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ANYONE I WANT TO BE = A JESC WINNER? Reviewing and wrapping up Junior Eurovision 2018

Just like that (a whole week ago now), Minsk’s second Junior Eurovision is done and dusted. I still have some residual Resting Sadface, even though we in the Eurovision world have already moved on to the momentous Melodifestivalen artist announcement and unveiling of Tel Aviv’s first act via Armenia (my thoughts on those things are still to come…be patient).

I say ‘we’, but I love JESC so much I’m not ready to move on yet. Hence why I’m here to look back at Sunday’s comp way after everyone else. Me being miles behind the rest of humanity is one of my many charms. Right?

Honestly, my highlight of JESC 2018 was Polina Bogusevich standing on the stage in a gorgeous gown, looking more sophisticated and glamorous than I ever will and belting out an impeccable reprise of Wings. But there were a lot of other high points too, plus a typically tense voting sequence that produced some interesting results. I’m going to go through it all right here, right now.

If you need a refresher or just want to watch the whole thing again (I’ve watched it three times and might need to go in for a fourth ASAP) here’s the show in full:

 

And now, let’s get into reviewing the performances – from Ukraine to Poland and every country in-between – and all of the results.

 

 

The performances

Ukraine Darina kicked the show off with intensity, attitude, and a performance artists three times her age would be proud of. The quick camera cuts at the beginning were totally in keeping with the edginess of the song. Styling on point, vocals impeccable. I feel too uncool to even listen to the song, let alone watch the performance, but I’m going to keep doing it anyway.

Portugal This was cute, but looked and sounded pretty unpolished after Ukraine. I liked the phone screen/social media concept, but I couldn’t take the “boomerang” effect seriously – it just looked like a mistake. All in all it was three minutes of second gear, but Rita is full of personality and that shone through. Any moments she was in the armchair were the best ones.

Kazakhstan The music video was epic, but Daneliya’s performance was underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, she’s amazing, but her vocals were patchier than usual and I didn’t feel much fight coming from her. When she was on her game, it was stunning. Sadly though, I think a tweaked version of the NF staging would have been better.

 

Albania Efi is a tiny pink and glittery ball of energy, and I adore her. Her enthusiasm and sass at age 10 eclipses mine at age 27, and she had the crowd in her command from the second the music started. She’s not the strongest vocalist but was definitely in tune and giving Barbie her all. My only complaint is how short the performance seemed, because I wanted it go on forever.

Russia I always thought Unbreakable sounded like a JESC winner (maybe too much) and it did come across that way. With Anna front and centre surrounded by her band, it was all very Polina Gagarina, which is a compliment. She sounded solid. I’m torn on the double denim – María Isabel 2004 vibes, anyone? – but the pink extensions were a nice choice.

The Netherlands Like a takeaway pizza, this was covered in cheese and I enjoyed it immensely. Max and Anne are so cute together and have great chemistry. Vocally they were slicker than at their NF. Okay, so the giant versions of the duo on the rear stage screens had a super-high cringe factor, but somehow I found the whole package as endearing as ever.

Azerbaijan The JESC version of this song was nowhere near as good as the original – I wish Fidan had stuck with the full ballad. My other negative was her outfit (half disco, half bridesmaid). The best part of her performance was undoubtedly her vocals, which were angelic and as crystal clear as the Kosta Boda trophy she did not win. She’s precious. And a teenager now, apparently?!?

Belarus You guys know I’m biased on this one, but I honestly felt Daniel lived up to my (very high) expectations. This was impressive, and the staging was so Sweden-like that I’m sure Christer Björkman would have given it a douze if we’d had him as a guest judge again. Daniel is a star in the making and I hope to see him representing Belarus at the ESC in a few years.

 

Ireland Taylor is such a nice kid, and everything about his presence on stage made me want to wave an Irish flag in time with I.O.U (but I don’t own one so I didn’t). This was so much fun and didn’t try to be more sophisticated than it is. I’m convinced that if this entry had competed in the early to mid 2000s, it would have made the top 5.

Serbia If you read my reviews, you’ll know Svet is not a song I like much. But Bojana turned out a spectacular, faultless performance, and I was impressed big time. Great costuming? Check. Gorgeous LED graphics? Check. Vocal perfection? Check. It still felt like a looooong three minutes – the song just drags – but I was happier to watch than I had been just to listen.

Italy Melissa and Marco put on a show that was so cute, my cold, cynical heart defrosted like I’d stuck it in a microwave, and I felt the urge to run through a flowery meadow and blow bubbles and stuff. There was nothing that I didn’t love about this. They sang beautifully and their rapport is something to ‘Aww’ over. So I did.

Australia Jael is my homegirl, and she did me proud! The lighting at the start was top-notch and I wish that Sanna Nielsen vibe had been used more throughout, but I’m not too bothered. I have a conspiracy theory that her dress was sewn from offcuts of Dami Im’s, and we know there’s magic in that. Best armography of the night right here, folks.

 

Georgia If you were questioning how Tamar stood up to older and more experienced singers on The X Factor, I bet you aren’t any more. She was phenomenal, and her staging/styling couldn’t have been better. This was a more grown-up Georgia than we’re used to, and it worked wonders. Was it just me or was there a Japanese influence here? LOVE.

Israel This is how you make a performance interesting without making your singer move a muscle. Children Like These is a stunning (cover) song and Noam was pitch-perfect. All he had to do was stand there and sing, and let the camera, graphics and lighting do the rest of the work. I was spellbound, just as I knew I would be.

France If this is what France produces after a fourteen-year hiatus, maybe they shouldn’t come back to JESC until 2032 (I’m kidding of course, they’ve got to be there in 2019). Angélina’s vocals weren’t the strongest of the night, but the mise en scène was perfect and she was the cutest little leading lady ever. Great props and choreography. C’est magnifique!

Macedonia Like Kazakhstan, I wanted Macedonia to deliver a flawless performance but it didn’t quite happen. Still, this was staged beautifully by Macedonian standards (sorry, but it’s true) with the highlights being the costume change, the LED snowfall and the moment Marija held up her snowflake and the lights went down. When her vocals were at their best, they were spine-tingling.

 

Armenia It was 17 songs’ time before I could no longer resist the temptation to dance (sitting in bed, in my pajamas…it was super late at night okay?). Armenia used Levon’s NF performance as a template but made it bigger and better – and he was on fire. No fading energy or running out of breath like before. Tell me what was wrong with this and I’ll tell you why YOU’RE wrong.

Wales This was such a nice debut for Wales. Think back to how boring Perta was at the selection stage then fast forward to last Sunday, and I think you’ll agree that Wales made the most of it. I’m not 100% on the costume choice, but the choreography was A+. Manw is a really engaging performer and I would have watched two hours of just her on the stage.

Malta This was pretty much what I expected, only with more questionable fashion (party tracksuit alert) and to compensate, more sensational vocals than I was prepared for. Like every other kid who’s represented Malta at JESC since Gaia Cauchi, Ela is insanely talented at this singing business. Her dancers added interest when I was worried they’d look out of place.

Poland Last but not least (quite the opposite, as it turned out) Roksana hit the stage with what was definitely a confusing performance to watch. If there was a cohesive concept in there, I couldn’t pick it out. Still, the bomb song that is Anyone I Want To Be and Roxie’s beyond solid performing arts skills outshone the OTT surrounding her. A random but excellent closer.

 

 

My top 5 performances  

Armenia Nobody had more sass, swag and charisma all rolled into one than Levon. There wasn’t a second where he looked lost on the massive stage, and not a second when I wasn’t loving – or should I say ‘L.O.V.I.N.G’? – his performance.

Australia What can I say…I’m patriotic. I was worried that keeping Jael on a podium leaving just her voice and arms to do the talking would be a mistake, but she didn’t need to move to absolutely nail it. The glittery dress was the cherry on top.

Belarus What can I say…I’m biased. I loved Time from the first listen, think Daniel’s a superstar and consider this three minutes the coolest of the night. If this exact performance was slotted into the ESC, the only surprise would come from people going ‘Is this really BELARUS?’.

France So much cute. This was like a group of friends having the best time ever, coincidentally in front of a huge crowd and millions of online/TV viewers. It couldn’t have been more in keeping with the song’s subject matter. Trés bien.

Georgia Georgia and Tamar slayed every single aspect of this performance, and it’s another one that could have competed at adult Eurovision without any changes. The styling in particular was amazing. Bravo.

 

 

The results

I’m not going to dive too deep into facts and figures, since I’m days late getting this wrap-up done and you’ll have had your fill of that stuff by now (why won’t someone pay me to talk about Eurovision already so I don’t have to waste time at my actual job to make money?). We know our top 10 looked like this:

  1. Poland
  2. France
  3. Australia
  4. Ukraine
  5. Malta
  6. Kazakhstan
  7. Italy
  8. Georgia
  9. Armenia
  10. Russia

I wasn’t expecting Poland to quite get there with the win, but I obviously underestimated the power of Roksana’s fans (all 200 000+ on Instagram alone at the time…she’s now on 300 000+). Anyone I Want To Be was arguably the best song of the contest (though not my favourite) but was it performed better than everything else? I don’t think so. I’m going to say that the current JESC voting system needs work, but I’m excited for Poland to have won something, and I think it would be wrong to drag Roxie for having too much support.

France in 2nd is fabulous and totally deserved. If that’s not motivation enough to come back next year and attempt to go one better, I don’t know what is. Australia rounding out the podium places obviously makes me a very, very happy Jaz – I was expecting lower top 10 at most. Yes, juries love us, but those people out there taking that out on Jael need to just NOT.

After Melissa and Marco’s performance, a decent top 10 result was what I was hoping for and it’s what I got (I even ended up voting for Italy spur of the moment). Georgia and Armenia should have been higher in my opinion. L.E.V.O.N finishing lower than Boomerang and actually scoring Armenia’s worst ever result is ridiculous. Then again, the fact that 9th out of 20 is their poorest showing says great things about Armenia.

Other results outside of the top 10 that “surprised” me (because I don’t want to say ‘pissed me off’ when we’re discussing a children’s contest) include Belarus in 11th – you guys know they were my favourite, and I really think they earned a place in the 6th-9th range at least. Macedonia finishing 12th for the third year running and the 8th time in total is…well, pretty hilarious, but I would have loved Marija to squeeze into the top 10 too. Albania was underrated as far as I’m concerned, but that doesn’t take away from Efi being a teeny queen who we should all be bowing down to. Finally, Wales scoring zero from the juries and coming last overall is an injustice. HOW?!?!?

Okay, I think that’s enough complaining from me. I’m going to wrap things up by celebrating our winner Roksana, who Pole-vaulted into first place at the end of a seriously intense points presentation. I hope ‘Junior Eurovision winner’ qualifies as anyone she wants to be. Congrats to her and to Poland for finally winning a musical Eurovision event. I’m already looking forward to a show (hopefully) hosted in a place we’ve never had a JESC before next November.

 

 

Let me know what you thought of JESC 2018 in the comments!

 

 

 

 

THE JESC 2018 REVIEWS | Round 3 (Australia, France, Malta, Poland + Wales)

Wherever you are in the world and whatever time it is there, a) hello and b) thanks for coming back to read more of my Junior Eurovision 2018 reviews!

I’m squeezing them in at this point since the contest is happening this weekend…I know, it’s super shocking that I, Jaz, your hot mess of a Eurovision aficionado, am having issues getting things done on time. But once you’ve recovered from said shock, I’m going to shock you even more by getting straight into today’s round of reviews. Obviously this one includes the songs from Australia, France, Malta, Poland and Wales, so you might want to prepare yourself for all the girl power.

Keep scrollin’ on (Maltese wordplay intended) to see what I think of Jael, Angélina, Ela, Roksana and Manw’s JESC contributions and chances, as they take to the stage for the first time to rehearse. Could I be reviewing a potential winner here? Tell me what you think and how excited you are for Junior Eurovision (on a scale of 1 to almost peeing your pants) in the comments.

 

 

We’re back! It’s attempt no. 4 for us Aussies to win Junior Eurovision, and with our results reading better by the year (8th, 5th and 3rd so far) there’s a lot of pressure on Jael to do just that. Now, you can call me biased if you want – I won’t be able to deny it – but I really think we’re in with a shot this time. If not to go all the way, then to do pretty well for ourselves at the very least.

Champion is right there with Speak Up in terms of greatness (only as a power ballad, it’s got a different energy) and it leaves My Girls, and We Are especially, in its dust. Sounding a lot like Beyoncé’s Halo and featuring an arguably better chorus, it may be derivative for a song that’s advising us all to live like we’re original – but by-the-numbers pop is what Australia has delivered to JESC’s doorstep every time, and it’s continued to work in our favour (adult Eurovision = another story). Anyway, the lyrics are no more generic than the English verses/choruses of most of the other entries…or a lot of the lyrics in general if you Google Translate them. This is a song contest for kids we’re talking about, so uplifting messages about being yourself and shooting for the stars and stuff are always going to outnumber deep and meaningful musical ponderings re: the meaning of life and the inevitable existential crisis that hits you when you turn 13 (or was that just me?).

Besides, the real star attraction of this show is Jael herself – she’s got the vocal power of reigning Junior Champion (HA HA) Polina Bogusevich without the English pronunciation handicap. And this song is perfect for her voice. Those tones plus the majestic melody could equal a spine-tingling three minutes on the Minsk stage, assuming that Jael brings her vocal A-game when it counts and we don’t screw up, undercook or overdo her staging (I say we, but I’m taking zero responsibility if it happens). Australia hasn’t exactly been the best role model for live presentations at Junior, so I’m hoping the delegation has built on last year’s interesting-but-not-OTT production for Isabella. If they have, I don’t see how we couldn’t finish on the upper left side of the scoreboard. But like I said, I’m biased. 10 points.

