

 

Get (even more) excited – Eurovision is nearly here!!!

 

 

 

REVIEWS | The EBJ Jury Judges Eurovision 2016 (Part 4)

Welcome to the halfway point of my quest to cram 43 Eurovision 2016 reviews into a far-too-short space of time! It’s been quite a rush so far (literally), and today, six more songs are under the scrutiny of my esteemed panel of ESC experts. But first, in case you’ve forgotten which countries came before this bunch, and/or what choice comments the EBJ Jury made about them, here’s your midway reminder:

  • Part 1 Croatia, France, Greece, Poland, Romania and Russia (reviewed by Rory from Ireland and Wolfgang from Germany)
  • Part 2 Belarus, Cyprus, Georgia, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland (reviewed by Mrs. Jaz and Fraser from Australia)
  • Part 3 Albania, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands, San Marino (reviewed by James and Martin from the UK)

Now we can move on to exposing the identities of Part 4’s jurors and countries, whether they like it or not. I’m sure they would, though. It is an honour AND a privilege to be associated with me, after all.

*AWKWARD SILENCE*

 

 TODAY’S EBJ JURORS

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It’s an almost all-American panel making the judgment calls this time. Nick, Penny and I are about to ramble on (and on some more, in my case) about Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Denmark, Hungary, Montenegro and Spain. Dalal and Deen (AND Ana Rucner, AND Jala), Poli, Lighthouse X, Freddie, Highway and Barei are undoubtedly dying to hear our verdicts – so let’s get going!

 

 

Bosnia

Nick Ah, Balkan melodrama – one of my favorite Eurovision offerings. Bosnia & Herzegovina’s returning to the contest with flair, a fair amount being brought by the ever-exuberant Deen. His 2004 entry is actually a pretty big miss with me, so I’m happy he’s brought along this troupe of supporting characters, as Ljubav Je is a decent hit with me. The song grows nicely and it all flows pretty well together, until Jala comes in to mess things up (but in a good way). If the rap wasn’t there, the song would stagnate and have no good way of developing after that. Jala drives it home into the final chorus, and his is probably my favorite part of this entry. Also worth noting is the use of full Bosnian in this song, making it one of only three to go entirely non-English this year – and it’s the best of the three (sorry not sorry, Austria and FYR Macedonia). I do worry that it’s too contrived for the ESC, and that its big downfall will be that it doesn’t go down the standard Balkan ballad route, but I’m happy they took a chance with it. Let’s see if Europe rewards them.

Penny When BHRT announced that their 2016 song was going to involve a mash-up of styles, part of me was expecting a really bad mash-up of six songs fused together. After listening to Ljubav Je for the first time, it sounded like someone crossed Zauvijek Moja (Serbia & Montenegro 2005) with Jas Ja Imam Silata (FYR Macedonia 2010). I like Ana’s cello solo paired up with the drums, the gradual build-up of the song, and how Jala’s rap part fits in with everything else. I don’t have any idea what he’s saying, but at least he starts at the right point and does a syllable count before adding in his part so it doesn’t sound as jarring as a lot of people say. So, yay – the Balkan ballad quota of the year has been filled. But at the same time, I think I might be getting tired of the formula, because I can’t find that ‘magical’ aspect in the verses, despite them being performed well. Also, I’m still trying to get over the fact that Deen’s face has morphed into an Easter Island moai head (sorry, Deen).

Jaz Eurovision without a Balkan ballad would be like Melodifestivalen without schlager (yes, even in 2016): just plain weird. So I’m very thankful to my old mates B & H – plus Dalal, In-The-Disco-Deen, Ana Rucner and Jala – for delivering us from the evil of an atmospheric powerhouse-less contest. With Ljubav Je, they have also delivered us a Balkan ballad with a difference – namely, the rap. I can’t confess to having missed that element in Montenegro’s masterpiece Adio last year, but nor am I one of those people who think ‘rap’ puts the R-A-P in ‘crap’. The combo of ethnic and urban sounds that this song serves up is an interesting one, and I do think it works – the rap toughens up the classical beauty of the cello, while Dalal and Deen stay true to the step-by-step guide I’m sure exists entitled ‘How To Perform A Balkan Ballad’ (though it is a bit sad to see Deen removing all traces of 2004 hip-thrusting from his routine). And Jala’s entrance is more of an appealing surprise than a jarring one, in my opinion. BUT…not all Balkan ballads are created equal, and this is no Adio, Lejla or Lane Moje. It’s not even close. The overall feel is by-the-numbers and slightly half-hearted, and it doesn’t give me any goosebumps as the best of the BBs do. Still, I reckon this is an entry that will thrive live on the big stage, with all bells and whistles in place. It’s likely to be far more impressive and multidimensional then, when all memories of the low-budget video clip have (hopefully) been banished from our minds.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 4
  • Fraser 4
  • James 4
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 5
  • Nick 5
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 5
  • Wolfgang 8

Bosnia & Herzegovina’s EBJ Jury score is…5.44

 

 

Bulgaria

Nick Another returning B country, Bulgaria’s also trotting out a returning artist: fandom queen and (debatably) wronged 2011 NQ Poli Genova. Her song was the last to be revealed this year, and dare I say, it was worth the agonising wait. If Love Was a Crime definitely sounds like it comes from the Balkans, but it’s got a smartly-applied layer of Swedish gloss that doesn’t distract from the intended sound (hear that, Cyprus?). The build-up into a drop using the chorus is an undeniably modern choice – especially for Eurovision – and it was even smarter to write in a Bulgarian-language hook that’ll get stuck in everyone’s heads come May. My main concern with this entry is that it’ll be really hard to stage in a way that highlights the song rather than holding it back. It’s not got that many opportunities for choreography, so it’ll be interesting to see what the Bulgarian delegation (one not known for stage direction) will do. Otherwise, I have no doubts that this will be one of the standout tracks of the year.

Penny First off, there’s a flute solo. Given what’s happened to other songs with flute solos (e.g. Lane Moje, Molitva and Only Teardrops), Poli’s probably in good company and should qualify. Throw that in with one of the most Ohrwurm-y refrains of the year, and she could get into the top half of the final. I wonder how many people will get ‘O, daj mi ljubovta’ simply by seeing the words printed on the screen or hearing Poli sing the song once. The song feels really light-hearted and fluffy in the verses, but then she gets to ‘If love was a crime, we would be criminals,’ and I can’t help but connect with the words despite them sounding really cheesy (thanks, S.O. whom I haven’t seen since November because of scheduling issues and constant technical difficulties). There’s also something really nice about the way she pronounces ‘miracles’ and ‘criminals’ in the song that I don’t know to describe…but it’s kind of like in songs that shove too many syllables into one line to show that there’s so much emotion/back story that it wouldn’t fit if it stayed in syllable count. So yes, I’ll be waving white-green-red in front of my laptop during ESC week.

Jaz All paths were leading to Poli Genova representing Bulgaria this year: her super-successful turn as 2015’s JESC host, her…ah…um…okay, so maybe there was just the one path. But it was still a logical choice for BNT to make – and a choice that was incredibly well-received by the fan community. I haven’t seen a single negative word Facebooked, Tweeted or Instagrammed about Poli, and the reaction to her second ESC entry If Love Was A Crime (the prequel to Frans’ If I Were Sorry, I presume) has been almost as positive. And why wouldn’t it be? This is a song that does pretty much everything right, ticking all boxes without being a goody two-shoes about it. Lyrically, the verses and pre-chorus are a little weak – I mean, I get that ‘If love was a crime, we would be criminals’ is a necessary evil in a song that hypothesises what would happen if love was, in fact, something you could get arrested for indulging in…but it’s such a predictable line. Still, I can’t criticise much else about this track. It’s contemporary (complete with weird non-human noise in the background), energetic, ultra catchy (particularly when Poli launches into the Bulgarian chorus, which even non-Bulgarian speakers can latch on to with ease) and memorable, mainly thanks to that hook. Factor in Poli’s proven ability as a live performer who always seems to enjoy herself on stage, and you’ve got Bulgaria’s best chance of a celebration-worthy result in a long time – perhaps EVER, given that their highest placing in history is 5th. I did say ‘perhaps’ – girl is going to have to fight for it. But, huge success in the offing or not, Bulgaria deserves a round of applause (and a round of drinks) for pulling Poli and not-Na-Inat-2.0 out of their hat.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 6
  • Fraser 10
  • James 12
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 5
  • Nick 7
  • Penny 10
  • Rory 12
  • Wolfgang 6

Bulgaria’s EBJ Jury score is…8.67

 

 

Denmark

Nick Once again, Denmark’s choice of a seemingly run-of-the-mill boyband entry over an annoying female fanwank proved to set the fandom alight for no reason, as the superior song was picked. With either Simone or Anja hopping across the Øresund to Sweden, Denmark would be much further down on my list (especially with the latter, who’d occupy space 43 easily), so Lighthouse X is my personal savior. That being said, Soldiers of Love is still a pretty bland song that occupies the same area of the pop landscape as the Irish song this year. However, it does it so much better than Sunlight, and it ends up that Soldiers of Love is actually the song that shines. The music is written to be catchy and punchy, the occasional riffs on piano standing out in that aspect; and there’s a nice flow to it. It’s also one of the few entries this year that stands out more live than in studio, as the group’s voices add an extra layer that’s lacking in the studio version. Hopefully Europe will hear the difference in quality and send this boyband nouveau song through from semi two.

