Blog Archives

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 JESC 2018 REVIEWS | Round 1 (Azerbaijan, Belarus, Israel, Kazakhstan + Serbia)

It’s that time again, you guys! And by ‘that time’, I mean the time when all Junior Eurovision phobics have to go into hibernation for a few weeks while the rest of us talk about it non-stop.

Here’s the lowdown on the upcoming contest: Taking place in Minsk on November 25, it’ll be the biggest JESC ever, with 20 countries competing to succeed Russia as the winner. Among those countries you’ll find Australia (yes, we’re still crashing the party); hosts Belarus (who’ve participated in every single contest); Azerbaijan, France and Israel (competing for the first time since 2013, 2004 and 2016 respectively); and debuts from Kazakhstan and Wales – one of which I’ll be discussing today as I kick off my 2018 song reviews.

Obviously, it’s Kazakhstan (the title of this post was kind of a giveaway), and joining them under my musical microscope will be Azerbaijan, Belarus, Israel and Serbia. So let’s get going and see what Fidan HuseynovaDaniel YastremskiNoam DadonDaneliya Tuleshova and Bojana Radovanović are bringing to the JESC 2018 buffet, feat. loads of Jaz Judgments™ so you know exactly where my loyalties lie.

Spoiler alert: I have more than one set of douze points to give away today, so I must be in a generous mood. Let me know if you are too and what you think about all five of today’s entries in the comments.

 

 

I’m a pretty lazy person by nature, and the reason I’m mentioning that now is because I was too lazy to Google Translate ‘Welcome back, Azerbaijan!’ from English into Azerbaijani. So plain old ‘Welcome back, Azerbaijan!’ it is. The Land of Fire has competed in two previous JESCs to date – debuting in 2012, having another go in 2013 and then giving up after neither Omar & Suada nor Rustam Karimov managed to make waves. Azerbaijan obviously didn’t believe in third time lucky back then, but maybe they do now…and on attempt no. 3, they’re this year’s Disney ballad providers.

That’s kind of appropriate given that all I think of when I see the title I Wanna Be Like You is that orangutan from The Jungle Book. This song is only similar in name though, and Fidan will probably be a much more effective voting magnet than an orangutan. Her song isn’t a divisive one, but it does pull me in two directions as there are things I love about it and things I really dislike. The good news first: overall it’s a good ballad, chilled-out and not too dramatic. Easy listening, basically. The music is well-written, the tempo is nice, and I’m a big fan of the verses. That leads me to the not-so-good news, which mainly revolves around the chorus. Repetition of the title + lots of yeahs and oohs + a child literally saying that their life goal is to be like someone else? All of that equals a half-baked, rather unsatisfying chorus that could be doing a whole lot more to promote self-confidence.

Okay, so I’m trolling a little with the lyrical content nit-picking…but the general fairy floss fluff that is the chorus genuinely bothers me. There’s also a strong whiff of cheesiness about the whole song, something it shares with the Netherlands (theirs is the scent of gouda, of course). But while I think the cheese somehow works in Max and Anne’s favour, I don’t think it does anything for Fidan. Being pretty darn adorable, she can almost pull it off, but my inner Cheese Detector never lets me ignore stuff that’s engineered to make you go ‘Aww!’. Still, she’s on track to deliver Azerbaijan’s best-ever JESC vocal performance, if her live vocals are even a patch on her studio vocals. To score their best-ever result might be a tougher task, even though their stats stand at 11th and 7th. Song-wise and IMO, 2018 is stronger than Arnold Schwarzenegger in the Mr. Olympia days. And I think there are better, more memorable ballads competing, all from equally talented female soloists – Australia, Kazakhstan and Macedonia specifically. A flawless vocal, great staging and a decent position in the running order could change the prediction I’m about to make, but before we know how the contest performance is going to pan out, I’m guessing 8th-13th is in Fidan’s future. That’s nothing to be ashamed of in a contest of 20 (and neither is 20th, kids) but if it’s a win Azerbaijan is after, they’ll be disappointed. For me, I Wanna Be Like You is almost a 7 point song, but just doesn’t get there. So here’s 6 points instead.

 

 

Not-so-secret confession time: Belarus is one of my favourite JESC countries. They may even be my absolute favourite, based on a few questionable contributions from Armenia and Russia and Spain’s refusal to make a comeback (THEY WERE SO DAMN BUENO!). That’s not to say that Belarus has 100% hit and 0% missed over the years, but come on: they’ve participated in every single edition, won twice and given us gems like Tantsuy (2003), Poy so Mnoy (2013), Sokal (2014), Volshebstvo (2015) and I Am The One (2017) along the way. And their staging is consistently slick. What’s not to love? And what doesn’t make you wonder why they kick butt at JESC but struggle at the ESC?