 

 

Bonjour! Longtime JESC fans will remember that France had a fleeting affair with Eurovision’s younger sibling (which sounds wrong, but you know what I mean). It started in 2004 and ended in…well, 2004, when they sent the Frenchiest Song Ever™ to Lillehammer – Si En Voulait Bien by Thomas Pontier. Beginner’s luck and a generally great entry scored them 6th place, but they dropped out regardless and haven’t graced a JESC with their presence since. Until now, obviously. The question is, has that extended vacation been beneficial or has it put them out of touch with what Junior Eurovision is about these days?

For me, France was worth waiting for. Adorable Angélina and Jamais Sans Toi are EXACTLY what I want from a JESC package. She is so cute (and if her parents are inexplicably looking to put her up for adoption, I’ll take her for sure) with all the charm and confidence a kid needs to handle a big performance like the one she’ll be giving in Minsk. And the song is, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way. It’s catchy, energetic and summery; the mix of languages is seamless; it’s contemporary; and it’s neither too junior nor too adult. Basically, all I can hear is the sound of boxes being ticked. France has done everything right with this whether it was on purpose or not, and I salute them for that. The only thing they could potentially mess up is the staging, and since Thomas’ song didn’t require anything but bare-bones presentation, all we can look to if we want to gauge their skills is adult Eurovision. Jamais Sans Toi is not unlike a kid version of Alma’s Requiem, with a similar energy, vibe and sound…and Alma’s staging was underwhelming. Let’s hope France learnt from it and are throwing some backing dancers Angélina’s way (not literally). At the very least they need to make sure she doesn’t get swallowed up by a big stage and/or dizzying aerial shots of Paris. I will be the prayer emoji in human form until I’ve seen this performance.

For now I’m going to wrap things up with a plot twist: in spite of everything I’ve just said, France isn’t currently right at the top of my JESC 2018 ranking. But that’s just testament to how epic this edition of the contest is. I’ve got Angélina about 7th as of right this second, and I’m still going to give her 10 points.

 

 

With two JESC trophies in their display cabinet and a bunch of other respectable results to their name, Malta shouldn’t be underestimated in this contest. Sure, I personally overestimated them last year, thinking that Dawra Tond was a possible/probable winner (when it eventually finished 9th…oops). But still, this is an island that gives Junior all they’ve got, every year. Ask me if I think they’ve done the same in 2018 and I’ll hesitate for five minutes before saying ‘I thiiiiink so?’.

Marchin’ On actually fits the mould of every Australian JESC entry ever more than it does previous Maltese songs – we Aussies are the lyrical cliché masters after all, and Ela belts out some big ones. ‘As one army we’ll give our all, fearless, not afraid to fall’? ‘Find the light that shines bright deep within’? You’d think countries with English as a main language could be more creative than that. But hey, I’m not here to criticise children (too much). Lyrics like those – and the grammatical disaster that is ‘Whether if you’re big or small’ – aside, there is something appealing about Marchin’ On overall. The melody is nice, the atmosphere is uplifting and the chorus is catchy and memorable. Ela is a great vocalist too, though she’ll be hard pressed to outdo the mind-blowing performances of Gaia Cauchi, Destiny Chukunyere and Christina Magrin in that department (I’m convinced that both Maltese and Georgian kids get deported if they can’t sing). There might be a bit of x-factor missing here, and in what has shaped up to be a super competitive contest, I don’t know if this has the steam to move ahead of six or eight other contenders. Yet I still have a sneaking suspicion Malta will do quite well in Minsk.

Assuming their staging is on point, the only obstacles to success would be a) the big bunch of contender countries I just mentioned, and b) Marchin’ On being kind of unsure of itself. It’s mid-tempo, not really a power ballad but definitely not a piano ballad, and missing a “moment” – Ela’s vocal gymnastics towards the end seem a bit desperate and tacked on just because she can pull them off. Okay, so maybe she won’t do that well – and I’ve talked myself out of a third Maltese win, I think – but there’s a possible spot for her on the lower left side of the scoreboard. Upper right at least. To clarify, my predicted range for Malta at this stage is 8th-13th, and my score for them is 7 points.

 

 

Poland is one country that’s made a cracking comeback to a Eurovision event – kind of like Bulgaria at adult Eurovision, but on a smaller scale (and with a little less success). They dropped out of JESC after two consecutive last places in 2003 and 2004, and didn’t return until 2016. Since then they’ve sent two stunning ballads and two sensational female soloists to the contest, with Alicja Rega achieving their best result ever last year (though I think Mój Dom deserved to be higher than 8th because HOLY KIELBASA, IT’S AMAZING!!!). It’s female soloist no. 3 for Poland in Minsk, but The Voice Kids winner Roksana isn’t packing a big ballad in her suitcase.

Funnily enough, when the song title was revealed I assumed Anyone I Want To Be was definitely going to be a ballad, and a cheesy one at that – but I was wrong. It’s actually hard to categorise this song (at least in one or two words) so I’m going to say it’s ‘contemporary radio-friendly pop with urban and rock influences and a whole lot of attitude’. So much attitude that Roksana’s almost too nice to pull it off, but I think she just manages to get away with it. I’m a big fan of this track in general – it’s catchy, fun and has some edge, making it totally age-appropriate but not unappealing to voters and jurors who are *ahem* a little way away from their childhood/teenage years, like myself. I especially love the pre-chorus and any of the parts that are in Polish. That leads me to my only real issue with AIWTB, which is the pretty messy mix of languages. There’s English and Polish all over the place, and it makes the whole thing feel less than cohesive. I would have preferred the entire song to be in Polish, at least up until the last chorus (a more traditional trend of shoehorning English into LOTE entries). But the song is good enough in every other way for me to ignore the bilingual elephant in the room.

It’s great to see Poland doing something different after the last few ballads they’ve sent, without reverting to dated pop or the lacklustre stuff that saw them finish dead last twice back in the early Junior Eurovision days. I just hope they can stage this in the right way, because it needs something less basic than the ‘stand there and sing in front of a pretty LED background’ formula that worked fine for Nie Zapomnij and Mój Dom. I’m thinking backing dancers, lots of colour and possibly the theft of the Netherlands’ costumes from 2016. It will be interesting to see what is done with this, but I have high hopes. We know Roksana can sing – you don’t win The Voice by wailing like we all did when Finland didn’t qualify to the ESC final last year – and she’s singing a very good song. So, if the performance is in keeping with singer and song quality, there’s no reason why Poland couldn’t potentially equal or better that 8th place from Tbilisi. I do prefer Mój Dom – that’s a douze pointer for me – but AIWTB is worth a round of applause and a top 10 result. 8 points.

 

 

After Kazakhstan, Wales’ RSVP to the JESC 2018 party was the biggest jaw-dropper of the year. There’d been rumours of participation in the past, but it was far from being a done deal that they’d compete in either JESC or the ESC…until now, when anything is possible (and I mean ANYTHING, in a world where Bulgaria can just up and withdraw from Eurovision at the top of their game). So here we are with Berta by Manw, a song that has (thankfully) been revamped and is ready to represent Wales – if not win, or even come close – for the first time.

Now, I’m all about that ‘the more the merrier’ mentality, but I was hoping Wales would make more of a splash with their debut when the day finally came. Now it’s here, I am a little disappointed (particularly when I think about what Kazakhstan is bringing to the table – i.e. a song that could win the entire contest). There’s nothing majorly wrong with Berta. It’s a nice song actually: dreamy and soothing, with a chorus that makes Welsh sound very pretty (because truth be told, it’s not the prettiest language on the planet). And Manw’s voice is perfectly suited to this type of song. But in terms of competition songs that can attract enough attention to rise above the rest, it’s missing something. Drama? A catchier hook? Variety? I’m not sure, but I know it’s not bringing its musical A-game. I can’t imagine Berta outshining the likes of L.E.V.O.N, Your Voice, Ózińe Sen, Samen, Say Love…I could carry on, but that would make Manw feel bad if she miraculously happened to read this.

In all fairness, I have been wrong about this kind of thing before – and there are always songs that do far better in JESC than expected – but I will be in a state of shock for months if Wales makes the top 5, or even the top 10. Either way, they should come back next year and give it another go, because it’s hard to understand exactly what works at Junior Eurovision on the first try. As an Australian, I can admit that we didn’t get it initially, and even now we’re still figuring it out. And Wales has to be commended for putting on a national final in their attempt to figure it out, and ending up with an entry that’s decent if not dangerous. I like Berta and I will listen to it post-show, but I won’t be voting for it. 6 points.

 

  

15 down, 5 to go! With another group of this year’s participating songs critiqued by yours truly, here’s the mini-ranking for this round:

  1. France (10)
  2. Australia (10)
  3. Poland (8)
  4. Malta (7)
  5. Wales (6)

As much as the biased fan inside me wants to put Australia on top, I have to bump Angélina above Jael by a croissant crumb because Jamais Sans Toi is just so infectious, fun and summery (and as we’re heading into summer here in Australia, I guess I’m in a sunny mood). Poland is sitting pretty in the middle with a strong 8 points, followed fairly closely by Malta and Wales. I’ve mentioned again and again how high-quality I think this competition is, and the fact that my least-liked song of the day is one I still enjoy and can give a reasonable score to is proof of that.

How about you? Is this 16th edition of Junior Eurovision floating your boat more buoyantly than ever before, or do you reckon we’ve had better contests in the past? Which of today’s reviewed entries is your personal favourite, and could any of them win the whole thing? Let me know below.

 

NEXT TIME By process of elimination, you’ll know which countries I’m yet to review – and in a few days’ time the wait will be over! Step right up Albania, Ireland, Italy, Macedonia and Ukraine, because I’m shining my spotlight on all of you…and y’all know I believe that honesty is the best policy.

 

See you then!

 

 

 

THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 2 (Azerbaijan, Estonia, Poland, Romania + Spain)

Bonjour! In case you hadn’t noticed, Eurovision 2018 is so close that the road to Lisbon is practically walkable – provided you’re not wearing giant platform boots like the lead singer of Wig Wam. I’ve definitely noticed, given I’ve got so many reviews to cram into the few weeks left before the contest kicks off.

Clearly, it’s time for less talk and more action. And today I’m talking all things Azerbaijan, Estonia, Poland, Romania and Spain. Spoiler alert: there are highs, and there are lows.

How high and how low are we talking? There’s only one way for you to find out. Keep reading to see how I rate the entries from Aisel, Elina, Gromee feat. Lukas, The Humans and Amaia & Alfred. Make sure you vote for your favourite of today’s five while you’re at it…scroll for the poll!

 

 

My thoughts Last year we had their skeletons, and now – because Bulgaria has the bones covered in this year’s Eurovision Anatomy lesson – Azerbaijan has moved on to the major organs. They’ve also moved back to a non-Azerbaijani production with X My Heart, which I’m not thrilled about since Skeletons was one of their best, and certainly most original, entries in years. Aisel’s song is neither of those things in my opinion, but it does what it needs to: it’s a competent pop song and an addition to the Lisbon line-up that will deliver an adequate result without challenging for the win. If that’s what Azerbaijan is after, then a happy ending is en route. I do like the track – it’s well-written and produced, energetic enough to bop to (without having a X-my-heart attack), anthemic and catchy (for the most part…I’m on my pre-show listening ban at the moment and have forgotten how the verses go). All in all, it’s solid and doesn’t do anything wrong. But – I bet you could sense there was a big ol’ but coming – I have whipped out my fine-toothed comb and located some minor issues. Head lice on the otherwise healthy scalp of Azerbaijan’s 2018 ESC effort, if you’re up for such a gross metaphor. For starters, there’s the legacy of co-writer Dimitris Kontopoulos and how this song compares to what’s come before it. Kontopoulos is the brains behind a bunch of BANGING Eurovision songs, including Work Your Magic (Belarus 2007), Shady Lady (Ukraine 2008), This Is Our Night (Greece 2009) and You Are The Only One (Russia 2016). Sadly, this song just ain’t in the same league – but that might be the influence of Swede Sandra Bjurman, who gave us one of the contest’s most maligned winners ever, Running Scared. Another little irritation of mine is Aisel herself, who’s gorgeous to look at but is supposed to be a smoky jazz singer…so why has she been given a dance-pop song to sing that doesn’t suit her voice or show her off to maximum advantage? It seems like an odd combo of song and singer to me, and that’s a feeling that doesn’t strike me with most, if not all, of the other countries competing (think of Austria or Israel, for example. Cesár and Netta didn’t co-write their entries, but you can tell they were tailored to their voices and styles). It’s a case of Valentina Monetta Syndrome. Will the majority of other fans/casual viewers/jurors notice or care about the mismatch when they’re voting? I doubt it, and they’ll give Azerbaijan enough of a boost to reach the final and then finish around 12th-17th. I’d be satisfied with that – but if they’re not, then they need to try a different tactic in 2019.