Penny Remember last year, when Norway’s Mørland said he did something terrible in his early youth? After DMGP, a lot of people would probably say that he stole a time machine, formed a band, went to the year 2016, entered Dansk Melodi Grand Prix, and angered every fan who wanted Simone or Anja Nissen to win. I’m just kidding, but does anyone else think one of the Lighthouse X guys looks like Mørland? While this was a bit of a surprise winner at the time and a tad cheesy (somewhere around sharp cheddar), I’ve warmed up to them and found myself singing along to the refrain of Soldiers of Love every time they show up. It’s cheery, makes me smile after having to endure multiple exams, and – as proven by their DMGP performance – they can pull it off live.

Jaz I know I should leave the past in the past and move the heck on, but you say ‘Denmark 2016’ and I say ‘How DARE you remind me of the most painful heartbreak I have ever experienced during a national final season?’. The hours I spent sobbing into my pillow (and whoever else’s pillow I came across during the grieving process) weren’t due to Anja Nissen’s so-close-but-so-far DMGP defeat, but to Simone’s shockingly distant third place (which left a heart-shaped hole in my chest…if only metaphorically). I simply did not see Lighthouse X coming – or the fact that their name is pronounced ‘Lighthouse Ten’ (Roman Numerals are rarely the first thing on my mind). I suppose I should have, since they satisfy every requirement in the Danish rulebook of selecting a Eurovision entry: they’re a generically good-looking act offering a competent but not-at-all risky or exciting pop song, and that (somehow) always gets the Danes voting in droves (possibly because that’s the bulk type of song they have to choose from, thanks to DR). Usually, it works for them at the ESC – qualifications, comfortable results, and an occasional win thrown in for adequate measure – but last year, it backfired. Yet we’re still getting more of the same! Having said all of that, I do like Soldiers of Love, and how easy on the eye the Lighthouse trio is. They look pretty and sound pretty singing a song that does most of the things it should in all the right places. The chorus is melodically strong and uplifting, even if every line of it is a cliché (you might even say it’s a cliché love song. Oh, the irony!). But…does it light my fire? Nope. I want it to melt my marshmallows, but all it does is brown them ever-so-slightly. Basically, it’s perfectly fine, and therefore very vanilla. Denmark might be all for safety first, but when countries think outside the box, that’s when they’re truly competing.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 2
  • Fraser 8
  • James 3
  • Jaz 8
  • Martin 5
  • Nick 5
  • Penny 8
  • Rory 4
  • Wolfgang 4

Denmark’s EBJ Jury score is…5.22

 

 

Hungary

Nick When I came to ranking these songs, I wanted to listen to the nightcore (sped-up and pitched-up) versions of each one to ease myself into the process. Usually, I end up liking those a little more, and Pioneer was no exception. In saying that, I still wanted the song to be over less than halfway through. Moving on to the regular live performance was even worse, as the one featured on the official channel had Freddie mumbling and screaming off-key on the A Dal stage. The song is a noisy mess that has no flow and clichéd motivational lyrics. It also does that horribly annoying thing where the singer draws out a word for no reason other than to fit the rhyme: see ‘real’ in the second line of the chorus. I’d almost appreciate the brashness of the music if everything else was done tactfully enough to let it shine…but as it stands, this is an absolute mess of an entry that should see Hungary out of the final for the first time since their return. Better luck next year.

Penny I couldn’t remember what this song sounded like until listening to over forty Top 43 ranking videos. And although I can now remember what (part of) it sounds like, I don’t understand how it’s in almost everyone’s top 10. The whistling in the verses and the grit in Freddie’s voice sounds nice, but Pioneer is a plodder and doesn’t do much for me. Sorry Freddie, but I’ll probably be getting food while you’re performing so I’m not hung(a)ry. The glow sticks and swirly background do remind me that I need to visit my local science museum though.

Jaz The A Dal final was full of fabulous potential Hungarian entries. For starters, none of them reminded me of Boggie or Wars For Nothing. Then we had the quirky hipster sing-along song from Petruska, epic ethnopop from Gergő Olah, and achingly cool alt-rock from Kalláy Saunders and his band. Rising to the top of them all in the end, though, was Freddie’s Pioneer, an early favourite. For me, there was something about this song from the start – something unique and raw that I was drawn to. The rawness, I guess, was mainly emanating from Freddie himself, who is far from being a smooth operator in the vocal department (that’s a compliment re: his gravelly voice, by the way). As the performer, he adds an authentic rough edge to a song that is an anthem á la Denmark’s, but without the cheese. I love everything about it – the minimalist construction, the whistling, the extremely powerful chorus that is bound to be explosive on the Eurovision stage…and how can I fail to mention the walking, talking hunk of eye candy that is Freddie (yes, I’m shallow. Get used to it). I’ve been saying for a few years now that Hungary are likely to win the contest sometime soon, and though it’s unlikely that 2016 is ‘soon’, I stand by those comments with Pioneer in mind. Also, Freddie, if you’re reading…yes, I am single, and waiting for your call. WINKFACE EMOJI.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 7
  • Fraser 6
  • James 5
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 8
  • Nick 1
  • Penny 6
  • Rory 2
  • Wolfgang 12

Hungary’s EBJ Jury score is…6.33

 

 

 Montenegro

Nick Okay, can we take a minute to recognise ‘I see you inside me’ as one of the creepiest lyrics of this year? In fact, my biggest hang-up with this entry is the vaguely stalkerish imagery that’s present throughout the song. Musically, I’m a big fan of the acid rock/dubstep crossover, but the lyrics and vocals throw me off. Deep voices aren’t usually my thing to begin with, and they’re especially not when I’m being crooned at with such lyrics as ‘I’m gonna run, gonna feel good.’ Assuage me of fears that does not, and it really harms what could’ve been a strong entry. Montenegro’s track record – one that astonishingly includes a song like The Real Thing, 2013’s Most Wrong Entry™ Igranka – tells me that they’ll probably meet the same fate they did when the contest was last in Sweden. However, this time, I’ll probably be a little less bitter about losing them.

Penny Montenegro has decided: two years of Balkan ballads was nice, but there’s more to the ex-Yugo music scene. It looks like that means it’s time to send an entry closer to Who See’s than Knez’s. When I first heard The Real Thing after its presentation, all I could think was, ‘What IS this noise?’ – and that it sounded like a bunch of random people who all wanted to play their instruments as loudly as possible. As of so far, the only lyrics I can understand are still ‘Inside you’ and ‘Feel it; I’m the real thing, yeah.’ It’s not my favorite genre, and I still need to put in effort and energy to focus on the song, but it doesn’t deserve the bottom-three hate that it seems to get in YouTube rankings. Also, I’m still really confused as to what this “real thing” that Highway talk about is. Does it mean that they’re real people? Or are they just not hiding their identities?

Jaz In stark contrast to the previous two acts, Montenegro is sending a group to Stockholm who are NOT incredibly attractive (in my opinion). Why does that matter? Well, it doesn’t – I just thought I’d mention it to remind you that it’s not just what’s inside that counts, especially at Eurovision (and to remind you that I’m a judgmental jerk and proud of it). Anyway…the song! After the 2015 Montenegrin masterpiece that was Adio, we’ve been given what is allegedly The Real Thing – and though I know which one I prefer, I have to applaud Montenegro for showing variety, and Highway for staying true to their style (otherwise, they’d be performing a song called Not Exactly The Real Thing). Like Penny, I don’t agree with everyone who has Highway right at the rear end of their rankings. I’d even go so far as to say that I enjoy this track. It’s Georgia 2.0 for me: I don’t know why I like it exactly, and it’s not in the genre ballpark that I normally hang out in, but I’m on board nonetheless. If we compartmentalise it, we’ve got a) verses that are actually very well-produced and current, b) a chorus that is noisy, yes, but was made for rocking out to, and c) a guitar riff that sticks. It’s surprisingly cohesive when strung together for three minutes. I’m not seeing it through rose-coloured glasses here – I know it’s not going to go anywhere. But in spite of that, it floats my boat. No lifejacket required!

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 8
  • Fraser 1
  • James 1
  • Jaz 8
  • Martin 5
  • Nick 5
  • Penny 5
  • Rory 1
  • Wolfgang 0

Montenegro’s EBJ Jury score is…3.78

 

 

Spain

Nick It’s a sign of the times: Spain’s finally thrown off the Spanish and is going full English for the first time. Putting aside my disappointment at Eurovision’s continued slide into linguistic homogeny, I must admit that this song lends itself well to the language, although that’s just my backhanded way of saying it’s kind of anonymous. Barei’s the undoubted star of the show in this entry, as her exuberance onstage adds so much to what’s otherwise a drop in the bucket of up-tempo, feel-good songs. That’s not to say the song doesn’t have its positives – the verses are nicely orchestrated and the English lyrics aren’t as cringey as they could’ve been. But it is lacking a distinctly Spanish flair that Barei’s making up for. Whether that will deliver Spain a better result than Edurne’s shriekfest (that was overrated at 21st, if you ask me) is up for debate, but I have a suspicion this year’s result will tend more toward Pastora Soler territory.

Penny While I’m a little disappointed that there won’t be any Spanish in the contest this year, this entry is already an improvement on 2015’s, since a) Barei can hit all the notes and b) her song feels a bit more ‘honest’ (as in, she seems to be telling her own story instead of someone else’s). It’s also really nice to have the one flashmob song of the contest, given that Barei’s been doing that dance for every single performance and in almost every interview; and that Say Yay is really catchy and easy to sing along to. Then again, how hard is learning ‘Say yay, yay, yay’, or ‘Sing it, la, la, la, la’? However, while I’d definitely sing and dance along if someone else played the song, I don’t know if I’d actively search for the song since the backing music makes it sound like it’s something my dentist would play, or one of six (yes, six) songs that would play over the bakery radio at work (I will confirm that this sounds way better than dental drills or the oven buzzer though).