Anyway, I’m getting round to telling you whether or not their 2018 song – a.k.a. the host entry – lives up to the super-high Belarusian standard. Without further ado, I’ll go ahead and say that for me, HECK YES it does. What’s more, Daniel’s Time – a song title Belarus is obviously fond of – is my favourite entry this year. By one of his very 90s floppy hairs, but my favourite nonetheless. I’m not sure how popular of an opinion this is going to be, since the song style isn’t everyone’s shot of vodka (an alcohol analogy when discussing kids’ music? Nice one, Jaz). And I know those folks who followed the Belarusian NF were pretty peeved that Welcome To My Belarus didn’t win, but I think that was a little overrated. This, I love. I can’t even explain why (which isn’t going to help me review it), but I’m obsessed. Maybe it’s the balance it strikes between being youthful enough for Junior, but still mature enough to appeal to me (a 27-year-old) and my R&B sensibilities. Maybe it’s the mid-tempo, chilled-out vibe and contemporary radio sound. Maybe it’s Daniel’s ability to sing and dance without dropping a note or missing a beat. Maybe it’s everything. Like a hole for a Time capsule, I dig it. Also helping that along is the fluidity of the Belarusian-English mixture and Daniel’s flawless, non-distracting pronunciation (he was born and partly-raised in the USA, so I’m assuming his English is good).

Expect him – especially as he is the home boy – to bring it come show time. Belarus should never be discounted from the JESC race because even if you’re not a fan of their songs, they have a way of taking things to the next level on the night. Even I can see that Time isn’t going to score the country their third trophy, but I am hoping for a finish inside the top 10. The extra audience support the host entry gets is always a contest highlight for me – and it doesn’t hurt results-wise based on recent host successes. I’m totally on Team Time. Who’s with me? 12 points.

 

 

If their adult Eurovision win with Toy was Israel’s motivation to make another JESC comeback (they debuted in 2012, dropped out, then returned in 2016 only to give the Tbilisi show a miss) then I’m both very happy and very shocked. Happy because the more the merrier, shocked because Noam’s Children Like These couldn’t be more different to Toy. When you think about it, Toy could easily have been a Junior song, with a few lyrical changes of course. And similarly, Children Like These (a super awkward title that should’ve stayed in Hebrew) would definitely not be refused entry at the ESC for sounding too childlike.

That may be because it’s actually a cover (!!!) of a song from an adult singer, an infuriating fact that I’m choosing to ignore because I love, love, LOVE it. It reminds me of Israel’s 2008 Eurovision entry The Fire In Your Eyes, a song I was obsessed with back then and still love more than some members of my family. Unlike that, Children Like These isn’t looking overly popular with fans, but in every Eurovision event there’s something I fall head-over-heels for that hardly anyone else likes, so I guess this is the JESC 2018 version. Noam has something really special to pack in his suitcase pre-Minsk: a song that’s original, complex, mystical, ethnic, angelic, atmospheric…have I missed any adjectives? Even if you disagree with one or all of those I did use, you can’t deny that this is one of a kind in the line-up of 20. For me it’s far and away Israel’s best JESC entry ever, and that’s coming from someone who liked what they’ve dished up in the past. The delicate verses that are built on instrumentally as the song continues don’t follow a predictable path, but where they lead is worth the wondering and the wait. I’m going to go so far as to say that Children Like These gives me Origo-level feels – basically, goosebumps that sprang up before I even knew what the heck Noam was singing about.

Speaking of which, WHAT A VOICE! It would be criminal for the universe to make his voice break before/during JESC, so if that doesn’t happen and he sounds close to or the same as he does in the studio, we are in for an audio treat. Even so, and in spite of all my gushing, I don’t expect Israel to do much results-wise with this. It’s not straightforward or accessible enough to win over the masses, and the group of viewers it does work its magic on (I’m appointing myself team captain) won’t be big enough to give it a substantial scoreboard boost. But there’s still the potential for Israel to create a moment on the night, and as always there’s a chance I’m wrong about how they’ll do. I actually want to be wrong on this. 12 points.

 

 

I don’t know about you, but the most shocking moment of 2018 for me was when Kazakhstan was announced as a Junior Eurovision debutant. I did NOT see that coming, and it made the other debuts/returns seem pretty boring by comparison (sorry Azerbaijan, France etc). It’s always interesting to see what a brand new country brings to the table and whether or not they “get” JESC on their first try. Kazakhstan has certainly checked a bunch of boxes.

Firstly, they’re sending a stellar vocalist – and Daneliya, as a Voice Kids champion of Ukraine (I must have watched her audition a hundred times, it’s so incredible) has had the required TV time and live audience experience to take on Junior Eurovision with confidence. Someone who can nail every note without a hint of deer-in-the-headlights? That’s what you want. Talking about Ózińe Sen itself…now that’s a bit trickier. It’s not a typical power ballad, based on how Daneliya manipulates the verses with her voice and the unusual song structure. Those two elements combine to make this as exotic as it is epic – it sounds like it belongs on a movie soundtrack. It’s packed with all the dramatic moments one could handle in three minutes, plus a language change that definitely does it favours. All in all, there is something special here, and I do think Kazakhstan is a contender for the win.