2017 VS 2018? Skeletons – cross my heart.

My score 7

 

 

My thoughts If your home and car insurance isn’t up-to-date, you might want to get on that because Elina is about to smash your windows with her on-point operatic vocals. Just as there’s nothing quite so painful to the ear as out of tune operatics, there’s nothing quite so impressive in the vocal world as flawless, crystal-clear pipes like hers. They’re the main selling point of La Forza, let’s be honest – so fingers crossed there’s no mic fail á la Laura last year. As for the song itself, well…I find both opera and popera hit-and-miss at Eurovision (I loved Grande Amore, hated La Voix) as does the scoreboard. La Forza slots in somewhere between those two past entries on my love/hate spectrum, with Estonia being closer to Italy than Sweden (just not geographically). I feel the powerful effects of the song, but not as strongly as a lot of other fans. I can’t help being swept up in the majesty of it all when the chorus drops though, and Elina is a hypnotic performer with a slight case of crazy eyes. With THAT VOICE, her ethereal beauty, a big song that suits her to a tee (take note, Azerbaijan), and a dress designed for Mrs. Slender Man that may or may not have projections on it in Portugal (I don’t think they’re necessary myself), Estonia has a statement piece on their hands. But do they have a winner? Possibly, but not probably. La Forza is firmly in a genre that does not appeal to everyone, and Elina can only do so much – i.e. perform perfectly – to change that. There is a clinical feel to the song and performance package too that gives it a coldness, and not in a cool purposeful way like Equinox’s Bones. I can’t see that vibe overcoming more warm-hearted rivals like Toy to win the televote, but Estonia has a good chance at a top three jury vote, I think. After two years of unexpected disappointments, Estonia is looking at an almost certain qualification (I reserve the right to take that back come prediction time *covers own butt in case*) and a final result that couldn’t be classified as a crash and burn. Elina’s talent alone is top 10-worthy, and how high she can go will likely depend on how many spines she can tingle when it matters.

2017 VS 2018? Verona is more up my street (if not anywhere near as vocally impressive).

My score 8

 

 

My thoughts From Flashlight to Light Me Up, here’s Poland! They’ve switched things up from a solo female ballad to a Norway 2017 sequel (albeit a less inventive, more lyrically pedestrian and typically inferior sequel) and I am pretty pleased with the results. Swedish dominance at Eurovision – outside of the actual Swedish entry – continues with Melodifestivalen’s Mahan Moin co-writing this track alongside fellow Swede Lukas, and the end product is what you’d expect. It’s slick, simple but effective, and will whip the arena audience into a semi-frenzy – especially as Poland is due on stage right after Georgia. Light Me Up is more fun and accessible (and yes, Salvador, fast food) than Sheni Gulistvis, and will probably be rewarded accordingly. I’m not going to pretend it’s The Greatest Song In The World™, but the fact that it is Grab The Moment’s more cookie-cutter cousin gets it on my good side. The chorus is insanely catchy, and the musical hook that follows creates an epic atmosphere. What else can I say? I’m an easily pleased person when it comes to pop music – as long as something has an infectious melody and decent lyrics, it will probably end up on a Spotify playlist of mine at some stage. If I’m going to go negative for a minute, I’ll do it by saying that Lukas had what I hope is a case of Ryan Dolanitis when this song won Krajowe Eliminacje. In other words, his vocals weren’t out of this world. But I know he’s capable of ironing them out for Eurovision (I hate to repeat myself, but as I’m on my contest song hiatus, I haven’t watched Polish performances from the preview parties to compare). Factor in the limit on the number of ways a producer/singer duo song can be performed – JOWST did an A+ version last year which would be a bad idea to mimic so soon – and there are a few flaws in Poland’s plan. I say that even as someone who really likes (maybe even…loves *insert soaring violin music here*) Light Me Up. Strangely, I won’t be shocked if Gromee & Lukas just miss out on qualifying. The 8th-ish mark in semi two seems as easy to access for them as 12th. But Poland is in possession of a great recent track record: they’ve made it to the final every year since their 2014 comeback. And luckily for them, the second semi is not as diabolically difficult to get out of as the first. If Poland does advance, don’t be surprised if they end up opening the final – it would set the mood like a charm, and it’s not a potential winner to be held back for later on in the show. You (might have) heard it here first!

2017 VS 2018? 2018 – it’s the JOWST effect.

My score 10

 

 

My thoughts The late-1980s power ballad police called, and they want to put The Humans’ Goodbye behind bars – but I’m not keen to let them, because I’m actually really fond of it. I’ve found myself in the awkward position of being pro-Romania this year when most other reviews of their song have been negative…when last year was the complete opposite (I didn’t dislike Yodel It!, but I was in Camp Take It Or Leave It while the majority of other fans were in Camp OMG THIS IS EPIC). If you think I couldn’t possibly justify my attraction to this entry for 2018, think again! Firstly, I have zero problems with late-1980s power ballads, so Goodbye being the Eurovision edition of Alone by Heart gets a thumbs up from me. It’s definitely a slow burner, taking a solid minute or so to transition from piano ballad to big hair/shoulder pads/inch-thick eyeliner territory. Unlike most other sane people who are not stuck in a decade in which they weren’t even born, however, I think what happens is worth the wait. I’m happy to stick around listening for the beat to drop and the guitars to kick in, and I think people hearing Goodbye for the first time during semi two might be curious enough to do the same (or get bored and use the second half of the second as a toilet/snack break, I’ll admit). No exaggeration, that ‘Why don’t you see the beauty that surrounds you everywhere?’ line in the first chorus gives me LIFE. The entire chorus, in fact (when it finally arrives) is a cracker. Another thing I appreciate about this is that it doesn’t follow a predictable song structure, so it never seems to repeat itself – not in the excessive way we’re used to with a lot of ESC entries, at least. Throw in the powerful, raspy-edged vocals from lead singer Cristina and what is the greatest, most appropriate song ending of this year’s contest (it practically begs for a dramatic mic drop) and I hope you can now see why I’m on Team Romania. There are plenty of other songs that I believe are better than this – it’s sitting at the 20-ish mark in my top 43 at the moment, though as I’ve said there are literally only two songs that I dislike – but overall I think it’s a great 80s-influenced PB (power ballad) that won’t get Romania a Eurovision PB (personal best) but might grab a few of my votes. I get why people are saying it might undo the country’s 100% qualification record, but personally (in my special biased way) I have a feeling it will squeak through. Or maybe even do better than expected…

2017 VS 2018? Yodel It has worn pretty thin with me, so I’d have to say Goodbye.

My score 8.5

 

 

My thoughts It has to be said: Spain had a disastrous contest in Kyiv, with Manel’s money note fail becoming the sour cherry on top (and a sound-on GIF that did multiple rounds on social media, and that I may or may not have laughed at). Based on Do It For Your Lover – which didn’t do it for anyone – whatever followed was bound to come across as a masterpiece. But DOES IT??? *insert tense music here*. Tu Canción can best be described as a romantic lullaby, performed by a couple who got together during the quest to seek out the Spanish entry for Lisbon. I know we’re supposed to get all misty and wipe away happy tears whenever this backstory is mentioned, or whenever we see Alfred and Amaia’s onstage PDAs that are not manufactured at this point (though wouldn’t it be interesting if they broke up before the contest…I’m not hoping, I’m just curious). I must have a black hole where my soul is supposed to be though, because I find both the song and the public displays of affection too sugary sweet for my taste. It’s like the duo are in their own little love-cave when they’re performing, and that doesn’t engage me as I’m watching them. Instead, I feel like I’m looking through the window of their honeymoon suite and really should turn away to give them some privacy. Hashtag awkward! The song itself is certainly a step up from Do It For Your Lover in terms of a competition song, but I prefer the summery, fun vibes Manel offered to be honest. Tu Canción is probably the closest thing to a reigning winner copycat that we’ve got in 2018, and no doubt Salvador would approve of the lack of fireworks and flood of feelings. I just don’t have any strong feelings either way – schmaltz aside, it is a pretty and delicate ballad with a nice flow to it, but nothing more to me. I do have an approving nod to spare for the vocals – the tinkly quality and clarity of Amaia’s voice balances out the rough-edged sound of Alfred’s, and they harmonise like a match made in heaven. Maybe they are…maybe there’s an ESC wedding on the horizon! Not that I’m saying these two should get married on stage during their final performance, but in the absence of LEDs you’ve got to be creative with your gimmicks. I’m unsure how Spain will go on the Saturday night, but it’s safe to say they’ll end the night in a better position – and having put on a more polished show – than last year. Personally, Tu Canción isn’t my favourite of the Big Five + Portugal, but it’s not at the bottom of my list (so please don’t plot my death, Spanish Eurofans).

2017 VS 2018? I liked Do It For Your Lover for what it was. Don’t judge me (too harshly)!

My score 6.5

 

 

There you go: that’s another five songs for Lisbon reviewed by yours truly. I should probably stop doing this, but…10 down, (only?) 33 to go!

Here’s today’s ranking:

  1. Poland (10)
  2. Romania (8.5)
  3. Estonia (8)
  4. Azerbaijan (7)
  5. Spain (6.5)

This is a very mixed-up version of the ranking most other fans would create, I know. You can hit up the comment box below to tell me how you’d organise this bunch from best to worst. Or not-so-best, in my case…I definitely don’t hate Spain. I do really, really like Poland though. Stick around for the rest of my reviews to see how Gromee and Lukas stack up against the entire Class of 2018.

Besides sharing your own ranking, why not pick your outright favourite of these five too and see if you’re in the majority?

 

NEXT TIME I’m putting on my Eurovision lab coat (it’s still white, but white sequins) and sliding Albania, Finland, Greece, Lithuania and Moldova under my microscope to see whether good things or bad things are lurking in their entries for 2018. Don’t miss my diagnosis!

 

Until then,

 

 

 

SHINE BRIGHT! Jaz’s JESC 2017 Reviews, Round 1 (Cyprus, Georgia, The Netherlands + Poland)

Gamarjoba, Eurofans who do double duty as Junior Eurofans (if you don’t, then this is your warning to back away from this blog for a while). I’m 72% sure I just greeted you guys in Georgian, which is my way of getting into the spirit of Tbilisi’s first Eurovision event.

There’s less than two weeks until Junior Eurovision 2017, when adorable child/vocal powerhouse Mariam Mamadashvili will hand over the title of reigning contest champ to another pint-sized singing sensation (or four, if The Netherlands wins). That means it’s beyond time for me to start reviewing all sixteen songs competing on the 26th! So let’s breeze past the fact that I haven’t posted since the end of August (my bad…my very, VERY bad) and get this party started.

I’ve pulled four countries out of the special EBJ hat I keep in my closet for such occasions, and they are Cyprus, hosts Georgia, The Netherlands, and Poland (bet you didn’t see that coming. It’s not like I stuck them in the title or anything). Keep reading for my thoughts on Nicole Nicolaou’s I Wanna Be A Star, Grigol Kipshidze’s Voice of the Heart, Fource’s Love Me and Alicja Rega’s Mój Dom. Spoiler alert: one of them just might be my favourite entry of the year.

By the way…I didn’t have time to get an EBJ Junior Jury together this year, but I still wanted to be able to average out the score for each song based on a few factors. I’ve gone simplistic by awarding a standard EBU-regulation point score (1-8, 10 or 12 points) to both the song itself (how I rate it personally) and the artist performing it (their vocal skills, personality on stage etc). The average of those two scores will be each country’s final score. As always, I’ll post a mini ranking at the end of each review round + the full ranking alongside my pre-show predictions just before the contest. Share your own mini ranking in the comments to let me know which entries are hot and which are not in your opinion (but don’t be too mean because we are talking about kids here).

Now let’s go.

  

 

Watch it here

Last year…George Michaelides’ Dance Floor finished 16th (second last). I had a lot of blues to dance away in George’s parallel universe where the world is a dance floor after that.

The 2017 verdict Cyprus has transitioned from George’s cutting-edge but unsuccessful ethnopop to oh-so-2005 – but probably more of a point magnet – ethnopop with Nicole. Her catchy (to say the chorus of I Wanna Be A Star is an earworm would be an epic understatement), super-predictable (a blindfolded 2012-edition Donny Montell would have seen that key change coming) song comes via three-time ESC act Constantinos Christoforou – and given that he seemingly represented Cyprus with the adult version of the same song back in Kyiv in 2005, THAT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE. I guess I should stop going on about how dated IWBAS is, because that’s not a totally bad thing. After all, it means Cyprus is doing what Belarus did last year by bringing back a slice of vintage JESC for us all to feast on (although the Belarusian hoverboards would clearly have never featured in a Junior Eurovision circa 2004). I always appreciate a throwback in a contest that has grown up a lot recently, with a lot of the songs having the potential to double as ESC entries if a few lyrical changes were made. This throwback is a classic kid-spirational anthem with Cyprus stamped all over it, and the high energy + hooks = party time for three minutes. I definitely like it – while definitely not loving it – but I do wonder if Nicole has the charisma and live vocal ability to pull it off onstage. If it doesn’t look young and fun and if it doesn’t sound perfect, the result could be cringeworthy. In the end, I see I Wanna Be A Star outperforming Dance Floor, but only by a few rungs on the leaderboard ladder. I’m thinking 12th-14th, prior to making my official predictions…

Song score 7

Artist score 6

Final score 6.5

 

  

Watch it here

Last year….Mariam Mamadashvili’s Mzeo became Georgia’s third JESC winner in ten years of competing. They seriously need to start putting some effort in (#sarcasm).