Jaz Like A Dal, this year’s Spanish final was packed with awesome potential ESC entries. I would say Barei was among that bunch with Say Yay!,  but she wasn’t my first, second, third or even fourth choice to represent her country. I have no problem with her – she’s a great singer with a interesting catch in her voice, and she brims with personality and energy on stage. Plus, on the whole, Say Yay! is a modern, effervescent dance number that practically prohibits you from standing still. However, there’s an aspect of it that screams ‘background music’ to me – maybe it’s the largely instrumental chorus. Whatever the source, I just don’t feel like it makes enough of a statement as a standalone song to win Eurovision. There’s no doubt it has the ability to do well for Spain, particularly when pedaled by someone who sells it like Barei does. But overall, I find it a little wallpaper-like. It’s there, and it’s nice, but I’m not going to be paying that much attention to it when there’s opulent statement furniture elsewhere in the room.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 1
  • Fraser 12
  • James 7
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 10
  • Nick 5
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 6
  • Wolfgang 6

Spain’s EBJ Jury score is…6.78

 

 

And we have a runaway winner! Of this round, that is. Shockingly, it isn’t Montenegro. 

  1. Bulgaria (8.67)
  2. Spain (6.78)
  3. Hungary (6.33)
  4. Bosnia & Herzegovina (5.44)
  5. Denmark (5.22)
  6. Montenegro (3.78)

Bulgaria takes this one out in impressive fashion – but will they do the same (or even remotely similar) at Eurovision itself? Are we totally off the mark relegating Spain to second place? Has my undying love for boybands influenced my decision on Denmark, or would you agree that it’s bland, but not bad? I have so many questions, and you can provide the answers in the comments below. If you don’t, the chances of Ani Lorak returning to the ESC will decrease by 33.33%.

Speaking of returnees…next time, my mother and Germany’s very own Wolfgang will be back to have their say on Azerbaijan, Belgium, Iceland, Israel, Latvia and the United Kingdom. You might be surprised by the songs that go down well with those two. Then again, you might not – it depends on how easily you’re surprised. Either way, don’t forget to drop by!

 

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RETRO RANKINGS | My Vienna 2015 Top 40, then and now (six months after show time!)

Hallå och välkommen til…um…okay, so I haven’t advanced particularly far with my Swedish on Duolingo yet (I’m not even sure there’s a lesson entitled “Welcoming People To Another Extremely Exciting Post Here on Eurovision By Jaz Dot Com in Svenska” anyway), but give me some time, and I’ll be så brå you won’t believe it.

In case the above paragraph wasn’t enough of an indication, I’ll spell things out for you: I’m feeling super-Swedish-obsessed at the moment, now that a) I’m actually, 110% heading to Stockholm for ESC no. 61 (*emits a Kaliopi-screech and farts a rainbow of pure joy*) and b) the Melodifestivalen 2016 line-up has been revealed. I’ve got plenty of Melfest madness planned for you over the coming months, so I don’t want to devote an entire post to the 2016 edition now…but I will give you a glimpse of the artists I’m most excited about seeing back in the competition (and boy, there are a ton of them) or entering for the first time:

  • THE RIDICULOUSLY EXCITING Molly Sandén, Mattias Andréasson (with Albin), Lisa Ajax, Panetoz and Oscar Zia. That’s in order of how much my face resembled the heart-eyes emoji when each name was announced. JESC alumni and all-round amazing human Molly is the bookies’ and my #1 pick to win the whole thing at this early stage. This will be her third try, and she’s never been in a better position to out-sing and out-song her rivals.
Mollyll

Yes, it took me far too many minutes to create this. No, I am not ashamed in any way.

  • THE MODERATELY EXCITING Molly Petterson Hammar, Samir & Viktor, David Lindgren and (a now brunette) Isa. Molly PH has obviously recovered from App-Gate 2015, and it’s great to see her back with a vengeance. I really wish that’s what her song was called for the purposes of a brilliant pun, but it’s actually called Hunger – and it’s been penned by the trio behind MZW’s Heroes.
  • THE INTRIGUING Krista Siegfrids. Aftonbladet didn’t anticipate this one, so how could we common folk have seen it coming? Krista’s supposed to be hosting UMK in Finland next year, so it will be interesting to see how she juggles both commitments, and/or whether the Finnish public see fit to throw their shoes at her for trying her luck in Sweden. Surely they’re too polite to engage in such shenanigans?

That’s that för nu (SOMEBODY STOPPA MIG!!): now, let’s move from Melfest to Eurovij.

Before I start looking forward to Stockholm, I thought it would be timely to look back to Vienna, given that it’s been (just over, but close enough to) six months since Sweden snatched their sixth victory. And what better way to do that than by re-ranking all of the entries from this year’s contest to see, once and for all, how I feel about them now compared to how I felt about them at show time (the last Top 40 I posted was just before Semi Final 1)?

I’ll leave you to tell me if there would have been a better way to commemorate six months since, after you’ve checked out the revised ranking below. If you’re up for it, go and re-calculate your own using everyone’s favourite sorting tool, and post it – or some of it – in the comments. Which songs have grown on you over time, and which ones have started to grate? Let me know down below.

My brand spanking new, end-of-2015 ranking looks like this (with the previous position of each country in brackets):

 

Keep scrolling…

 

Just a bit further…

 

Here it is!

 

#1 | Sweden (=) Don’t act surprised, or reach for a sick bag! I never bought a ticket to ride on the ‘Not Sweden again! ITALY WAS ROBBED’ train, being the massive fan of Mr. Zelmerlöw, avid supporter of Heroes with or without the stick man, and generally Sweden-obsessed freak that I am (I maintain that the whole jury-vote-deciding-winner is the kind of situation where you should hate the game, not the player). I love this song just as much in December as I did in February – only now, I get even more caught up in screaming ‘WE ARE THE HEROOOOOOOOES!!!’ knowing I’ll be seeing Måns reprise it live.

This is a pretty accurate representation of how my face will look when that precious, precious moment arrives.

This is a pretty accurate representation of how my face will look when that precious, precious moment arrives.

#2 | Italy (+1) Six months on, Grande Amore still gives me goosebumps. Will it have that effect á la Lane Moje, my all-time favourite ESC entry, and last a lifetime? Get back to me in a decade or two and I’ll let you know.

#3 | Belgium (+1) Belgium’s fairytale fourth place is something I still pinch myself over – when I’m not doing the robot to the minimalist, cutting-edge sounds of Rhythm Inside, of course. I’m still attempting to master Loïc’s triple pirouette, but I’m happy to crack this track way up for years to come in order to practice.

#4 | Montenegro (+4) Of all Željko’s contest compositions, Adio is the one that took me the longest to fall in love with. But, as you can see, it’s leapt from 8th place to 4th in my Top 40, and I won’t say it’s not going to climb higher in the future. It’s a textbook spine-tingling, haunting, atmospheric Balkan ballad, and if you can put it out of your mind that Knez looks like a circus ringmaster, it’s pretty much perfection in a three-minute package.

#5 | Australia (+12) Making a far bigger leap up my personal leaderboard is my own country’s first – and as we now know, NOT last – entry. Tonight Again was definitely a grower for me. I liked it instantly, but didn’t love it…then Australia came fifth, and I miraculously changed my mind. Actually, the change of mind was more to do with the vibes when I was cheering Guy on in a room full of Aussies. But let’s not dwell on that. It just happened! Do whatcha whatcha whatcha waaaant….

#6 | Spain (+4)

#7 | Israel (+15) Nadav is still my golden boy, and I certainly do enjoy. A lot more, evidently, than I did back in the day (i.e. May). Golden Boy , I have discovered, makes for an epic workout song. Squats suddenly become slightly more bearable when it’s blaring in the background. 

Israel-Nadav-first-rehearsal-eurovision-2015

Nadav captured at the precise moment he realises he doesn’t have time to show you Tel Aviv before he leaves.

#8 | Germany (+1)

#9 | Romania (-4)

#10 | Moldova (+2)

#11 | Latvia (-5)

#12 | FYR Macedonia (-5)

#13 | Slovenia (=)

#14 | Norway (-12) This is a controversial one. Maybe I over-listened to AMLM, which was my second-favourite song once upon a time, or maybe it just lost some of its magic for me. Either way – though I still like it a lot – I can’t hold it in as high a regard as I used to. Does this count as doing something terrible in my “early” youth?

#15 | Azerbaijan (+1)

#16 | Austria (-1)

#17 | Malta (+4)

#18 | Russia (+7)

#19 | Belarus (+8) I’m surprised that this has crept up rather than stayed put. There was never anything about Time that grabbed me with both hands (the hands of Time, obviously) which always irritated me because Uzari and Maimuna are both awesome in their own right, and have both produced far more dynamic and impressive music in the past. But I guess I’m not that irritated after all. And time really is like thunder, a-ahh.

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“To poke or not to poke Uzari with my violin bow so I can be the star of the show…”, Maimuna, 2015.

#20 | Iceland (-1)

#21 | Portugal (+8)

#22 | Albania (+10)

#23 | The Netherlands (-9)

#24 | Estonia (-13) I never felt the feverish love for Stig & Elina’s Eesti Laul landslider that many others did, so this drop doesn’t mean that much. Don’t get me wrong – we’re at #24, and the only songs I’m verging on hating with a passion are #37 through #40. It’s just…to steal the motto of Eurovision 2012 and rephrase it for my own personal use, Goodbye To Yesterday doesn’t light my fire, as such. I wonder if another tragic tear will snake its way down Elina’s cheek over that comment?

#25 | United Kingdom (-2)

#26 | Switzerland (-2)

#27 | Denmark (-7)

#28 | Serbia (+12) Bojana was my bottom-ranked act in May – though I should specify that it had nothing to do with her (she’s a delight, and can we be best friends forever, please?) and everything to do with the cheesy English-language version of Beauty Never Lies. I’m still not overly keen on it (it’s becoming a theme as we creep closer to number 4-0) but I can’t deny that it is a cracker of a dance-floor filler.

#29 | Greece (+5)

#30 | France (+1)

#31 | Georgia (-13)

#32 | Cyprus (+1)

#33 | Ireland (-7)

#34 | San Marino (+4) Is San Marino still in my bottom five? As Michele would say, NO! That’s a major achievement for the republic in itself. This song is total crap, but a part of me sees/hears it as a guilty (so very guilty) pleasure. I love how hard Michele and Anita try to make it something it’s never going to be – i.e. a decent, age-appropriate pop song that people would willingly listen to on a regular basis.

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It’s a shame Anita and Michele didn’t introduce their outstretched palms to Ralph Siegel’s face at high speed, BEFORE he lumped them with ‘Chain of Lights’…

#35 | Poland (-7)

#36 | Hungary (+3)

#37 | Lithuania (-7) This Time  was, is and always will be so full of cheese, you could make a batch of toasted sandwiches with said cheese so big that the Buranovskiye Babushkis and their extended families could feast on them for years without worrying about a dwindling supply. I don’t know about Vaidas’ solo stuff, but Monika’s is infinitely better than this.

#38 | Finland (-1)

#39 | Czech Republic (-4)

#40 | Armenia (-4) I haven’t sat through the recorded or live version of Genealogy’s melodramatic musical mess since their performance in the Viennese grand final. It’s just not my cup of tea (to put it politely) and I think that Not Alone, which preceded Don’t Deny, shows it up massively. I suspect that Iveta Mukuchyan’s entry, which will succeed it, will do the same.

 

 

Are you still awake? If so, congrats on making it all the way through this Top 40! If not, then I guess you’re not reading this right now, so I don’t need to address you (I am going to draw on your face with a Sharpie while you’re snoring, though). Things have changed quite a bit on my end, rankings-wise, so now it’s your chance to shock me with how much you’ve rearranged the field of 2015 in your mind – or on paper – since the contest took place.

 

Come on, spill! How’s your Top 40 looking as we approach the end of twenty-fifteen?

 

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COMING UP It’s been a while since the previous episode, but what better time than now for another Melfest Monday? Then, ever since Australia was granted a precious second shot at Eurovision glory, minds the world over have been whirring trying to come up with the best artist to fly our flag this time. I’m yet to chip in on this discussion, but I’ve been biding my time for a reason. Drop by for a Friday Fast Five in which I’ll reveal my top five fantasy Aussie representatives. I promise ‘Guy Sebastian, again’ isn’t among them.

 

 

JESC 2015 Judgments feat. the EBJ Junior Jury | Armenia, Montenegro, The Netherlands and Serbia

Zdraveĭ, guys! That, for anyone wondering, is what Google Translate has informed me ‘hello’ is in Bulgarian (meaning there’s a good chance it actually translates to ‘I can see your underpants’ or something like that). But it’s the thought that counts, and I’m definitely thinking I’d rather say hi than say anything in reference to your underpants…unless Måns Zelmerlöw is reading this, of course.

Ahem. Moving right along now. Believe it or not, Bulgaria’s first Eurovision event – Junior Eurovision 2015, obviously – will take place in just over two weeks’ time. As such, I need to kick my pre-show coverage into high (or, really, any) gear. Today I’m doing just that by unveiling installment numero uno of my JESC reviews for the year.

But these aren’t just my reviews. As I did for EBJ’s ESC reviews earlier this year LINK, I’ve put together a globe-spanning jury who are ready to slide all seventeen songs competing in Sofia under their musical microscopes (I shipped one out to everybody, which got very expensive) in order to determine which ones deserve douze points, and which ones…well, don’t (let’s leave it at that. Someone has to think of the children!). Each of these JESC Judgment posts will see three ESC and/or JESC fanatics (including yours truly, as I wasn’t prepared to relinquish complete control) comment on and score each entry – revolutionary, I know. Before we get down to the nitty-gritty of said commenting and scoring, allow me to introduce the first trio of jury members.

 

TODAY’S EBJ JUNIOR JURY

EBJJJ 1Lukman Andi Uleng ‘What do you get when you mix sugar and spice and everything nice with a teaspoon of Eurovision? Well, it makes me, Lukman Andi Uleng! I’ve been following the most fantastic show on Earth since 2001, when my sister asked me to watch the show with her on SBS. Funnily enough, I became the Eurovision fan, while she despises it! I’ve also been watching the Junior version since it first started in 2003, and to this day, still follow it. I remember the early days when it used to have a strong focus on colours, cuteness and tackiness, and the children themselves would be the main composers of the songs. Junior Eurovision is about fun, letting the talented children of Europe show the world what they can do. I guess it’s a great platform for their future in the entertainment industry. My favourite Junior Eurovision songs ever include Te Traigo Flores by Antonio José, Te Doy Mi Voz by Dani Fernández, and Planet of the Children by Krisia, Hasan and Ibrahim. I’m so excited that Jaz invited me to review some of the Junior Eurovision songs selected for 2015!’

Jaimie Duncan Jaimie is a Eurovision tragic who longs to own a wind machine of her own (there are days when a pedestal fan is just not enough). She finds the idea of Junior Eurovision simultaneously appealing and unsettling, and tends to drink and yell at the television when watching it – and sometimes when reviewing the songs as well.

Jaz ‘Surprise, surprise – it’s ME! You’re probably aware that I devote almost as much brain-space to Junior Eurovision as to its older, wiser sibling, and have done since I stumbled upon them both in 2006. As someone who nearly had a breakdown when JESC went through its rough, could-be-cancelled-at-any-minute patch a few years back, I got ridiculously excited seeing it bounce back and become bigger and better than…well, maybe not ever, but it’s pretty awesome these days, right? If I could magic any non-competing country into the competition this year and for the future, it’d be Spain. They rocked at JESC from 2003-2006, and left on a high…meaning they could return on a high too. See you in 2016, amigos?’

 

 

So now you’ve seen our incredibly attractive faces and know our names, go ahead and check out what we think of the JESC 2015 efforts from Armenia, Montenegro, the Netherlands and Serbia. Don’t worry, Mika, Jana, Shalisa and Lena – we haven’t been too hard on you…

 

 

 Armenia15

Lukman Armenia is one of the powerhouses of Junior Eurovision, and their entries are always catchy, fun and a bit out-of-the-box. Mika is such a big personality and a born star, and if the Armenians can stage a wonderful, exciting and suitable performance as they always do, he will finish on the first half of the scoreboard. I admire the entry as it is age-appropriate, compared to some younger singers singing songs more suitable for adults. The song itself is cute and cheeky, and more of a song to watch than to listen to. The verses and choruses are not the most memorable and not the most original; however, the song is about spreading love, fun and happiness. A serious contender for the win? Well, maybe not…but it will definitely be one to watch. Good luck Mika! 6 points.

Jaimie Has everyone seen 10-year-old George Dalton’s viral cover of Trap Queen yet? If you haven’t, watch it – it’s a weirdly mesmerising, Scott Bradlee-style reimagining. It’s also deeply disturbing when you consider that the original Fetty Wap song is about a girl who cooks meth, not apple pie. I have to admit that when I first heard Armenia’s JESC entry, my first thought was ‘Oh look, it’s the Armenian George Dalton. Except cooler. And with a love gun. Wait… what?’. The music video is hard to decode (where is the first location? Dr Love’s Evil Lair? Some sort of call centre? Santa’s Workshop? Why are they wearing 60s sci-fi costumes?. I feel I should learn this dance. At least the guy driving is grown up. OMG, THAT’S WHAT ARAM MP3 IS UP TO NOW? Should we be encouraging the shooting of love-nerf from a moving vehicle? Uh, you do know what happens when dogs “fall in love” right? Oh, he’s a motivational speaker. Or a supervillain. That makes so much more sense. God, this is weird.) What the video does offer is some clues about staging which could be a completely fabulous little retro revival as long as Mika leaves the love gun at home. Coming from a default position of finding JESC just a little creepy, I worry about how much I love this song…and what that says about me as a human. 10 points.

Jaz Armenia certainly know what they’re doing when it comes to JESC, and they’ve demonstrated that they mean business yet again by relegating Aram Mp3 to chauffeur status in Mika’s music video for the happy clappy Love. To put things simply, I like this song – I like it a lot. I wouldn’t say I feel the Love just yet, but this is the kind of effortless, retro-mod pop that a) puts me in a great mood, and b) tends to succeed at Junior Eurovision (see Russia 2006 or 2010 if you’re after a prime example). Mika is adorable and in possession of inordinate amounts of sass and swag for a kid his age. I have no doubt that he’ll have more than a pint-sized amount of stage presence to carry him through in Sofia. And, as Lukman said, Armenia never fail to put on an impressive performance, so expect top-notch costuming, props, lighting and choreography to accompany him. With all of that at their disposal – plus a catchy, fun track that is weaker than their previous, but is also competing in a far weaker field – Armenia could be dangerous to all sixteen of their rivals (though that’s partly due to the fact that they’re armed with those love guns). 8 points.