The 2017 verdict Host entries – at least when they’ve become host entries via their country winning the year before, which isn’t always the case with JESC – have a lot of pressure placed on them to follow in the footsteps of a peak result…or at least not embarrass themselves by failing miserably off the back of a peak result. Whether they’re hosting or not, Georgia is always a country to keep an eye on when Eurovision’s younger sibling drops by, and they’ve proven yet again that they know how this contest works with Grigol and his Voice of the Heart. It’s a more mature song and vocalist combo than usual, and for the third time in a row the lyrics are 100% Georgian (YAASSS for having full confidence in your native language!). It’s almost like a child-friendly version of Versace On The Floor by Bruno Mars – in fact, the structure and 90s R&B sound are so similar I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that it was directly inspired by that track. As such, since I’m a mahusive fan of both Bruno Mars and 90s R&B, VOTH is parked so far up my street it’s actually on someone’s front lawn. It’s not my favourite (or even second favourite) song in the 2017 comp, but I dig everything about it. Great melody, great build into some spectacular vocal runs that I hope to heck Grigol can replicate live, and an easy-listening feel that begs for atmospheric staging feat. spotlights and LED stars. In terms of measuring up to Mzeo, I don’t expect it to, but I am hoping for a decent 5th-8th finish. And when the audience inevitably claps their butts off for this host entry, I will be doing the same thing from my sofa (while simultaneously sobbing because I’m not in Tbilisi with them *sniff*).

Song score 10

Artist score 10

Final score 10

 

 

 

Watch it here

Last year…Don’t pretend you’ve forgotten about Kisses and Dancin’, or that you’ve forgotten the dance moves. I know I haven’t. As irresistible as it was, it didn’t crack the top 5 in Malta – Kisses finished 8th.

The 2017 verdict Variety is the spice of life (apparently) so the Dutch bounce from girl group to boy band is worth a fist bump. We can expect Fource to be choreographed to within an inch of their pre-pubescent lives at JESC, and if their NF performances are anything to go by their vocals will be pretty tight (unless somebody’s voice breaks at the worst possible moment) – but that’s where the similarities between Kisses and Dancin’ and Love Me come to a screeching halt. Love Me, strangely enough, isn’t as instantly loveable as last year’s song, but after a few listens I’d say it’s just as high-quality. It’s more grown-up, and something you’d hear on mainstream radio if it was entirely in English. The chorus is so simple you don’t have a choice but to belt it out along with the boys (so the English that is used has been used very well) and the instrumental breaks are made for slick, crowd-pumping choreography á la the precision kind I mentioned before. Overall, the song’s energetic, modern and strikes a good balance between youthfulness and sophistication. It’s definitely in the middle on the maturity scale, but even so it reminds me of Macedonia’s too-mature-for-JESC entry last year, Love Will Lead Our Way (I guess when your song has ‘love’ in the title, maturity makes sense). I’m only talking in terms of style, but given Macedonia’s less than impressive result in 2016, that is a worry. Is Love Me dynamic enough to be in it to win it? Not quite, but I’m not discounting these guys. The Netherlands don’t always get the points they deserve at Junior, but when they’re on point anything is possible. Fource’s is a performance I’m extra psyched to see because if it’s cohesive, as the only group act in this year’s contest they’ll stand out for the right reasons.

Song score 8

Artist score 10

Final score 9

 

 

Watch it here

Last year…Poland returned to JESC for the first time since 2004, reaching 11th place (a big leap from their losing streak of 2003/2004) with Olivia Wieczorek and Nie Zapomnij.

The 2017 verdict I wasn’t sure whether to create an air of mystery around this one or just lay all of my cards on the table right away. Eventually (after .5 of a second) I decided to go for the second option, and tell you that the suit of my cards is hearts all the way because OMG I LOVE THIS!! It is stunning. From the first time I heard that tinkly piano intro, I knew I’d found something special – the one song (because my other faves will have less trouble doing well) that I’d be supporting like a woman possessed. Like Georgia, Poland has opted to leave English out of their entry in favour of exotic, unpronounceable-to-the-untrained-speaker Polish, and it’s used in a melodically spine-tingling ballad that sounds more than a little Balkan at times (scoring major love points from me). I also must mention that masterpiece of a key change which, for a split second, makes crystal-clear vocalist Alicja sound like she’s out of tune until you realise she was just transitioning to a powerful second chorus in a way that would challenge singers twice her age. Speaking of Alicja – she may need to work on her charisma and stage presence a teensy bit, but she does emote enough to give Mój Dom the feels it needs to not look like an adult’s song being sung by a teenager. If someone can give her a shot of confidence and a Cinderella-style costume makeover before she steps on the Junior stage, Poland will have achieved perfection. Unfortunately, they aren’t a sure thing for success. I’m hoping this song will be another Tu Primo Grande Amore (or at least come close) but it could just as easily fall by the wayside, a.k.a. the low side of the scoreboard. My fingers will be crossed – once I’m done voting for it – in the hope that other people get the goosebumps I do when I hear it.

Song score 12

Artist score 8

Final score 10

 

 

And Round 1 is DONE! You’ve got to love Junior Eurovision for making the review caseload way lighter than the adult contest does (reviewing 4/16 songs makes you feel much more accomplished than reviewing 4/42 songs).

With the first four JESC 2017 entries criticised (as nicely as possible) and scored by moi, here are the current standings:

  1. Poland (10)
  2. Georgia (10)
  3. The Netherlands (9)
  4. Cyprus (6.5)

So Grigol just misses out on getting a high five from me in favour of Alicja, whose song I’ve bumped ahead because it’s a little more magical. Will Poland manage to beat Georgia, The Netherlands and Cyprus in the actual contest? Probably not…but a girl can dream.

Before we find out for sure the weekend after next, I want to find out something else from you:

 

Once you’ve voted, come on down to the comments and let me know how you’d rank the rest of this random, out-of-the-EBJ-hat bunch who are prepping to shine bright in Tbilisi. You know you want to! It’ll help pass the time between now and Round 2 feat. Albania, Italy, Macedonia and Portugal J

 

Until then…

 


 

 

JAZ JUDGES EUROVISION 2017 | The Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands + Poland

Hello again, and welcome to another episode of me putting the Eurovision 2017 entries I adore up on a pedestal, and tearing the ones I hate to shreds. Fun times (unless you love the songs I can’t stand)!

Another six songs are up for some serious judging today, via me and – once again – my mum. Being the crazy lady that she is (it’s hereditary), she has voluntarily come back to have her say on The Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands and Poland. So are you ready, Martina, Koit & Laura, Levina, Fusedmarc, O’G3NE and Kasia? Too bad if you’re not, because it’s time for you to be reviewed in 3, 2, 1….now.

 

 

My thoughts I’d never complain about a contest that has a lot of musical variety – after all, forty-plus ballads/dance tracks/Hard Rock Hallelujah rip-offs wouldn’t be fun to watch or listen to (or  be much fun for the producers trying to create an entertaining running order). So in terms of that, a nice little jazzy number from the Czech Republic helps with the whole ‘celebrating diversity’ motto of the 2017 comp. But that doesn’t stop My Turn from being the most boring song in the line-up by a mile. I just don’t think it has a lot to offer – the melody isn’t very catchy or exciting, there’s nothing about it that stands out and makes it memorable (I’m actually struggling to recall how the verses go right now) and I’m not a massive fan of Martina’s voice either – though I expect she’ll sound pretty much studio-perfect on the Kyiv stage. Speaking of the stage…not even an Azerbaijan 2013 level of staging genius would pimp out this entry enough to push it into the qualification zone, IMO. Dead last in the semi isn’t a dead cert, but it’s hard to imagine the juries or televoters lavishing attention on My Turn when there’s the likes of Blackbird and Amar Pelos Dois (for the former) and I Can’t Go On and City Lights (for the latter) surrounding it. Then again, I didn’t think the Czech Republic would qualify last year, so I’ll prepare to stand corrected just in case. 4 points.

My mum says… This is a bit naff. It’s got a nice chorus and seems simple to sing along to, but I get the feeling two or three run-throughs would be enough for me to get bored of hearing it! Martina has an unusual voice – I wasn’t sure if it was a female or male voice at first, and I guess that makes things interesting. But the bottom line is that I won’t be too bothered if don’t hear her song again anytime soon. 4 points.

The Czech Republic’s score 4.00

 

 

My thoughts I’ll get right to the point on this one: if Koit and Laura’s duet accurately depicts what being lost in Verona is like, then drop me off there without access to Google Maps! I LOVE this song, just as much as Koit’s 1998 entry Mere Lapsed and a million times more than the weak-as-water Let’s Get Loud by Laura’s Suntribe in 2005. Verona seems to borrow sounds from three or four different decades – mostly the 1990s and the 2000s – which doesn’t leave it feeling super fresh, but the infectiousness of all of its elements, the instant hook and the fact that it wasn’t written in the traditional A-B-A-B-C-B song structure (the song is as lost as Koit and Laura, but in a good way that keeps you wondering where it’ll end up) wins me over anyway. It’s a little dated, but in a way that works – more nostalgic than stale. The singers themselves sound great together and when they’re doing their solo duties, but their chemistry leaves a bit to be desired. It might have been the Eesti Laul staging that was a little off, but I hope there’s not a Chanée and N’evergreen situation happening behind the scenes…or a reverse scenario in which Koit and Laura are great mates IRL, but can’t channel the necessary emotions to give an authentic, appropriately-tortured performance. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, because we haven’t (correct me if I’m wrong) seen a live version of Verona since it won the NF. It’s done well in the OGAE poll so far which makes me happy, but that’s not always a reliable indication of what will succeed in the actual show. Still, I think Estonia – after a shocking trip to Stockholm that saw Jüri Pootsmann finish last in the first semi – has the power to propel themselves into the final, and onto that sought-after left side of the scoreboard with this pairing. 10 points.

My mum says… Once I stopped wondering why ‘two silly boats in the sea’ had been considered a wise lyrical choice by Verona’s writers (after Jaz informed me that the lyric is ‘two SAILING boats’, which I must admit makes more sense) I started to enjoy Estonia’s entry. I wouldn’t say it’s fantastic, but I like the sound, the beat, and the way Koit and Laura’s voices complement each other. It’s definitely more than musical wallpaper, so I think it should do well in competition. 6 points.

Estonia’s score 8.00

 

 

My thoughts Let’s do the math: in the past two years, Germany has sent two absolute gems to Eurovision, only to f%*k up the staging of both (to different degrees) and fall utterly flat in the final. If that’s the way the universe is working, then by rights Levina’s Perfect Life should be staged flawlessly and be super-successful on the scoreboard…even though it’s a bit of a snoozefest. Of course, Deutschland could just as easily be heading for their third wooden spoon on the trot (undeserved in each case) which would mainly upset me because Levina seems like an awesome person whose (perfect) life should be filled with sunshine and rainbows and puppies. Plus, the girl can sing. It’s just too bad that the song she ended up winning Unser Song with is a non-event. It starts out as a Titanium homage – which teases you with the prospect of it turning into a proper dance banger – only to veer off into plod-along territory and stay there. It’s almost like Perfect Life doesn’t know what type of song it wants to be, so it’s ended up as a compromise between a ballad and a club track that’s too down-tempo to compete with other in-betweeners like Sweden and Macedonia. I can’t realistically see anyone picking up their phone and taking the time to vote for it, and I also don’t think it’s going to stand out as something spectacular that the juries would freak out about. That doesn’t bode well for Germany. They really need to find their groove again, or have a Belgium-style turnaround. Try it in 2018, okay? 6 points.

My mum says… This is more my style. I was mouthing the words of the chorus by the end, and when that happens without me even realising, I know I’ve found a favourite – or at least a song I wouldn’t change stations on if it came on the radio. Perfect Life is definitely radio-friendly. I like Levina’s voice and the lyrics, plus the fact that she’s obviously happy with her lot. I think many of  us could learn some lessons from her…or at least from whoever came up with the song’s concept. 7 points.

Germany’s score 6.5

 

 

My thoughts I think we know which country Georgia passed the bonkers baton on to after last year! Funnily enough, I’d probably be saying the same thing if Get Frighten had won in Lithuania. What we’ve got instead is less novelty but way more untamed, and it’s nothing like the Game of Thrones-inspired military march song I thought Fusedmarc would present me with, back before I heard Rain of Revolution for the first time (it just goes to show that you can’t judge a song by its title). I’m not even sure how to categorise this entry, which is almost a positive attribute when you consider how ‘different’ that makes it. Part electropop, part funk with a rocky edge, it’s not as offensive to me as it seems to be to most other Eurofans – I really like the beat and melody of everything leading up to the choruses, and the chorus itself has a pretty high sing-along factor. I also dug the staging of the song at Eurovizijos, and if they’ve decided to keep those visual effects for Eurovision, they’re sure to look epic on that LED-laden stage. But vocalist Viktorija lets a little too loose with her big notes, and that equals a messy listen (those screechy ‘YEAH YEAH’ bits being the main culprit). And it has to be said – by me, apparently – that she gives off some crazy vibes (in a psychotic, escaped mental patient sort of way, which ain’t ideal). The overall package is something that, once unwrapped, I wouldn’t try to return for store credit…but I can understand why other people would. So I’m safely predicting Rain of Revolution to go absolutely nowhere in its semi, which is a shame after Donny ‘Modern ESC Legend’ Montell did so well for Lithuania in 2016. 5 points.

My mum says… Lithuania’s taking us all back to the 80s whether we like it or not, by the (literal) sound of it. I’m not sure I do like it. Rain of Revolution is a song that seemed like it was going to become something better than what it began as, but it never did. I’ll give a few ticks of approval for the nostalgic feel and the energy of the beat, but that’s it. 5 points.