EBJ Junior Jury Score 8.00

 

 

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Lukman Let me start by stating that Oluja is a decent song and has a wonderful story in the video clip. I just feel that the song is a teeny bit outdated, and not particularly suited to Jana. The melody isn’t memorable, and there is just no hook. The chorus could be a bit stronger and a little more likeable. I really hope they have a strong and fun routine planned, which could help the song out. I would have loved to have heard some Balkan instruments in the song, or even stronger instrumentation. Sadly, as it is, Oluja has no ‘wow’ factor, but I’m sure Jana’s vocals will be awesome on the night! 4 points.

Jaimie So, the story of this song appears to be quite simple (I have to base this on the video clip as I am hampered by language here). Two kids, having run away from a folk festival of some kind, play a completely inept game of hide and seek which ends when the girl nicks the boy’s scarf and runs off with it, presumably to more fully embrace her new life of crime. Flash forward, and the boy, having grown a staggeringly majestic set of cheekbones, is still moping about the countryside missing his scarf. The girl, having grown into a Dolly magazine model and renounced her life as a criminal mastermind, runs into him in a field. He’s so pleased at having his scarf back, he hugs her, not realising she’s plucked his wallet out of his pocket. It’s a classic romance. It’s also boring and forgettable, and cannot possibly move into the top half of the board without this girl’s organised crime connections fixing the vote (possibly having been bribed with the scarf). 5 points.

Jaz Lucky it’s Throwback Thursday, because Jana’s Oluja is one heck of a #tbt to the JESC days of yore – not that I mind much. I had a feeling Montenegro were going to BRING IT on their second shot at Junior, so in that sense, I was disappointed when this cookie-cutter, half-hearted attempt at ethno-pop dropped. But it’s amazing what a second listen can do! I still think Jana is putting as much energy into her vocals as Maša & Lejla did into their performance in Malta (i.e. not much at all…is Montenegro suffering from a sugar shortage or something?) which detracts from the sunny vibrancy of the melody. Nor do I think her song makes the most of its almost-three minutes (is that extended instrumental break necessary?). However, I don’t mind having a dance to it at this point. Oluja really does reek of JESC circa 2005, and though that’s fine by me because I loved (and still love) those contests, it might not help Montenegro improve on last year’s mediocre result. I’m interested to see how this is presented, and how Jana comes across live (will she have to have a Loïc Nottet-style lie down halfway through because she’s so lethargic?). My fingers will be crossed that it’s at least competent on both of those counts. 7 points.

EBJ Junior Jury Score 5.33

 

 

Nether15

Lukman Shalisa is a very talented singer with great stage presence. I really like the verses, which sound really lovely to the ear. Unfortunately, I don’t find the chorus as strong. I appreciate it is beautiful, but it’s not catchy and not too memorable. Despite the chorus not being catchy enough I appreciate that the song is high quality, contemporary and filled with lots of emotions, feelings and passion. I hope she sticks to singing whilst playing the piano because it may give her the edge, and also shows off what she can do! 6 points.

Jaimie Eh. I don’t hate it. I don’t “love” it as much as the Armenian song. Shalisa looks like a young Natalie Portman which is intriguing, and I like her hat. Million Lights is pretty clinical. It provokes no feeling. It’s safe and pleasant. It’ll probably win. 6 points for the hat.

Jaz The Netherlands is another one of those countries that seem to ‘get’ JESC without always proving themselves to have the same understanding of the ESC. Year after year, they send something polished, well-produced and contemporary to mini-Eurovij, and 2015 is no exception. Million Lights is a pretty ballad with Rihanna-esque r & b influences, sung beautifully by Shalisa (who’s emanating Emilija Đjonin vibes)…but it’s not the total package. It’s a song that seems to get lost in itself, with awkward switches from Dutch to English and vice versa contributing to the choruses being hard to single out; and it doesn’t really build up to much – not enough to demand votes, anyway. I’m not sure it’s cohesive or memorable enough to squeeze onto the left-hand side of the scoreboard. It is melodically douze-worthy, though, and I enjoy all the different bits and pieces within. This is a genre that’s right up my street, and there’s something about this example of it that draws me in, in spite of some obvious flaws. 8 points.

EBJ Junior Jury Score 6.67

 

 

Serbia15

Lukman An absolutely beautiful song represents Serbia at this year’s Junior Eurovision – but saying that, I do lean towards Balkan songs. I really like the melody, and the chorus is very emotional and dramatic. I wish the instrumentation was a bit stronger as the song is missing a bit of oomph that it needs. My idea would be to throw in a few more instruments that would remedy that; however, I do like the inclusion of ethnic sounds in the song. I guess they could be going for simple instrumentation. The song does sound slightly outdated but I still love it. Lena is such a powerful singer and has been gifted with a really sweet voice. I am 100% sure she will sing well on the night! Good luck Lena! 7 points.

Jaimie Sigh. This is why I find the Junior contest so unsettling. I know kids. I’ve met some. I don’t know any of them who would get this passionate about things that aren’t Pokémon or pizza night at the roller rink or how their brother keeps stealing the Wii remote when it’s clearly not his turn. I do know an eight-year-old who stopped speaking for three days when Zayn left One Direction though, so I’m not saying that kids can’t harbour strong feelings about things. Perhaps Lena is super stoked about getting 10 out of 10 on a spelling test, but I rather think this song is about her self-empowerment instead (I’m guessing). This is no bad thing, really. I’m trying to be sympathetic. But here’s why I disconnect from JESC – I’m a grown-up. I’ve forgotten what the passions of childhood are like, whether they are about Pokémon or about realising you’re a complete person on your own, and I can’t help but wonder how many of the passionate words coming out of these child performers’ mouths have been put there by adult songwriters who have also forgotten. I want to take it seriously, because Lena’s obviously a good performer and I don’t want to do her a disservice, but I just can’t. I’m too cynical…and she’s no Mika. 6 points.

Jaz YES! A dramatic Balkan ballad! It’s almost like my main man Željko Joksimović will be with us in spirit in Sofia – although Lenina Pesma is even more drama-packed than the majority of his Eurovision compositions (which is really saying something). Unlike Million Lights, this is a song that builds up to something big, and doesn’t relent until the very end – or until Lena’s run out of oxygen and passes out on stage, one of the two. This girl might be miniature, but she has a massive voice that’s sure to impress on the night, assuming she can sustain it throughout the rehearsal period. She should sound strong, and Lenina Pesma won’t just be a showcase for her voice – it holds its own, and is sure to be a more memorable presence in the line-up than Serbia’s song was last year. It’s not exactly cutting-edge, but Balkan ballads don’t need to be – they’re timeless. This is on track to do rather well, as long as Serbia don’t overdo the staging (an atmospheric lighting scheme and a couple of dancers would do just fine). All in all, this is an excellent choice. 7 points.

EBJ Junior Jury Score 6.67

 

 

And just like that, there’s four songs done and dusted, leaving thirteen un-judged. Let’s have a look at the EBJJJ leaderboard at this early stage (which includes a tie I’ve broken on countback of individual scores):

  1. Armenia (8.00)
  2. The Netherlands (6.67)
  3. Serbia (6.67)
  4. Montenegro (5.33)

With no douze points doled out yet, will Armenia stay in prime position? Or will one of the next four countries to be placed in the spotlight take the title of Most Likely To Win According To The EBJ Junior Jury’s Totally Scientific Calculations? You can speculate on that as I let you know that Italy, Malta, Russia and Slovenia are up next. They’ll be reviewed by not one, but two returnees from my May ESC jury – James from the UK, and my mum (yep, Mrs. Jaz is back, and she didn’t even need to be bribed into it…much).

Join us then for more JESC-themed shenanigans, or be square!

 

2015sig

 

 

VIENNESE VERDICTS | The EBJ Jury Reviews (Part 3)

Welcome to yet another installment of the Viennese Verdicts! I know, I know, I posted the last one, like, two seconds ago…two very long seconds that almost lasted for three days ago. But, you see, I’ve arrived at the point where I simply must cram things in if I want to take care of all necessary business by Eurovision time. Which I really do. So, with that in mind, let’s get cracking.

On the menu today we have a delicious (or not, depending on one’s tastes) selection of musical dishes, courtesy of Cyprus, Poland, Italy, Montenegro and Armenia. Meet the trio sampling these pan-European dishes:

 

TODAY’S EBJ JURY

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Kohan Ikin: Kohan is from Perth, Australia. He started watching Eurovision in 2003 to see famous Russian faux-lesbian pop duo tATu, and got hooked after seeing Alf Poier’s folk/metal act performed by cardboard animals. Kohan has since been to Eurovision three times, and engineered Perth’s first Eurovision nightclub event (together with Perth-via-Denmark fan Kate Hansen). Clearly that Alf Poier incident did something to his brain. You can stalk Kohan online here and here.

Wolfgang Schmidt: “My name is Wolfgang – in full, Wolfgang Michael Schmidt. But nice people and/or good friends call me ‘Wolf’ or ‘Mikey’. I am from a small town near Essen in the mid-west of Germany, not far from the Eurovision host city of 2011, Düsseldorf. I have been a Eurovision addict ever since I can think! The first contest I remember was ESC 1974, which one of the greatest bands on Earth, ABBA, won. From then on, I watched the show every year, missing it only in 1996 as it was not broadcast in Germany (due to the fact that we did not qualify to participate). In 1998 I attended Eurovision live for the first time to support the German delegation in Birmingham. That was the most amazing experience I ever had with the Eurovision! All in all, I have attended the contest four times, in Birmingham in 1998, Copenhagen in 2001, Düsseldorf in 2011 and Malmö in 2013. My all-time favorite Eurovision songs are Lane Moje by Željko Joksimović, Stronger Every Minute by Lisa Andreas, and The One That I Love by Chiara, which would all have gotten the full douze points from me. Eurovision is a ‘come together’ of different cultures, styles of music and kinds of people who all love to share the moments of great music, awesome stage performances and ridiculous dressing (well, sometimes!). And it is THE biggest party in Europe to celebrate with people coming from around forty different countries. That makes it so special to me once a year!”

Jasmin Bear: “Let’s continue the series of ‘Eurovision-Related Facts About Jaz You May Or May Not Want To Have Forced Down Your Throat’ with a list of the countries I’d like to win Eurovision 2015…based on where I’d most like to visit. Numero uno? Heja Sverige! My obsession with all things Swedish spawned from my addiction to the ESC and, consequently, Melodifestivalen. As a lover of the language, the food, the music, the movies, the architecture, the landscapes AND the flat-pack furniture of Sweden – and as someone still waiting to make their first Eurovision attendance happen – Mr. Zelmerlöw taking the top prize in Vienna would equate to me crossing two things off my bucket list at once. In terms of the other countries I’d be hysterically happy to visit in 2016 should they take out the 60th comp, no matter how unlikely that might be…I’d say the UK, Switzerland, Belgium or Iceland. But, if one of my top three songs should win (besides Sweden, as I’ve parroted on about that country enough already) I will be satisfied to jet off to Italy or Norway next year!”

 

 

Without further ado (or perhaps I should say ‘adio’, since Montenegro features in this round of reviews) I present our thoughts on what John/Giannis, Monika, Il Volo, Knez and Genealogy are serving up in Vienna. FYI, some of these songs have left a bad taste in our collective mouths…

 

 

CYPRUS

One Thing I Should Have Done by John Karayiannis

Cyprus

Kohan: Ugh! This really annoys me. I’m sure John is a nice guy, but…wait, when does that sentence ever end well? His voice is great, and the guitar reminds me of More Than Words by Extreme (not a bad thing).  But that puts all the focus on the lyrics, and they’re creepy.  Whiney post-breakup introspection: ‘I’m cold, I’m staring at the wall, it’s raining, sad colours’.  Then there’s the passive-aggressive streak that he ‘always did everything for you’, so clearly the breakup isn’t his fault. Oh, and the One Thing He Should Have Done is he ‘should have been there’ even more?! Am I the only one getting stalker vibes here? And what was that ‘hour of need’? These lyrics pose more questions than they answer. It’s like a Stephen King novel – possibly Misery. I’m looking forward to the karaoke version. 2 points.

Wolfgang: I have a soft spot for male singer/songwriter ballads, so I really like this song! I like the voice of Giannis and think he will do a good live performance. But I fear that the song can soon be forgotten again right after his performance. I would recommend staging with just the spotlight on Giannis and his song, which could create a more intimate atmosphere and give us a Tom Dice moment on stage. The ‘one thing he should have done’ by May is change his glasses and wear something comfortable, so we don’t get another Moran Mazor effect! I’d love to see this qualify to the final, but I don’t have much hope it will. Some of these ballads have to die the ‘ballad death’ in the semis. 5 points.

Jaz: Considering how long and involved Cyprus’ Eurovision Song Project was, it didn’t narrow things down to a great selection of songs. You could say that this particular project was, if not an F-grade fail, C-grade at least. Like the other less-than-impressive NFs of the season, though, Cyprus scores points for picking the best of a bad bunch – that is, the best apart from Hovig’s Stone In A River, which I personally believe should be representing them instead. One Thing I Should Have Done is a soft, reasonably pretty ballad that definitely harks back to the days of Tom Dice and his equally simplistic entry. The thing is, I was never that attached to Me and My Guitar, and the same goes for the bespectacled John/Giannis’ song (which has nothing to do with the fact that Tom was better-looking). It’s nice, it’s sweet, and the emotion is genuine, but I don’t feel much at all when I listen to it. The only reason I’d be disappointed if Cyprus didn’t qualify with this is because it’s Cyprus, and I always like it when they do advance. But unless they create a ‘moment’ on the night – an air of simplicity that provides a stunning contrast to most of the other performances – I think Slovenia’s three minutes that follow will obliterate all memory viewers have of Cyprus. 5 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 4.00

 

 

POLAND

In The Name of Love by Monika Kuzyńska

Poland

Kohan: I like this one! I know I’m meant to be a punk/metal fan, and this is so middle-of-the-road adult contemporary…but dammit, it works. Just when I think the song is about to plateau, it kicks up to the next level, bringing the guitars, bringing the drums. The way it swells to a crescendo is perfect. It better qualify for the final, it’s good. I think Poland is safely through semi two this year. 6 points.

Wolfgang: I am not really impressed by this song, as it sounds to me like the prototype of an LLB (Lame Lady Ballad). It could have been an entry in the contests of 1979, 1985, 1994 or 2001, etc – it sounds quite old-fashioned and like I’ve already heard it a hundred times before in different ESC shows. I absolutely think this song cannot stand out and will not qualify. I would compare it to the entry of France, with France having the advantage of already being qualified to the final. Sorry, but this simply is not enough to make the difference on the Eurovision stage. It sounds like the B-side of If You Asked Me To by Céline Dion. I hope there won’t be another Dion-esque diva performance in the second semi. I don’t see a second performance here! 2 points.

Jaz: Many people will be inquiring as to the whereabouts of the buxom butter-churner and her stain-removing friend (whisky and gin are hard to remove from one’s petticoat) in Poland’s performance this year, as I can safely assume they will not be making an appearance. In The Name of Love is pretty much as far removed – genre, mood and subject-wise – as you can get from My Słowianie, which is a strike against it in my book. Poland made a serious splash in Copenhagen, and it’s a shame to see them toss their triple-flavour icecream sundae with hot fudge sauce, sprinkles and a cherry on top (two actually…one on each scoop *wink*) in the trash in favour of a plain Greek yoghurt (or Polish yoghurt, if there is such a thing). Having said that, there must be a little sugar in this confection, because it is sweet. As piano ballads go, it flows nicely and compliments Monika’s voice, and the lyrics don’t make me nauseous. It isn’t cutting-edge, but I still feel like it fits well enough into the 2015 contest, even if it would go down a treat in 1995 as well. There’s nothing really wrong with it, and I find it to be a soothing, pleasant listen. But it’s just not memorable, and when you think back to Poland 2014, it becomes even less so in comparison. I cannot see Monika making it out of her semi final, no matter how hard I try, because there’s nothing here that would compel the masses to vote. She’ll do okay with the juries, and if her performance is well-packaged, she’s sure to avoid the dreaded last place. But I think that’s the best result Poland can hope for. 6 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 4.67

 

 

ITALY

Grande Amore by Il Volo

Italy

Kohan: Majestic. Italy has the full package: charisma, perfectly harmonised vocals…and they look fantastic. The way the song builds is sublime. I understand now the true power of a well-tailored Italian suit, and putting Back To The Future references in your video clip is a great way to bribe the Hatman jury (thanks, fellas). But…I’m only giving it 8 points (Jaz is gonna kill me). It’s a contender for the trophy and the juries will love it, but it isn’t a song I’m playing repeatedly.

Wolfgang: Il Volo are already popular in a lot of European countries. That is an advantage, because they already have a wide fan community. And the guys have great voices and outstanding live abilities, so this year Italy will easily fly again into the top 10 of the scoreboard if they do a perfect show. The song also combines the musical taste of the older and the younger generation, so that they will get a lot of points from various countries across Europe. I think it will easily end up 6th-8th in the final. The bookies already see this coming close to winning. IMO, it is the best song of these five I am reviewing here, but it is not a winning song. 8 points.

Jaz: If marrying a song ever becomes socially acceptable, I will be dragging this one down the aisle before you can say ‘Jaz, what the hell is wrong with you?’. It was love at first listen between us, fueled firstly by the beauty of the popera, secondly by the blend of those three voices, and thirdly by my bias where Italian music is concerned. Then, when I watched the music video, the collective attractiveness of Piero, Ignazio and Gianluca was added into the mix, and my grande amore (the pun had to happen) for Il Volo and their Sanremo winner was cemented. This entry is everything that great Eurovision moments are made of. It starts softly, then builds to an explosive crescendo perfect for pyrotechnics use; it’s sung in Italian, the most musical language in existence; and it’s performed by three magnificent vocalists who have been honing their harmonies for six years, despite still being in their early twenties. After a bit of a misstep last year, Italy should be back to its flawless, classy-as-heck best in Vienna. I don’t buy into any of the negative comparisons between Grande Amore and France’s operatic flop of 2011, Sognu. The former is more of a pop-and-opera hybrid (hence my use of the word ‘popera’ earlier) whereas the latter was straight opera – Grande Amore is much more accessible. Plus, the boys from Il Volo are charismatic and laid-back performers, unlike Amaury Vassili on the ESC stage. He looked stiff and uncomfortable, and like it was an extreme effort to expel every word of Corsican. A better reference point for Grande Amore would be Latvia’s 2007 entry Questa Notte, which was a triumph by Latvian standards. Italy being Italy, and Il Volo’s song being more dynamic and accessible than Questa Notte, they should fare even better. I do have to agree with Wolfgang – I don’t think Italy is gong to win Eurovision this year. But I do think they have the power to come close, and at the least, make up for Emma’s panty-flashing mishap. DOUZE POINTS!!!