Lithuania’s score 5.00

 

 

My thoughts O-M-G3NE, I was excited when these ladies were announced as the Dutch reps for the year (as they’re JESC alums, I followed their Voice journey and have watched their audition for the show about 500 times). They’d been rumored before and their selection was bound to happen sooner or later, but I was happy to have it sooner. That, of course, was prior to Lights and Shadows being chosen and then released. So did I change my mind when it came out? Well, no…although I do think the trio have been saddled with a song that’s far too focused on being a vehicle for their voices rather than a current, competitive contest song. There’s a lot of emotion attached to O’G3NE’s entry because a) it was co-written by their father, and b) it was co-written by their father about their seriously ill mother. That should allow them to really feel what they’re singing rather than just parrot the lyrics pitch-perfectly, which they can do without trying anyway – their harmonies are incredible. However, heartstring-tugging aside, the song is a throwback with Wilson Phillips comparisons that won’t stop cropping up. IMO that’s not totally terrible, since I get a kick out of the rousing 90s feel of it. And even though it’s a very wordy song, I find it pretty easy to sing along to, and very catchy. It definitely stands out, and last but not least, we can bet on the performance being flawless, with the vocals being the shining beacon of jury bait. I just don’t know if it’s going to be a big success, a flop, or finish somewhere in between the two. I wanted O’G3NE to come strutting in to the contest with a surefire hit – i.e. a killer pop song circa 2017 (not 1997) that highlighted their vocal abilities without sacrificing musical fabulousness. I can’t say they’ve done that (DAMNIT!), but there’s a lot I do like about Lights and Shadows. And I’m still excited to have this girl band back in the Eurovision family. 7 points.

My mum says… Sigh. I could happily listen to these girls harmonising all day long. When they’re harmonising to Lights and Shadows, I instantly get the Wilson Phillips feelings that I’ve been told loads of others have too. There’s also a bit of B*Witched in here, making the song/singer combination very 90s indeed. That girl group style is one I usually enjoy, and this is no exception. Though I’d be surprised to hear something like it on the radio, I’d willingly play it again for my own listening pleasure. 10 points.

The Netherlands’ score 8.5

 

 

My thoughts Poland has been pretty hit-and-miss with me since they came back from their Eurovision vacation in 2014 (with a bang). There actually seems to be a pattern forming with my attitude towards their entries: My Słowianie, yes; In The Name of Love, not so much; Color of Your Life, yes. Do you see where I’m going with this? If not, let me cut to the chase: I’m not a huge fan of Flashlight. I had a favourite in the Polish NF that I thought had a better chance of winning (Isabell’s Swedish-written, Kygo-esque Voiceless, FYI) so Kasia took me by surprise when she won instead, with what’s a perfectly okay, gothic and melodramatic ballad. It’s just not the sort of ballad that rubs me up the right way. I feel like it would have fit in better at Kyiv in 2005, though it also reminds me of Lithuania’s Nomads in the Night which popped up three years later in Belgrade. I wish it reminded me more of Poland’s entry that year from Isis Gee, which IS the sort of ballad I prefer. Flashlight has a reasonable chorus – I wouldn’t call it catchy, however it does have some staying power – but I honestly can’t remember how any other part of it goes, and I’ve listened to it just as often as I’ve listened to the likes of Cyprus and Montenegro – two far more instant songs. It’s not memorable or modern enough for me, and I suspect for the contest in 2017 either. I wouldn’t give it zero chance of qualifying, because it might well go through…but if so, I expect it will die in the final. On the plus side, I’m guaranteed to love whatever Poland sends to Milan the as-yet-unidentified host city of Eurovision 2018. 5 points.

My mum says… It’s funny how something so dramatic can fall so flat! This didn’t do anything much for me, and I’m having trouble thinking of the melody too. It sounds like it’s trying to be something spectacular, but it never hits the heights to make that happen. Kasia’s voice is another great one that I’d say deserves a better song to show it off. 5 points.

Poland’s score 5.00

 

 

Aaaaand we’re done for the day! The ranking for this round of reviews looks like this:

  1. The Netherlands (8.5)
  2. Estonia (8.00)
  3. Germany (6.5)
  4. Poland (5.00)
  5. Lithuania (5.00)
  6. Czech Republic (4.00)

Forget two heads being better than one – three is obviously better than two, if O’G3NE’s win over Koit and Laura is any indication (though that was mainly my mum’s influence). You’ll have to hang around until all 42/43 (will I review Russia? I’m not sure at this point) songs have been crossed off the to-do list to find out which country will top our full ranking…and which one will bring up the rear. After that, Eurovision itself will decide whether terrible taste runs in my family or not.

Next time on Jaz Judges Eurovision 2017, I’m rolling out the red carpet for Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Macedonia, Malta and Switzerland. Drop by if you don’t want me to dance alone! And before that, as always, leave your thoughts + feelings on today’s reviews in the comments. Do you think the Netherlands will do the best out of this bunch in Kyiv, or does OGAE poll darling Estonia have the edge? Perhaps we’ll find ourselves in Prague next year and you’ll be saying ‘I told you so’. Let us know below!

 

 

 

 

 

SATURDAY SHORTLIST | The five JESC 2016 songs that all Eurovision fans should listen to

Junior Eurovision isn’t for everyone. I totally get that.

But attention, anti-fans: did you know that your aversion to watching tweenagers/teenagers do pretty much what the grown-ups do in May each November (only on a smaller scale and with the occasional mid-song onset of puberty) is depriving you of terrific tunes that could be added to your ESC and NF season playlists?

If your answer to that is ‘No! Please fix that for me immediately if not sooner, Jaz!’, then fear not – I’ve got you covered.

As a starting point, I’ve sifted through the seventeen songs that competed in Junior Eurovision 2016 last Sunday, and singled out the most mature, non-stereotypically JESC entries of the year. The following five songs are the ones I’d recommend you have a listen to if you’ve found mini-Eurovision too young to warm to in the past, but have a reasonably open mind and wouldn’t recoil in horror at the prospect of giving a few participants a chance to win you over.

Those of you who are JESC fans should feel free to scan this list too, and make your own recommendations from contests past and present in the comments. Together, we can brainwash bring people around to our super-cool way of thinking…

 

 

CYPRUS | Dance Floor by George Michaelides

Could be a Eurovision entry from…Sakis Rouvas, Loukas Giorkas & Stereo Mike

Why you should press play Just in case the title of this track didn’t clue you in, it’s the sort of song that will have your butt moving to the energetic, ethno-dance beat before your brain has even processed what’s happening. Because Sakis Rouvas himself is probably too stiff in the joints these days to return to Eurovision – with a banger like Dance Floor, anyway – you might want to familiarise yourself with the sound of his likely successor.

 

 

MACEDONIA | Love Will Lead Our Way by Martija Stanojković

Could be a Eurovision entry from…Elena Risteska, Poli Genova

Why you should press play There are always songs competing at JESC that really put the word ‘Junior’ into Junior Eurovision. Martija’s is the opposite of that. What you hear and what you see (should you watch her performance from last weekend) are both far more suited to the adult contest. If you tend to shy away from young-sounding voices and songs, and/or if you’re a fan of on-trend, radio-friendly tropical pop, then Love Will Lead Our Way is the way to go!

 

 

POLAND | Nie Zapomnij by Olivia Wieczorek

Could be a Eurovision entry from… Eva Boto, Pastora Soler, Polina Gagarina

Why you should press play Who doesn’t love a classic, money-note-filled power ballad when it’s done right? Poland’s return to JESC after over a decade away brought with it a beautifully written and executed effort (emanating national anthem-esque, military-march vibes) that struck a perfect balance between youthful innocence and mature sophistication. Nie Zapomnij beats a whole bunch of ballads that have made it to the ESC recently, so I highly recommend it.

 

 

RUSSIA | Water of Life by The Water of Life Project

Could be a Eurovision entry from…Tinkara Kovač, Zlata Ognevich

Why you should press play Because I’m biased, and since I absolutely adore this song, YOU SHOULD TOO! Seriously though, it’s a humdinger feat. everything one could possibly want in an adult Eurovision entry. It’s ethnic and modern; builds gradually and powerfully; mixes soft moments with explosive moments, making it exciting; and features a few run-throughs of the chorus in English, so those of us whose tongues won’t wrap around Russian can still sing along.

 

 

UKRAINE | Planet Craves For Love by Sofia Rol

Could be a Eurovision entry from…Mika Newton

Why you should press play Hanging onto Macedonia’s heels in the ‘maybe this should have been submitted for Kyiv?’ stakes is Ukraine, with this dreamy mid-tempo ballad. It’s an interesting (some would say boring, but decide for yourself) composition that doesn’t follow a bog-standard formula, and it has the ability to transport you to another place – the set of The Lord of the Rings, for example. It’s not for everyone, but it is more geared towards grown-ups than kids.

 

 

And that’s my chosen five. If you braved a viewing/listening session on any of the above entries for the first time, let me know what you thought of them. If you’re JESC 2016-savvy already, let me know how I went selecting the songs that might just convince the haters that Junior is worth watching. And of course, if there’s anything else you want to say about the contest we’ve just witnessed – won for the third time by Georgia – go for it. I’m not ready to stop talking about it yet!

 

Until next time…

 

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IT’S JESC 2016 TIME! The EBJ Junior Jury’s Top 17 revealed + my predictions for the show

Welcome to the day all of us Junior Eurovision fans have been waiting for since the conclusion of the adult contest in Stockholm: show day!

 

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In a matter of hours, the 2016 edition kicks off in Valletta, and I couldn’t be more excited if I tried (and I have). I hope you are too – I don’t want to be the only one on the planet who’s pretty close to peeing their pants.

Let’s leap straight in to the stuff I promised to cover in the title of this post, because a) I don’t want the show to start before I’ve even made my predictions, and b) I want to distract you from the fact that I just admitted to being close to wetting myself (I must have temporarily mistaken the slogan of JESC 2016 for #embarrass). So here are some rankings and predictions for your reading pleasure (fingers crossed).

 

Calculated and complete: The EBJ Junior Jury’s Top 17 for 2016 (plus my personal pre-show ranking, just because)

Just as the countdown to the contest itself was on this week, so too was the countdown to the unveiling of the EBJJJ’s post-review ranking (well, it was in my mind, anyway). After four rounds of reviews and mini-rankings, it’s time for me to pull the Cloth of Intrigue away with a magician-like flourish, and let you see who ended up where. Voila!

ebjjj17

So there you have it. Russia, after scoring more sets of douze than any other country, takes first place, followed by Armenia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Macedonia. Poor Cyprus (and I am a little outraged by this) were relegated to rock bottom, which I hope will not be the case after the actual show is over. I’ll probably do a quick analysis this week of how the actual results compared to the EBJJJ version, so keep an eye out for that – the differences are sure to be drastic!

In case you were curious, here’s my personal ranking as of right this second. I got my way a few times, and I didn’t even have to rig anything. Woohoo!

  1. Russia
  2. Armenia
  3. The Netherlands
  4. Ukraine
  5. Macedonia  
  6. Poland 
  7. Bulgaria
  8. Cyprus
  9. Albania
  10. Israel
  11. Italy
  12. Georgia
  13. Belarus
  14. Australia
  15. Serbia
  16. Ireland
  17. Malta

How does yours compare, and what do you think of the EBJJJ’s collective Top 17? Let us know in the comments below.

 

Bets on (but not literally): Predicting the winner, loser and all of the results in-between

I say ‘not literally’ because I’ve never been confident enough in my predicting powers to gamble any of my savings on them. Removing money from the equation takes some of the pressure off, but I’ve got to say – I thought the absence of televoting would make trying to foresee the results easier, but it really makes it harder!

The outcome of JESC has never been decided by 100% jury voting before, so it’s impossible to say with certainty (unless you’re psychic) what will happen in a few hours’ time, and what happened as a result of yesterday’s jury final. Who knows how each jury will react/reacted to each performance? Not me, that’s for sure. But when it comes to the following questions, I have made the effort to come up with some answers…

 

FTW? Bulgaria. Yes, ladies and gents – for the first time in my history of being a Eurovision fan, I am calling this one outright (instead of super-gluing the seat of my pants to the fence by predicting at least three countries to win). I’ve only very recently had the feeling, especially after hearing reports on the rehearsals, that Bulgaria may be about to win their first ever Eurovision event – just six months after Poli Genova achieved their best result yet. My reasoning behind this is pretty simple: I think Valsheben Den is one of the few competing songs (if not the only one) that offers something to all three juries. I can also clearly see the credits rolling over a reprise from Lidia, which is often a good indication of a song’s potential to win (as stupid as it sounds). She’s adorable and engaging, her vocals and her costume (from the little I’ve heard and seen) are on point/fleek, and the song is catchy, memorable and uplifting. WHOLE PACKAGE ALERT! They may not be boasting my absolute favourite entry of JESC 2016, but I would be perfectly happy to witness Bulgaria win with what they do have.

lidia_ganeva1-1

Could Lidia outdo Krisia, Hasan & Ibrahim’s second place today? Quite possibly!

Dark horse FTW? Poland. It’s time for a beautifully-sung ballad to win again, basically, and if it isn’t the up-tempo, inspirational, almost tribal ballad from Bulgaria, I have a sneaking suspicion that it could be Poland’s more traditional number. There was something magical about Nie Zapomnij from the start, and it has continued to grow on me and give me THE FEELING ever since. The pathway to victory is more mountainous for Poland than for Bulgaria, so that’s why I see Olivia as the dark horse to Lidia’s bright, white prancing pony. But watch out for this one, guys. If it doesn’t go all the way, it’ll at least outrank both of Poland’s previous results – and outscore both of their existing point totals.

The rest of the top five? Armenia, Russia, Macedonia. Armenia are better at being the bridesmaid than they are at being the bride, which is nothing to be ashamed of. Last year, I was convinced Mika would come second despite having everything required for a win, and I was right (for once). I have a similar feeling about Anahit & Mary – though really, anywhere in the 2nd-5th range of positions could come easily to them. Russia would be my ideal pick to emerge on top as Water of Life is my absolute favourite entry…but nobody’s talking about them as a potential winner anymore, and something is crooked enough about the chemistry and all-around appeal of the group and song on the JESC stage to convince me that it’s just not to be *wails like Rona Nishliu at a funeral*. Predicting Macedonia to make the top five may be a bit ambitious on my part (as I’m not sure the older jurors will go for it) but it deserves to be towards the top. If Martija doesn’t even grace the top ten with her presence, I will personally take it upon myself to beat up Jedward with an oversized can of hairspray (even if it wasn’t their fault).

sofia-fisenko-russia-water-of-life-project-jesc-2016-junior-eurovision-3-600x400

Russia has sent an incredible song to JESC this year, but it’s looking less likely than ever that they’ll be rewarded for it.

The lower left-hand side of the scoreboard? Georgia, Malta, Belarus, Italy. We’re talking 6th-9th places here, so just out of the top-ten-in-adult-Eurovision equivalent that is the top five. Georgia, if I’m honest and all of a sudden, could actually win (as it turns out, Mzeo is kind of epic and has been getting the round of applause to end all rounds of applause during rehearsals), but if they don’t, I think they’ll drop down to about 6th. Malta (my least favourite) will no doubt get a boost as the home country, but I just don’t think Parachute has the substance to squeeze into the top five á la Federica’s Diamonds in 2014. Belarus would be in with a better chance if televoting was happening (hello, hoverboards!) but as the situation stands, they may have to settle for less. I think Italy’s class will win over the adult juries to an extent, and perhaps the expert juries too, unless Cara Mamma is completely overshadowed by other ballads.

The upper right-hand side of the scoreboard? Israel, The Netherlands, Cyprus, Australia, Serbia. Each of these countries has something that’s likely to stop them from steamrolling over a lot of their rivals. For Israel, it’s going up against arguably stronger and more memorable ballads. For The Netherlands, it’s racking up the points when their song is geared more towards the kids’ jury than any of the others. For Cyprus, it’s bypassing the potential jury opinion that Dance Floor lacks the technicality of a worthy winner. For Australia, it’s the same issue Israel will have, as well as a general lack of ‘wow’ factor. And for Serbia, it’s an underwhelming presentation that has been closely compared to the superior one from Belarus. Together, they’ve got about 99 problems, and making it over to the left side of the scoreboard is definitely one.

australia-second-rehearsal

Australia hasn’t upped their game between 2015 and 2016 – so we shouldn’t expect a better result! Great outfit, though…

Right at rock bottom? Albania, Ukraine, Ireland. It causes me physical pain to predict such low places for two of these countries, but I really do think they’ll all have trouble capturing substantial votes from any of the juries – Ukraine and Ireland in particular. I’d love to be proven wrong and see Albania and Ukraine perform better, but I’m preparing myself for the worst.

 

These predictions – plus some highly scientific calculations which involved guessing which entries would appeal to which jury (kids, adults and/or expert) – come together to create a leaderboard that looks like this: 

  1. Bulgaria
  2. Armenia
  3. Poland 
  4. Russia
  5. Macedonia
  6. Georgia
  7. Malta
  8. Belarus
  9. Italy
  10. Israel
  11. The Netherlands
  12. Cyprus
  13. Australia
  14. Serbia
  15. Albania
  16. Ukraine
  17. Ireland

I reserve the right to delete this and pretend I never produced it if the real results are vastly different.

Do you agree or disagree with my guesses? Is there an obvious, in-the-bag winner in your opinion, or are we in for a shock that has all of our jaws on the floor?

  

Finally – the five things I’m most looking forward to seeing when JESC meets Malta again!

Because ten’s too many, and one would just be lazy.

  • Finding out how Malta has approached JESC in 2016 versus how they approached it in 2014. Will it be similar, yet somehow very different – and in many ways, so much better – as with the ESC in Malmö VS in Stockholm?
  • Finally checking out the performances from my favourites – and some of my non-favourites – after not watching any of the rehearsals in order to maintain an element of surprise. Russia, Poland, Macedonia, Cyprus and Australia (obviously) are among the countries I can’t wait to see on the stage for the first time.
  • Werking it when Poli Genova does her duty as an interval act. There’s no doubt she’ll bring back fond memories of the awkward white girl dancing I did during her opening party set at the Euroclub in May. SUCH GOOD TIMES.
poli_genova_at_jesc_2015

From last year’s host to this year’s ESC, Poli’s come full circle and rejoins the JESC party for 2016. Say yay!

  • Seeing some familiar faces back on the JESC stage – albeit as spokespersons when the adult jury points are announced. The 2015 artists who have been chosen to make a comeback of sorts are Mika from Armenia, Misha Smirnov from Russia, Ruslan Aslanov from Belarus (my winner of last year) and Anna Trincher from Ukraine. Reigning JESC champ Destiny Chukunyere will also be there to announce the kids jury results (after joining Poli as an interval act) and it’s always great to see her smiling face.
  • Watching the results unfold in a year with no precedent for what will take place. Honestly, I’ve based a big chunk of this post on wild guesses because I have no clue what the ending to the JESC 2016 story will be. It could be a happy one, if Russia, Bulgaria, Armenia or Poland take the win (to name a few); or an unhappy one, if Malta manage to do the double with a song that would be the Running Scared to Not My Soul’s Euphoria, if you know what I mean. I’m practically dying of curiosity at this point, so bring it on, Valletta!

What are you most looking forward to this afternoon/tonight/tomorrow morning/whenever? As long as it’s Junior Eurovision-related, I want to know. Although if it’s about your dog, I’m happy to have a conversation about that too.

 

Wherever you are and however you’re tuning in, I hope you have a very merry JESC, and get the results of your dreams (unless they’re different to the results of my dreams, in which case SCREW YOU I WANT IT TO GO MY WAY OR THE HIGHWAY!!!).

 

Enjoy the show.

 

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THE EBJ JUNIOR JURY REVIEWS | Armenia, Georgia, Poland + Ukraine

Hi there, whoever you are and whichever hemisphere you’re in. Welcome to the first episode of four to feature complimentary and catty critiques targeted at children who may cry if they catch sight of the latter (I’m sorry, but I appear to have misplaced my maternal instincts).

Yes, it’s Junior Eurovision pre-party time again! For those of us who love JESC and cannot keep our opinions about it to ourselves, that means reviewing and ranking the competing entries – a solid seventeen, in 2016’s case – possibly in an attempt to figure out what will go down on judgment day. This year, that’s November 20th in Malta (take two for the tiny island), and funnily enough, that date is creeping closer rather than disappearing into the distance. So I’ve got to get reviewing and ranking, like, right this second.

Just before I do, an FYI: to help me out here, I’ve assembled a globe-spanning (a.k.a. mostly Australian with a few other nationalities thrown in ‘cause that’s just how things panned out) JESC jury to score each and every entry alongside me. Together, we’ll award an average rating that will go on to determine where each country sits in the prestigious *cough* EBJ Junior Jury Ranking. I’d like to thank all of my jurors for taking the time to do some Molly Sterling-esque playing with numbers as a favour to yours truly. Props bigger than Ukrainian hamster wheels and Montenegrin Trojan horses go to all of you!

Now, before it’s literally too late, let’s get started.

 

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It’s all about girl power today as Armenia, Georgia, Poland and Ukraine face the music. Read on to find out what me and my crew think of the songs Anahit & Mary, Mariam, Olivia and Sofia are set to perform in Valletta in ten days’ time.

If you need a musical reminder so you can deliver your own verdict, then check out the official JESC Youtube channel’s playlist here.

 

armenia

My thoughts Armenia is one of a handful of countries that just “get” JESC. Year after year, whether they’ve nailed or failed adult Eurovision, they serve up something fun and infectious at Junior that always ends up being in the mix to win the whole contest. So have they done the same in 2016, according to moi? You bet they have! Tarber is a song with the distinction of being both upbeat pop fluff (I use the word ‘fluff’ here positively) and a song that’s likely to tick multiple boxes on the jury’s criteria list – critical for the win considering there’s no televoting this year. The latter is obvious from the second it starts, with Anahit and Mary belting out an intro worthy of a Christina Aguilera/Mariah Carey duet (which they will need to pull off live, or Armenia could suffer a serious scoreboard slump for the first time in forever). That soon gives way to a funk-inspired main event, complete with an incredibly catchy chorus and enough repetition to make the three minutes cohesive, but not boring. The fairly well-written English lyrics squeezed in towards the end (a tactic also used by the likes of Bulgaria, Italy and Russia) are the cherry on top of a cake that I suspect the jury will find pretty appetising – if not the most appetising of the competing seventeen. Overall, I’m a big fan of this song, having enjoyed it more on my first listen than I did last year’s runner-up Love. If the girls have staging up to usual Armenian standards to present in Valletta – and if they can sing close to studio-perfect live – then I think they’re on track to get Armenia inside the top five for the eighth time out of ten participations. That’s what I’ll have my fingers crossed for, anyway!

My score 10

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 6
  • James, UK – 4
  • Joshua, Australia – 6
  • Matthew, Ireland – 12
  • Michael, Australia – 12
  • Penny, USA – 10
  • Rory, Ireland – 12

 

 georgia 

My thoughts Here’s another country that could do Junior Eurovision blindfolded, and do it well (they have had unimpressive results for the past few years, but Georgia still has a stellar record to look back on). Only this time, I’m not so sold on their contribution to the potluck dinner of JESC 2016. I don’t hate Mariam’s Mzeo so much as I have extra-mixed feelings about it. On one hand, I think it has a nice melody and builds beautifully. Then there’s the lushly layered orchestration, which gives it a depth that you don’t find in stuff like the Netherlands’ Kisses and Dancin’ (more on that in another post). Really, it’s an IRL Disney ballad, and Mariam’s the princess with a heap of pent-up emotions to purge on stage. However, there are aspects of this song that turn me off in a big way. It’s almost too dramatic, and gets very shouty towards the end (which, seems to take a looooong time to arrive). It doesn’t capture my attention enough to keep my mind from wandering/wondering (what’s next, song-wise). I also think it’s verging on being too mature for JESC thanks to the old-fashioned, Hollywood musical sound. I know the last three or four winners haven’t exactly put the ‘Junior’ into Junior Eurovision, but they’ve all retained a sense of youth somehow. I’m not sure this song does, Mariam’s slightly squeaky voice aside (something else that stops me from enjoying Mzeo too much). To tell the truth, I prefer the weird, off-the-wall JESC Georgia. The Georgia that has won the comp twice thanks to kids in wasp costumes and kids who really, really like candy. Can we please have that Georgia back next year?

My score 6

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 1
  • James, UK – 2
  • Joshua, Australia – 3
  • Matthew, Ireland – 5
  • Michael, Australia – 1
  • Penny, USA – 8
  • Rory, Ireland – 5

 

poland

My thoughts First things first: POLAND IS BACK IN JESC, AND I AM JUMPING FOR JOY! It’s always great to have somebody rejoin the party, but Poland’s comeback is particularly noteworthy due to the mahusive gap between their last participation (2004, in case you were unsure) and this one. Their entries in ’03 and ’04 scored six points between them, so it would be mighty fine if Poland could improve on that unfortunate record enough to make them want to embrace (HAHAHA, see what I did there?!?!?) Junior Eurovision in 2017 too. Although it’s not the tallest of orders, I think Olivia + Nie Zapomnij = a good chance. The song is a pretty, hopeful ballad, but it’s got some guts courtesy of the beat that kicks in, driving it home; and thanks to Olivia’s powerful, dynamic vocal, which is in keeping with the power and dynamism present in most other aspects of the package. The fact that it’s totally in Polish may make it a little inaccessible to those of us whose brain-boxes can’t comprehend a word of the language (TBH, I have no idea how born-and-bred Poles can wrap their head around it) but it also gives it a mysterious allure – kind of like the one Festivali I Këngës winners have prior to the inevitable unveiling of their mediocre English versions. The thing I like most about this song is that you’re not always sure where it’s going. It almost seems like a couple of songs rolled into one, without being messy. Having said that, I don’t think Nie Zapomnij is the most memorable ballad competing in Valletta, and I worry that it will pale in comparison to much of what follows it if it’s placed early on in the running order. Then again, I could be wrong and it could walk the whole thing (I have been known to make a “few” mistakes when making Eurovisual predictions). I guess we’ll have to sit tight and see what happens…

My score 8

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 5
  • James, UK – 7
  • Joshua, Australia – 8
  • Matthew, Ireland – 7
  • Michael, Australia – 7
  • Penny, USA – 7
  • Rory, Ireland – 7

 

ukraine

My thoughts Next year’s adult Eurovision hosts are also one of my favourite JESC countries. It’s been a long time since I haven’t fangirled over the song they’ve sent to Junior, so I was pretty keen to find out what they’d choose in the wake of Jamala’s victory. Planet Craves For Love (AWKWARD ENGLISH TITLE ALERT!!!) was their pick, and – even sweeping any potential biases under the shagpile rug for the sake of objectiveness – I absolutely adore it (imagine me saying that in a very posh British accent, if you don’t mind). To me, it’s Anna Trincher’s Pochny z Sebe with the rock elements removed and the traditional Ukrainian sounds ramped up. The two songs are even thematically similar (though Anna’s was more intense in lyrical content as well as in the number of guitars being thrashed in the background). It remains to be seen whether Sofia will emerge from a giant lotus flower á la Anna, but even if the comparison stops when she steps on stage, it’ll still have a lot to do with the way I feel about her song. Excluding the title, there’s nothing I don’t like about it. Melodically, the verses, bridges and chorus are stunning; there’s multiple money moments throughout that make it memorable; the music is as organic and sweet as the fruit at a farmer’s market (if that makes any sense); and the tempo ensures it’s a sleepy ballad that won’t actually send you to sleep. Quietly powerful, it’s a song I intend to support via ultra-enthusiastic flag-waving on the day. I do have some reservations about Sofia’s live vocal abilities, but if she and her peeps have spent the last few months shaping and tightening up both sound and staging, well…I, for one, will be happy about it. I’m not sure how Ukraine will score in 2016 given Anna’s middling result in Sofia (that’s Sofia the city), but I’d love the jury to respond to them like they did in Stockholm.