EBJ Jury Score: 9.33

 

 

MONTENEGRO

Adio by Knez

 Montenegro

Kohan: I liked this when I first heard it, and it’s grown on me even though it’s not my usual style (what, no electronica? Where’s the drop?). The transition at 1:24 is awkward and I don’t know what the song is about, but it still keeps me hooked every time I listen – there’s something about the ambience it creates. I hope it qualifies, but I doubt it’s a song we’ll remember next year. 7 points.

Wolfgang: After my first listen to Adio I was a bit disappointed, because my expectations on another Željko song were really high, him being my favorite male artist of all time in Eurovision. And I really love all four of his entries to the Eurovision, including Oro by Jelena Tomašević. When I compare this song to the other four, I automatically come to the conclusion that Adio is not the best song Željko has ever written for Eurovision. But that’s complaining on a very high level, because it is still a very good song and Montenegro can be proud of Knez, who is a really good singer, too. I am sure this will qualify to the final, but then, anything can happen. I hope at least for a placement between 11th and 16th, which would be a bit better than Sergej Četković’s placing last year. This song to me is a grower, getting better with every further listen. 7 points.

Jaz: Once the weaker player in the Serbia VS Montenegro tournaments I hold in my mind, Montenegro has embarked on a steady rise in my estimations over the past few years. Igranka > Ljubav Je Svuda. Moj Svijet > the nothing that Serbia sent last year (obviously). And now, Adio > Beauty Never Lies, by far. I too am a massive Željko fan – y’all probably know that all of his previous entries are ESC favourites of mine – so whenever I find out he’s making any kind of Eurovision comeback, as he is composing Adio for Knez…I FREAK OUT! There is something hauntingly, spellbindingly beautiful about all of the Balkan ballads he creates, and this one is no exception. I agree that it isn’t his strongest composition for the contest, but it has the ŽJ stamp on it, and I’m sold. The only thing missing is the man himself. I have nothing against Knez, who is a great performer, but he’s not quite as…shall we say, debonair as Mr. Joksimović (and the fact that he looks like a magician reminds me so much of this that I can’t take him seriously). But all in all, the ethnicity, interesting rhythms and great melody have won me over as they always do. This may be a ballad amongst many, but it will stand out, being the traditional, non-English-language kind, performed by a male (as opposed to the generic, English-language female ballads on offer). I hope that equals qualification. If not – or if Adio fails to finish in the top 10 in the final – it will be the first Željko entry to finish outside of that top 10. I suspect it will struggle to hit those heights, but I’m more than happy to help it out by voting for Montenegro. 10 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 8.00

 

 

ARMENIA

Face The Shadow by Genealogy

Armenia

Kohan: This just confuses me. With the disparate musical styles, it feels glued together, like it’s trying too hard to be Bohemian Rhapsody. Just when I hear a part I like, it turns into a ballad again. Or worse, the part with the opera singer attempting to scat like the UK’s Electro Velvet. Never mind that ‘Genealogy’ is contender for most uncool band name, and that I have no idea what’s with the 1800s family photos in the video (I think I’ve missed something). And those lyrics…is she singing ‘You are chicken your heart’? I give half a point for the black leather outfits (so goth!) and half a point for the power rock ballad parts. I.e. 1 point.

Wolfgang: I am really biased with this entry of Armenia this year. My first thought was, six amazing voices do not make a perfect song! The multiple changes in this song rather make a chaotic impression to me. Every artist alone is a really good performer, but together they don’t make the perfect whole. I am a bit indifferent with this song, but there is something in it that makes me like it. Nevertheless, I think this will qualify to the final even in a semi with so many Eastern European countries. If the Dorians qualified in Malmö, this one should easily do, as it is much better. 3 points.

Jaz: I hate to say this, but whenever I think about Armenia in relation to Eurovision 2015, it comes out as ‘ArmeniUGGGGH!’. I love the idea of Genealogy, presumably borrowed from Switzerland’s assembling of Six4One in 2006, and in theory, the six members would be a force to be reckoned with. In practice, however, they are putting forward a shambolic, chaotic reject from an off-Broadway musical. If Armenia had sent Inga, Tamar, Essaï or any of the other members on their own or as a duet (with a different song) things might have been more palatable. Unfortunately, all of the singers have such distinctive vocal stylings and genres they are suited to, so Face The Shadow comes off as three minutes of cobbled-together competition, in which everybody’s fighting to be the star of the show. I hate to break it to them, but nobody’s winning that fight. As cookie-cutter and naff as Six4One’s If We All Give A Little was back in ’06, at least that was cohesive. It knew what it was, and all six singers blended into a serviceable supergroup. Genealogy and Face The Shadow are the complete opposite. In spite of the star power, I can see them giving us the car crash performance of the year – an onstage mess that will hopefully be swept away by Belgium straight afterwards. 2 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 2.00

 

 

Talk about the good, the bad and the ugly! This round of reviews has given the EBJ Jury leaderboard one of its highest, and one of its lowest scores so far.

Here are today’s standings:

  1. Italy (9.33)
  2. Montenegro (8.00)
  3. Poland (4.67)
  4. Cyprus (4.00)
  5. Armenia (2.00)

So Italy reigns supreme for the time being, taking the #1 spot from previous champs Slovenia. Will our Grande Amore take them all the way? Or will another bookies’ favourite end as favourite with my esteemed jury members? You’ll have to wait and see.

Up next = Sweden, the United Kingdom, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Romania. A YouTube star and my mother (again) will be passing judgment on the songs from these five countries, and you won’t want to miss what they have to say. What I have to say will probably be interesting too. Fingers crossed.

I’ll see you in a few days’ time for Part 4 of the Viennese Verdicts. In the meantime, let me know how you would rank Italy, Montenegro, Poland, Cyprus and Armenia – a.k.a. how much you disagree with all of the above!

 

nsig

 

Baku Reviews: Part 4 (Lithuania-Netherlands)

Lithuania

Love is Blind/ Donny Montell

Reminds me of: I’ll Be Back by 2PM

The good stuff: Who says disco is a no-no? Well, probably many, many people in this day and age. But I don’t pay any attention to those people, not any more – Donny has ignited in me a new appreciation for the genre. His song begins in a ballad-esque way, with the first chorus hinting at what’s to come. Then BAM! With a discarded blindfold and a cartwheel, Love is Blind is off into Disco Heaven. Sure, from then on it’s a big wedge of vintage cheese, but I’ve always been a savoury girl. Donny himself has it all – he can dance, he can sing, he’s probably wanted by the 2012 Lithuanian Olympic gymnastics team, and he’s not too unfortunate to look at. And so I’ll be hunting through my parents’ wardrobe for some flares and platform boots (and I might even find some of my mum’s) to don(ny) for Lithuania’s three minutes in the spotlight.

Everything else: Here’s a random question – why did Donatas Montvydas decide to adopt a rather Irish-sounding stage name? For all I know his real name means Donut Mountain, and that was the motivation, but to my non-Lithuanian understanding ears, ‘Donatas’ has a lovely ring. I’d say it was an attempt to snag more votes fromIreland, but he’s been Donny for years.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner – 8 points.

 

Macedonia

Crno I Belo/ Kaliopi

Better than 2011: No

The good stuff: Kaliopi, as you may or may not know, failed to advance from Eurovision 1996’s version of a semi final. Will she have better luck this time around, representing a country notorious for just missing out? We’ll soon see. This woman is a huge star in former Yugoslavia. She’s also got a powerful, gravelly voice to rival Nina Badrić’s, and that voice is well suited to this rocky number that has grown on me a lot since my first listen. I find the first part, which is the less rocky part, more listenable, but at least it goes somewhere (not unlike Lithuania) when it makes the transition. I’m expecting a well-rounded performance from Macedonia.

Everything else: Like many of this country’s entries, Crno I Belo lacks a certain special something that makes it a shoo-in to qualify. It’s good, but not great. It’s memorable, but not overly so. I guess, as Hera Björk would say, it’s missing je ne sais quoi. Maybe that will change when we come to the live show, with costume and staging coming into play.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower – 6 points.

 

Malta

This is The Night/ Kurt Calleja

Reminds me of: Everybody by Tanel Padar & Dave Benton.  

The good stuff: Poor Fabrizio Faniello again failed to win a third ticket to Eurovision this year, but his fans will be pleased to know he’ll be there in spirit. Kurt’s TITN is not only a reincarnation of 2001’s Estonian winner – it also bears more than a passing resemblance to Faniello’s entry of the same year, Another Summer Night. For all I know, Malta 01 and Malta 12 were composed by the same people (the tiny island is forced to recycle artists and songwriters all the time). In its own right, it’s a summery, fun song with a catchy chorus (who doesn’t love a bit of ‘eh-eh-eh-eh-eh-eh’?) that won’t be lighting any fires (the Azerbaijani tourist bureau will be disappointed) but should be mildly entertaining to watch on the night.

Everything else: This is the cheesiest entry of 2012 – sorry, Donny Montell – a fact ESC haters might latch on to when they launch their annual ‘Eurovision is crap’ campaigns. I think that is mainly thanks to the lyrics, which are on the Greece level of clichéd-ness. Also, as Maltese entries often do when they aren’t performed by Chiara, it’s lacking in something that would make it outstanding. I’ll be surprised if it qualifies.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower – 6 points.

 

Moldova

Lăutar/ Pasha Parfeny

Top 10 material: Yes

The good stuff: Bravo, Moldova, bravo. I am actually slow-clapping right now. This song is so much fun! It’s everything I look for in a Eurovision song (or listen for, I suppose): it’s infectious, it’s happy, it doesn’t take itself too seriously but it’s not a novelty song, it’s ethnic, you can dance and sing along to it…the list goes on and on. I’m expecting it to go down fantastically in the Crystal Hall, and likewise in my lounge room.