My score 12

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 0
  • James, UK – 10
  • Joshua, Australia – 2
  • Matthew, Ireland – 4
  • Michael, Australia – 12
  • Penny, USA – 10
  • Rory, Ireland – 6

 

Four down, thirteen to go! And with that, we arrive at the exciting part of this post – if the reviews themselves weren’t exciting enough in your opinion (in which case, whatever. I don’t even care. *weeps silently*). It’s the EBJ Junior Jury ranking for this round, and it looks a little something like this: 

  1. Armenia (9)
  2. Ukraine (7)
  3. Poland (7)
  4. Georgia (3.87)

Georgia hasn’t offered up the level of quirky fun this year that we’re used to, and the EBJJJ didn’t reward them for it. Ukraine and Poland end this episode neck and neck, but I’ve broken the tie on countback (ESC-style, of course) and ranked Sofia above Olivia. That leaves Armenia as today’s champ. I don’t know about you, but that makes me want to pull a Barei and say ‘YAY YAY YAY!’.

Next time, the EBJ Junior Jury and I will cast our eyes and ears over Bulgaria, Cyprus, Ireland and Russia. Does one of those countries have the power to eject Armenia from the top spot? Drop by in a few days to find out!

In the meantime, let me know which is your favourite entry of today’s four. And while you’re at it, which of the juror’s scores do you agree with, and whose have you questioning their sanity? Naming and shaming (in a nice, respectful way) is totally cool in my comments section.

 

Until next time…

 

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REVIEWS | The EBJ Jury Judges Eurovision 2016 (Part 1)

Hello! Or, if you don’t mind me greeting you in the languages of the countries being reviewed today: zdravo, bonjour, xαίρετε, cześć, buna and Привет!

Don’t worry…I won’t do that every time.

Yes, it’s finally ESC 2016 review time here on EBJ (they’ve arrived just as unfashionably late as I do to all professional and social events). If you haven’t met the jury members who will be joining me on the quest to critique and compile a full ranking of all 43 entries, head to the ‘Välkommen Aboard!’ page above, or click here if you’re too lazy to look for it. You may as well get to know the people about to rip your favourite songs to shreds a little better.

Although all of the jurors will be scoring all of the entries this year, only three of us will actually be reviewing each time (if you’re hopping off the train at Complication Station right now, I apologise). And so…

 

TODAY’S EBJ JURORS
Jurors1

In this first installment of reviews, Rory, Wolfgang and I will be taking a look at/listen to Croatia, France, Greece, Poland, Romania and Russia – a.k.a. Nina, Amir, Argo, Michał, Ovidiu and Sergey. There are some hyperbolic highs and some low, low lows among the songs of these countries and artists – but which is which, and according to whom? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out.

Let’s get started!

 

 Croatia

Rory Croatia, you’ve sent some beautiful acts to Eurovision – Doris Dragović and Daniela to name but a couple – but in recent years, you’ve given us some of the most…”interesting” songs around, with a rapping granddad, ‘SALIBRAYYYYY’, and Nina Badrić dressed in an assortment of bin bags! So where have you been hiding potential like this? I am so smitten with Lighthouse, it’s unbelievable. Nina is a proven live singer, what with her experience on The Voice of Croatia, and although her look doesn’t exactly fit the typical Eurovision style, the song is easily going to make up for that. When I listen to the song, I can immediately think of the staging and how it’s going to look, with the cameras and everything. It’s a strong, Balkan song that for once didn’t come from the nostril of Željko Joksimović! This should easily sail through to the final (get it? I’m keeping up with the nautical theme!) and make it into the top 10 – and maybe it’ll give HRT the incentive to make The Voice into a national selection, so they can keep sending individual and adaptable artists to Eurovision.

Wolfgang I’m very happy that Croatia is back in Eurovision again this year, with an outstanding voice and a wonderful song. Nina’s voice is hauntingly brilliant, and the music reminds me of some of the good Irish entries of the 90s. It sounds original, a little Celtic and folky, and it is quite different to a lot of the other female electronic ballads we have this year. In addition to this, Lighthouse gives me the same vibes that some of Enya’s songs give me every time. Plus, it is a contemporary song in the likes of Faded by Alan Walker, which is a huge hit all over Europe this spring. I’m very excited about the staged “lighthouse” that we will hopefully see during her performance. Croatian ladies are the best at Eurovision…well, mostly (Severina not included). Great choice this year, Croatia, and lots of luck from Germany!

Jaz I’ve been through quite the thought process where this comeback track from Croatia is concerned. The first time I heard it, I detected traces of Emmelie de Forest, and that turned me right off (I’m not Only Teardrops’ biggest fan). On my second listen, I suddenly warmed to the Cranberries-meets-Corrs Celtic pop sound, because it’s a nostalgic throwback to the 90s while still feeling contemporary. The third time around, I realised just how much the chorus of Lighthouse mimics the chorus of Swedish superstar Zara Larsson’s Uncover (which I love) and mused to myself, ‘Is THAT what’s making this “now”?’. I won’t go on to tell you how I felt after every single subsequent play of the song, but I will tell you what I think of it at this point (since that’s the whole purpose of these reviews). As much as I’m irritated by the frail, ethereal sound of Nina’s voice, and as much as I detest songs that use lighthouses as metaphors in their lyrics (all the talk about light guiding people safely home and whatnot makes me want to deliberately steer my metaphorical ship into a cliff face so I don’t have to hear it any more), I do like this. The lyrics aren’t as lame as they could be; the pounding beat is hypnotic; the key change is impressive; and Nina does have the kind of vocal chops that suit a song of this genre. So, while Croatia may not be fielding my favourite song of the year (why they’re so high in the betting odds is a mystery to me) I am quite keen on Lighthouse.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 12
  • Fraser 4
  • James 10
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 7
  • Nick 4
  • Penny 12
  • Rory 12
  • Wolfgang 10

Croatia’s EBJ Jury score is…8.67

 

 France

Rory I’ve enjoyed the majority of French songs from the past few years (the exception being Sognu – what was that utter mess?!?) and this year is no different! Unhappy with their constant string of undeservedly low results, France has finally sent something that can actually be seen as radio-friendly! I enjoy the indie tones of J’ai Cherché, and the bilingual aspect of it means it will be a lot easier for the song to make a connection with a wider audience. However, this could end up being a double-edged sword, as the wrong sort of staging could ruin their chances. It’s been done before (Anggun, I’m looking at you…why GYMNASTS, of all things?). I’m not sure how it’s going to be on stage, as previous performances have been very bare and stripped back, but I’m open to being surprised. As long as Amir gives a strong performance, France will definitely be out of the bottom five!

Wolfgang I am a big fan of la France and their musical genre Variété Francaise-loving artists, like Patrick Fiori, Garou and Mickaël Miro. The French Eurovision artist for 2016, a.k.a. Amir, belongs in this category too, and he has got an excellent song in his luggage for Stockholm. J’ai Cherché is very catchy and contemporary, and it could be THE Eurovision summer hit of this year (at least I would love to hear it more often). As with Croatia, I am really happy that France has come again with a great song after four years of suffering over a ‘lowlight’ vocal performance, a horrible alternative song, a crazy fun entry and a boring lame lady ballad last year. But this year, France is back in the game, and it could become their Eurovision year. No other city in Europe can use such a big event like the ESC than Paris at the moment. Hopefully they go all the way with Amir – that would make me happy. Douze points d’Allemagne!

Jaz If there’s a Team ‘France Has Totally Been Robbed of Higher Rankings in Recent Eurovision Years’, then I’m on it. L’Amour Á La Française, Divine, Allez Ola Olé and Moustache all should have had more success than they did in my opinion (although in some cases, I get why they didn’t). I don’t want that same fate to befall J’ai Cherché, because I truly believe that if it doesn’t hit the heights of the top 10 in Stockholm, there will officially be something very wrong with the world (or some possible irregularities in the jury and/or televoting figures). Amir’s ESC effort is everything I appreciate about French pop wrapped up securely in a three-minute package, without being stereotypical (though that doesn’t give him the space to appear onstage sporting a Breton t-shirt and beret). It’s folk-inspired, but not stale like an old baguette; it’s fun, but takes itself seriously at the same time; it blends French and English seamlessly, making it the poster song for bilingual success at this year’s contest; and it’s irresistibly catchy (karaoke, anyone?). And then there’s Amir’s rugged French handsomeness, which is far removed from my beloved Måns Zelmerlöw’s clean-cut and beautifully buff exterior, but is somehow (almost) equally appealing. Basically, what hasn’t this entry got going for it? C’est magnifique, Mesdames et Messieurs…just don’t eff up the staging, France.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 10
  • Fraser 10
  • James 8
  • Jaz 12
  • Martin 10
  • Nick 8
  • Penny 10
  • Rory 10
  • Wolfgang 12

France’s EBJ Jury score is…10

 

Greece

Rory Believe it or not, this is first Greek Eurovision entry since Secret Combination that I’ve actually enjoyed *braces for the onslaught of ‘WHY DIDN’T YOU LIKE OPA?!’ comments*. Of course, I’m definitely partial to a bit of ethnicity, but if there’s a lack of authenticity, then you’re just as well to be Rodolfo Chikilicuatre! Argo has created a song that on first listen is quite…odd, but as it goes on, you start to get drawn into it, and by the end, you do feel yourself swaying with the off-beat rhythms. When I listen to Utopian Land, I get echoes of Björk’s Náttúra, which in itself is four minutes of off-beat rhythms and headbanging. I love the ethnicity of this song, and I think it’s a perfect way of describing Greek traditional-pop music. However, with the negative reception the song has received, I feel like people might not get on board with it, and Argo’s Utopian Land may become a DYStopia! I really hope not though.

Wolfgang Now we come to the “Land of Utopia” a.k.a. this year’s Greek entry. I am really biased about this song. On the one hand, I like the instruments used, and the sound is quite catchy, ethnic and original. But on the other hand, I don’t like the rap/spoken parts in the verses much, and the chorus is too repetitive for my ears. The next thing that strikes me is the terrible English the entry is sung in. Why don’t the artists sing in Greek instead of bad English? I’m absolutely not sure if Greece is able to qualify this year in their semi, since the quality of the songs is generally much higher compared to Vienna. I still like Argo’s artful video clip that reminds me a bit of Run, Boy, Run by Woodkid, which is amazing. And the song’s obviously better than the Dion-esque LLB from last year!

Jaz The last time Greece sent a group to Eurovision, everything about it was epic (and that’s if we’re talking about Koza Mostra, OR if you’d define Freaky Fortune feat. Riskykidd as a group). But the standard of their songs and their success on the scoreboard have both taken a hit lately, and I have to admit, I’m very ‘hmm…’ about Utopian Land. As with a whole bunch of 2016 songs, there are things I like and dislike about this one. I don’t mind the rap, since it tends to sound particularly badass in Greek; the chorus is somewhat catchy; and the ethnicity Argo is bringing to the table is appealing, given how little national identity can be heard among their fellow competitors. But overall, it’s a non-dynamic, non-event kind of entry, with lame English lyrics and far too much repetition. So I’m leaning towards a thumbs-down more than a thumbs-up, and I really think Greece will struggle to qualify with it (i.e. they’ll probably squeeze through in 10th place). You never know – it could be staged in such a way that it stuns us all into silence (and then we’d hear that sound that Dami Im’s on about). But I don’t think Greece can afford the amount of trampolines, confetti cannons and state-of-the-art projections required to make THAT happen.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 6
  • Fraser 3
  • James 3
  • Jaz 5
  • Martin 7
  • Nick 8
  • Penny 5
  • Rory 10
  • Wolfgang 4

Greece’s EBJ Jury score is…5.67

 

Poland

Rory SHOCK HORROR! MARGARET’S NOT GOING TO EUROVISION! It came as a shock to most Eurovision fans that Conchita’s Polish second-cousin-twice-removed Michał Szpak managed to triumph over Margaret – and Edyta Górniak – to win Krajowe Eliminacje. I have to say, I was expecting Margaret to win as she CLEARLY had the best song of the nine. But with Michał going instead, I’m not as disappointed as I thought I would be. His live vocals have shown that he can actually sing, and his look will easily make him stand out from the crowd. My one problem is that Color of Your Life is a ballad. A ballad in the first half of a semi that’s filled with other ballads. If it was more like Cool Me Down, it would help him be more individual and outstanding. I feel like this will bomb on the night, because it’ll get lost. If it does end up qualifying, we’ll probably see it in the same realms as Monika the year before. Poland, you should have sent Margaret.

Wolfgang To be honest, I wanted Poland’s greatest living singer – Edyta Górniak – for Eurovision 2016, and Margaret was my number two from the Polish national final. And it looked like there was a fight between those two female artists. But in the end, Michał Szpak won the ticket to Stockholm, to my surprise I must admit! But after just a few listens I am now totally won over by this song. It is a beautiful and timeless classic entry that easily could have been in any other ESC in the past. Every time I listen to Color of Your Life it grows on me and gives me goosebumps. The only thing I would change is Michał’s jacket – he looks like a circus ringmaster in it. He needs something cooler for his stage performance, but everything else is awesome, including his HAIR! I love it! I hope Poland will qualify. BTW, the “color(s) of my life” are midnight blue and orange. Man, I feel so Dutch this year.

Jaz Honestly, I’m more upset that Poland didn’t bring us My Słowianie the sequel for 2016 than upset that Margaret didn’t win their national final. Michał and his majestic mane can’t be compared to Cleo and Donatan (well, mainly just Cleo), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Instead of butter-churning and heaving bosoms, he’s wearing his heart on his sleeve by offering us the sentimental (but not sickly-sweet), sing-along friendly semi-power ballad that is Color of Your Life. I’d say the same thing about this song’s lyrics as I did about Greece’s – they’re cringingly cliché at times (‘…ask your heart who you really are’…seriously? No originality points for you, Mr. Szpak). But that’s where I stop complaining on this one. I actually like it a lot, when I’m listening to it (when I’m not, I forget how much I enjoy it). There’s something about the chorus that speaks to me, saying ‘DAYUM, girl, that melody is super-smooth!’. And I take those words on board. I am concerned that Michał only gives us two choices when it comes to informing him what color/colour our lives are (neither of which are technically colours anyway), but I guess going through every hue in the Pantone range would have taken far longer than three minutes. So, will he bomb or be THE bomb in Stockholm? Fail or succeed, black or white? Given that I assumed Poland wouldn’t qualify last year, I’ll wait for the ESC version of his live performance prior to predicting that. But I’d happily see the country make their third consecutive final with this.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 8
  • Fraser 7
  • James 3
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 8
  • Nick 2
  • Penny 6
  • Rory 5
  • Wolfgang 10

Poland’s EBJ Jury score is…6.22

 

Romania

Rory And so, from the songs I love/don’t mind to one I loathe. I didn’t really pay attention to the Romanian national selection, but what I gathered from it was two things: that Mihai will never do Eurovision again, and that Ovidiu Anton won…and I have to say, why this? It’s rock for starters, which is something I don’t listen to in the first place. Secondly, in the chorus, when he shouts ‘take a moment of SIIIILEEENCE’, he goes so off-key that dogs could probably hear his screams! I’m sorry Romania, but in the last few years you’ve given me no joy whatsoever in the songs you’ve picked. It’s just…..bleugh, for me. I’m sure it’ll qualify, just because it’s Romania and they have that 100% qualification record, but it’s gonna be like Miracle and finish nowhere near where people expect it to. Sorry! Maybe you should have a Moment of Silence for the places that Romania will never reach with this.

Wolfgang To get straight to the point with Romania in one word: HORRIBLE! Just horrible! I hate everything about the song and its stage performance. And I’m still not over Florena or Mihai not winning the Romanian national final. There was such a great line-up in Selecția Națională. I liked 6 of the 12 entries from their semi final much, and two others were quite good. But Romania took the decision out of the remaining entries I did not like. To me, that was the ‘supergau’ of this year’s national final season, even worse than Denmark. The song sounds completely dated to me like something that Belarus, Georgia or Russia would have sent in the early 2000s. And that theatrical performance à la ‘Lord of the Rings’ joined by a “Lord of the Dance” is so awful, I did not enjoy watching it. And why did they call it Moment of Silence? It’s so loud, there won’t be a single moment of silence for the whole three minutes (unless you push the mute button). To me, it looks and sounds like a formulaic Meat Loaf tribute. Normally I like Romanian entries at Eurovision much, but this year they belong to my bottom five songs, and I instantly hope they won’t qualify with this terrible song. For me, it’s one of the clear non-qualifiers of 2016 and a BIG ZERO from me. That’s absolutely not what I want to see on Eurovision stage.

Jaz The minute I discovered Moment of Silence was representing Romania, I asked myself ‘Would I like this if it was the closing song of the first act of a Phantom of the Opera-type musical with a residency on the West End?’. The answer is no, but at least it would belong in that environment. As a Eurovision entry, I like it even less. Pompous, melodramatic and dated dirge performed by a gaggle of Game of Thrones extras is not the kind of thing I wave a flag for. I adored De La Capăt, so this is a real step south for Romania as far as I’m concerned. I’d even rather have Paula and Ovi (plus cameo from computer-generated Paula) back for a third try than sit through Ovidiu’s “moment of silence” (as Wolfgang pointed out, that’s hardly am accurate description of the song). In spite of all of the above, I’m a generous judge and I wouldn’t give Romania nothing, points-wise. But if we were handing out fruit baskets or gift vouchers, it’d be a different story.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 5
  • Fraser 2
  • James 0
  • Jaz 2
  • Martin 7
  • Nick 3
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 3
  • Wolfgang 0

Romania’s EBJ Jury score is…3.22

 

Russia

Rory *BRACE YOURSELVES FOR A RANT!!* And so we come to the worst one of the lot for me (though not in the whole group of songs – that’s reserved for Rykka and Serhat!). I feel incredibly let down by Sergey Lazarev’s Eurovision effort. In the teaser he published a couple of days before the public release of You Are The Only One, I was impressed by the video production, the high-tech studio, and most of all, the intro to the song, which hinted at it being an alternative, emphatic, atmospheric song (which is right up my alley). Then the song was released…and it was schlager. SCHLAGER. WHY SCHLAGER!?!?! I was left cringing for three minutes, and at the end, I was like ‘Ehh…just eh…I don’t…WHAT!?”. I loathe this sort of 90s Eurodance beat; it’s so outdated, and though people can hate me for all eternity, I’m going to agree with Christer Björkman and say that schlager should be left in the 90s/00s where it belongs. Music has changed, Russia. So should you. And yes, Sergey is very good-looking, but that doesn’t make up for the song, OKAY?! *sigh…rant over*.

Wolfgang I can’t say that I’m disappointed with the Russian entry this year, because Russia meets my expectations exactly with Sergey Lazarev, sending one of their biggest national stars again. Of course, it all smells like the (formulaic) ‘Dima Bilan’ winning package from 2008. The ingredients here are almost the same: you take a big national star, some internationally-recognised songwriters and producers, a hit-like song that sounds so Swedish (more than any song from Melodifestivalen this year) and a performance that almost looks like a Måns Production (but isn’t!). And ready is the Eurovision soup! Let’s face it: Russia are trying very hard this year. They want to win again, under all circumstances and no matter what the cost. But do I want them to win? The answer is ‘No’! The good thing about Russia’s entry this year is that they don’t annoy me again with another ‘love, peace and understanding’ message song (lesson learned?) and Sergey’s video clip is really stunning to watch. If he manages to stage only about 30% of what we see in his video with his acting and live singing abilities, then it can easily be the winning performance of the grand final. On the other hand, the song lacks any kind of emotion for me. It’s formulaic, radio-friendly, sterile and very stereotypical, and it does not touch me at all. Obviously it will be a clear qualifier and yet another top five placement, but here I would go for 3rd or 4th place and hopefully not the no. 1! And another last thing that strikes me: the running gag in Germany about the Russian entry is that the performance will be “sehr gay” this year, and I would add “faux gay” to it. Well, that is what Russians are probably known for at the Eurovision, but it always means a lack of authenticity, and that’s not win-worthy in my opinion.

Jaz If you’d asked me to review You Are The Only One right after my first listen, I would have let rip (kind of like Rory did). After all, I had been expecting something that sounded as cutting-edge as Sergey’s video clip looks, rather than a stale throwback to Eurovision circa 2006 (and let me remind you that a man with a mullet, also from Russia, managed to come second that year). Meanwhile, everyone else was drooling over the song and/or Sergey’s various shirtless shots, which made me wonder whether there was something wrong with me, or with them. The solution? Taking another listen to the song – a.k.a. giving it an andra chansen. And, well…I suddenly saw the light. Or at least, why the bookies universally had and still have Russia in their top spot. I’m not denying that YATOO is dated, and that the songwriters could have written it more into 2016 if they wanted to keep up with the Latvias of the contest. But damn, did they know what they were doing anyway. This is precisely thought-out, clinical and slickly-produced schlager dance, and it is dangerous. If Sergey’s vocals are shipshape, and his staging is as eye-catching as that video (and we know that Russia always have their staging under control), he will certainly be the ‘only one’ to beat. There’s a power in the unrelenting energy and instant chorus of the song that makes it memorable, even in studio – and when paired with visuals that give it a perfectly-packaged kind of feel (á la Heroes) it becomes one step of a winning recipe. Oh, and thank the Lordi it’s not another preachy peace ballad!

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

Russia’s EBJ Jury score is…7.44

 

And just like that – after several hours of feverish reading on your part – we’re done for the day. And, with all of the above said and done, the leaderboard currently looks like this:

  1. France (10)
  2. Croatia (8.67)
  3. Russia (7.44)
  4. Poland (6.22)
  5. Greece (5.67)
  6. Romania (3.22)

That makes France the très convincing champion of this round…but it’s early days. Can Amir hold on to the top spot? Only time, plus 37 more reviews, will tell!

What do you think of the Part 1 reviews and rankings? Who took the words right out of your mouth, and who should wash theirs out with soap for daring to defile an amazing song? Which of today’s six countries deserves douze points in your opinion? Let us know below.

In the next episode of EBJ Jury judgments, a trio of Aussies (#accident) – including none other than my mother – will have their say on Belarus, Cyprus, Georgia, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland. It’s going to be interesting, to say the least! Come together and join us because we are one?

 

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TIME-WARP TUESDAY (on a Wednesday…oops) | A sinfully successful Hungarian debut

Where Dublin, Ireland
When 1994
Who Friderika Bayer
What Kinek Mondjam El Vétkeimet?

The reasons I’ve plucked this song out of thin air for today’s Time-Warp are threefold. Firstly, Hungarian is one of my favourite musical languages (the fact that I barely understand a word of it makes it so cool and mysterious). Secondly, Hungary have thrown some great entries at us since they made their 2011 Eurovision comeback (Kedvesem is now one of my most beloved of all time) and they were responsible for a few gems prior to that too – something I wanted to celebrate. Thirdly, the country’s 1994 debut entry was both in Hungarian AND one of those pre-comeback diamonds, so I’m pretty keen to discuss it. Let’s!

Friderika Bayer was twenty-three when she stepped up to her microphone in Dublin’s Point Theatre (I’m currently the same age, so I feel very inadequate as someone yet to represent any country at Eurovision). She had more responsibility than most of the other competitors on her young shoulders, because, like Poland’s Edyta Gorniak, she was about to be the first singer from her country to appear at the contest. That carries a certain amount of weight.

Fortunately, both Edyta and Friderika debuted in style, finishing 2nd and 4th respectively. Hungary even led the voting before dropping down to that still-successful placing, and I don’t find it hard to understand why – Kinek Mondjam El Vétkeimet? (‘To Whom Can I Tell My Sins?’) is a stunning song that was accompanied by a beautifully simple and sincere performance. You can draw a few parallels between this entry and Boggie’s Wars For Nothing, despite the 20+ year time difference – both are guitar-backed, down-tempo and sentimental songs performed by vocally proficient brunettes. But Kinek… is the superior song as far as my ears and tastes are concerned. For one thing, it doesn’t send me to sleep. There’s something about the melody and the clarity-tinged-with-vulnerability sound of Friderika’s voice that draws me in, and makes me feel ALL THA FEELS.

Lyrically (yes, this non-Hungarian speaker has Googled the translation multiple times) you won’t find any pleas for peace or cheesy clichés here. Take, for example, the content of the first verse and the chorus:

Nothing is there, only the lightless night
Only the tongue-tied distress, a vain hope
No faith, no love
No one to stroke my hand

Whom can I tell my sins
To be sure that they are forgiven?
Whom can I tell my sins, my God?

Sigh.

This entry is proof that a song doesn’t have to be a) busy, layered, loud and freaking full of lyrics, or b) staged like it’s one’s last chance to use a wind machine, incorporate a costume reveal and do the Moonwalk whilst mowing the lawn and baking a batch of piskóta (so basically, Amanecer) to have an impact. The entire 1994 contest, in fact, was testament to that, with a bunch of top-scoring songs being of the subtle, slow and simple variety – including Ireland’s winner. Some say interval act Riverdance stole the show, but if you look and listen a little closer, that’s not necessarily the case (depending on your attitude towards frenetic Irish dancing).

To sum up, I love this song – and judging by the applause when Friderika was finished, the audience did too. How about you?

 

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