Everything else: Is there anything else I can say? I’ve pretty much laid all of my cards on the table. Although I should mention that, as you can see below, I haven’t given this the douze. That’s because, as much as I love it, there are a bunch of songs that just edge it out of my top 10 of the moment. I think the 2012 field is a strong one, and pretty much everything in my top 30 is much-loved, so Pasha, if you’re reading this, a) you must be desperate for stuff to do, and b) don’t be disheartened by the tenner!

Winner, loser or grower: Winner – 10 points.

 

Montenegro

Euro Neuro/ Rambo Amadeus

Reminds me of: A drunk guy at a wedding doing karaoke.

The good stuff: If I had to pick out one redeeming feature, I’d say the chorus. As much as the ‘eero neero’ irritates, it is part of the most listenable section of the song. As a result, the final thirty or so seconds are not eardrum-shrivelingly bad. Another positive, I guess, would be that Rambo lived up to expectation with the song. Having listened to some snippets of his back catalogue (I can’t bring myself to say ‘past hits’) when he was announced as Montenegro’s representative, I expected a song exactly like this – a.k.a. Man Rambling Incoherently To Music For The Longest Three Minutes You’ll Ever Experience (Oh My God, He’s Opening Eurovision 2012!).  

Everything else: Oh my God, he’s opening Eurovision 2012! That will surely be the strangest first act in a long time, if not ever. I’m sure you’ve figured out how I feel about this, but I’ll reiterate: it’s three minutes (though it seems more like 180 seconds) of a man rambling incoherently to music, about God knows what – or as Aisha would say, about what, only Mr. God knows. What is with Montenegro? If they withdrew from the contest because they weren’t getting anywhere, only to come back with a prime example of why they never got anywhere, then it was probably a waste of time.

Winner, loser or grower: Loser – 1 point.

 

Netherlands

You and Me/ Joan Franka

Best lyric: ‘Our love couldn’t handle time…’

The good stuff: For the first time in forever, the Dutch song has been labeled one to watch – that is, one that could possibly win the contest this year – and all thanks to a former The Voice contestant with ridiculously chiseled cheekbones and a penchant for Native American headwear. Joan’s You and Me is a charming, up-tempo, almost country-style song about her cougarish childhood tendencies (hello, she was five and he was three!). It reminds me a bit of Switzerland last year – it’s sweet, humble, and a little quirky. I hope it doesn’t suffer Switzerland’s 2011 fate in qualifying and then flagging in the final, but surely a ticket out of the semi alone would be like Christmas coming early for the Netherlands, who haven’t qualified since 2004 and who came dead last in their Düsseldorf semi.

Everything else: I want this, more than any other song, to do well – or at least to get somewhere. But I wonder if it isn’t one of those all or nothing entries that will either rake in the votes and blitz into the top 10, or fail miserably (kind of like Italy last year, and France last year if you count what people were saying before the contest). If you’re living in Europe (but not the Netherlands) please send a vote Joan’s way. Can’t you imagine how great it would be for them to be announced as one of their semi winners?

Winner, loser or grower: Grower – 7 points.

 

NEXT TIME: I shower a lot of love (and a smattering of ‘what were they thinking?’) on Norway, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino and Serbia!

 

Eurovision 2012: by the numbers!

  • 1 controversy surrounding the construction of the venue: I’d say that there should have been a tad more planning put into this project so that nobody had to knock on the doors of a bunch of Azerbaijanis and say ‘I’m terribly sorry to interrupt your breakfast/lunch/dinner/grandmother’s funeral, but I’m afraid we have to build a gigantic stadium on the top of your house now.’ Or something like that. There’s no doubt the Crystal Hall will be amazing, but no amount of amazingness can justify making people homeless. Unless it’s made of actual crystal…NO. Not even then!
  • 42 participating countries so far: Every year, around September, I make a point of having a nervous breakdown. Why? Well, it’s not because my birthday is in that month and I am freaking out about getting older (which would be understandable because last September I turned twenty and found a grey hair). It’s actually because the number of confirmed ESC nations is hovering around the 31-34 mark and I panic that it won’t get any higher. Thankfully, it always does. This year’s contest has the potential to have 44 entries, but if it’s 42, I’ll be more than happy, especially since last year’s returnees, Austria, Hungary and Italy (allegedly) are back once more.
  • 1 comeback country: Give me an ‘M’! Give me an ‘O’! Give me a…oh God, I cannot be bothered. It’s Montenegro, okay? In the past I’ve found it odd that Serbia kicks bottom at Eurovision whereas its former spouse struggled three times in the semis before calling it quits. But, perhaps inspired by the changes being brought about by the presence of juries in the voting, Montenegro are back, and despite my being less than fond of their entries, I’m glad. 2012 will be another chance for them to pick a winner – or at least a qualifier (with their artist being called Rambo Amadeus, the latter is all I’m hoping for).

"Please PLEASE perform for us at Eurovision again, Andrea! We really...oh wait. We have Rambo!"

  • 1 withdrawing country: Poland is out and the mourning is well underway. There’s not much to say on this matter apart from ‘I sure hope Poland come back in 2013, preferably with Edyta Gorniak or Ich Troje (now with yellow or purple hair!)’. That’s not too much to ask, is it?
  • 2 ‘will they, won’t they?’ countries: No, neither of them is Slovakia, although you can expect Slovakia to start messing with us again any day now. It is, in fact, Armenia and Morocco. I have a bad feeling they may be missing in Baku. As far as Armenia goes, I find this uncertain status very sad, because they are a trusty Eurovision nation and the idea that they may have to sit this year’s contest out because they can’t be guaranteed safety in Azerbaijan, to be blunt, sucks. Even more so because Eurovision was created to unite the continent.
  • 26 participants in this year’s final: Wow, that means it’ll be almost as marathon as the 2007 semi during which my entire bottom half went numb from sitting on the couch too long! Awesome! But why is it so? Well, that’s because not only do we have the Big 4 (the UK, Spain, Germany and France) but we have the newest member of that exclusive set, Italy (obviously making it a Big 5. I may not have done any maths since high school, but I can count up to ten), and the host country. Add that to the 20 semi final advancers and you have the magic two-six.
  • 26th of January (when the semi final allocation draw will take place): I don’t honestly believe that any particular performance position – except for maybe last – helps a song to qualify, but that doesn’t stop me from immediately setting about predicting once the draw is done. This January draw will determine who sings in each semi, as well as in which half, and that alone is enough to get speculation going.
  • 2 selected songs: I think it’s safe to say that right now, Switzerland is the favourite to win. Unbreakable by Sinplus would definitely deserve the honour and shiny trophy in my book when compared with the “interesting” “song” that is Suus by Rona Nishliu, Albania’s pick. I’ll leave my spite for some proper reviews later in the year (although, if Suus is reworked enough – i.e. completely – the spite level may have decreased by then).

Rona Nishliu: bringing back the dreads we have missed so much in Eurovision since Beth

  • 8 selected artists: Here’s the role call – Iris, Maya Sar, Ivi Adamou, Anggun, Kaliopi, Rambo Amadeus, Zeljko Joksimović and Pastora Soler. I’ll assume you already know which country they’ll be representing (if you don’t, see if you can figure it out by the names…consider it a fun little game!). It looks like Belgium and Cyprus are going down the Lena route by choosing someone young and fresh, whereas France, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Spain are bringing out the big guns with chart-topping, established artists. As for Bosnia & Herzegovina? Well, they’re taking a leaf out of Iceland and/or Georgia’s book by kidnapping last year’s backing singer and forcing them at glitter-gunpoint to sing this year (but without the violence, I guess – I hear Maya was fully consenting). Personally, I’m hanging out to hear what Zeljko will come up with, as he is the creator of two of my favourite Eurovision songs of all time, and another cracking one. He’s under a heap of pressure to deliver the goods, but I reckon he can.
  • 7 national selections scheduled for January: As I write this, here’s the go – Bosnia & Herzegovina, France, Slovakia and Turkey will have both songs and artists by the end of the month; Denmark’s MGP will be on the 21st; Cyprus will pick a song for Ivi on the 25th; and Belarus will make their decision on the 28th. As you read this, none of the above is likely to be true. NFs are so very fickle!
  • Today’s final number is a triple-digit 100, for the amount of times per day I think about how excited I am for Melodifestivalen. The list of entrants for 2012 reads like a who’s who of Swedish music (which is kind of what it is). I’ll be keeping my eye on…

–          Loreen and Danny Saucedo, two of my favourites from last year

–          The Moniker, since last year he came third (like a certain Eric Saade did back in 2010 before coming back and winning!)

–          Timoteij, because they are amazing. Obviously.

–          Ulrik Munther, the Swedish Justin Bieber (there’s one in every country. Australia’s is Cody Simpson. Who’s yours? Unless you live in Canada in which case your Bieber IS Bieber, and I’m very sorry for that).

–          Afro-Dite, Andreas Lundstedt, Molly Sandèn and Charlotte Perrelli, because they have all graced the Eurovision stage in the past – some once, some 7564 times (and it’s still not enough is it, Charlotte?) and others on a smaller scale.

 

So that’s my overblown numerical take on the stale 2012 news that everyone had known about forever. I hope you enjoyed it, and do come back, because I promise to post more regularly and be more hilarious than ever this year. Well, I did at about 11.58pm on December 31st anyway.

Happy New Year!

 

What are you most looking forward to in the 2012 Eurovision season? Who are you excited to see in the national finals?