I’ll believe that even more if their JESC staging is anything like the NF staging. They have recruited the man responsible for Russia’s ESC 2015 performance to sort it out (thumbs up for that) but he’s also the same guy who thought that Yulia Samoylova’s wheelchair-disguising mountain was a good idea. If Ózińe Sen is presented more like A Million Voices, then we’ll all be able to breathe a sigh of relief. And, the resulting place for Daneliya will be more likely to mirror Polina Gagarina’s than Yulia’s (though you’d have to screw things up in a major way to not even qualify to a final that has no semis). To sum up, Kazakhstan have kicked a big goal; Daneliya is amazing and so is her song; and together they’re possible winners. There are a few songs I prefer to this one, but I can’t ignore its power. 10 points.

 

 

Serbia started their JESC campaign off strong back in 2006 (with the iconic, ridiculously multilingual Učimo Strane Jezike) and followed it up with a few great results – including two best-ever 3rd places achieved in 2007 and 2010. Just lately though, they’ve had some bad luck in the contest, losing their way a bit and not necessarily understanding how modern Junior Eurovision works. I’m not sure that has changed at all with Bojana’s Svet – which might translate to ‘world’, but only has me thinking how in the world I’m going to fill up sufficient paragraph space talking about it.

One comment on the Youtube video for the song caught my eye by using the word ‘relaxing’. Now, relaxing is nice – who wouldn’t want to be lying in a hammock on a South Pacific beach, sipping a pina colada and being fanned with palm leaves? But when ‘relaxing’ is being used to describe a competition song – and I agree that Svet is so chill it’s practically comatose – it can be a negative. Despite being a big ballad performed by a female soloist, this entry has none of the heartwarming sentiment of Piši Mi or the dynamic drama of Lenina Pesma. What it has instead is the plodding gait of an arthritic pony, and a bunch of musical moments that are supposed to be jaw-droppers but come off more like head-scratchers since they’re shoehorned in to the song so randomly. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate this. There are parts of the melody and instrumentation that I enjoy, and Bojana is a quality vocalist. But the lethargy of Svet in general, plus the fact that I have trouble picking out the chorus (and if you’re missing a hook, you won’t catch any fish…or votes, in this case) leaves me feeling sleepy and unsatisfied at the end of the song. Not to mention that Serbia just doesn’t stand up compared to the JESC 2018 countries that have brought out bigger (confetti) guns in the ballad department.

Some of those ballads will rise and others will fall, and I cannot see Svet fighting its way through to emerge on top of the pile. Or anywhere close to the top, for that matter. I’m not going to lay my ‘Who’s going to come last?’ card on the table yet, but for me Serbia is there or thereabouts in the 17th-20th range. And I can’t help giving them my lowest score so far. 5 points.

 

 

Well, I’m sorry to end on a negative note – but that’s the way the cookie (sometimes) crumbles. And this was still a very high-scoring round to get things started. Here’s my first mini-ranking of the JESC 2018 season if you want proof!

  1. Belarus (12)
  2. Israel (12)
  3. Kazakhstan (10)
  4. Azerbaijan (6)
  5. Serbia (5)

I can almost guarantee that nobody else would have the same top two when it comes to these countries, but as a Eurovision fan you have to agree to disagree (or seethe quietly to yourself when you discover that someone who clearly has no taste despises a song you adore). There’s a definite quality gap between Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan IMO, but Azerbaijan – and even Serbia – could grow on me over time (Belarus pun unintended, but WHOOMP there it is). Stay tuned to see me change my mind 700 times before the contest actually happens.

Next time, for Round 2 of my JESC 2018 reviews, I’ll be turning my attention to Armenia, Georgia, the Netherlands, Portugal and Russia – so if you love (or hate) any of their songs, you won’t want to miss that. Subscribe in the sidebar to receive email alerts when I post something new, and/or join me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @EurovisionByJaz to keep yourself in the Paula-and-Ovi-piano-shaped loop. And once you’ve done that, drop by the comments box below and give me your verdict on today’s songs. I’m desperate to know what you think and not ashamed to say it!

Hence why I just did.

Okay, I’m leaving now.

 

 

 

 

WE GOT LOVE, LASERS AND LUCKY DAYS: My highlights and lowlights of Eurovision 2018’s second semi final

Just like that, it’s over: semi final two. We now have our 20 finalists, 6 automatic finalists and a final running order feat. all of them. It’s bittersweet, but there’s still a lot of Eurovision 2018 left to experience – and this contest is shaping up to be one of the most interesting in recent years.

Before we find out for sure whether it will be or not, I need to get a big bunch of thoughts off my chest re: last night’s semi. It was a show I enjoyed a lot more than the first one for some reason (the Australia anticipation was real) and there’s heaps to talk about. So let’s talk!

 

 

THE GOOD 

Their song’s not the strongest, and neither are their vocals – but what Moldova’s DoReDos lacked in above-average sound last night, they more than made up for with an epically-choreographed performance (plus truckloads of charisma and stage presence). Comic timing was crucial to pull the entire three minutes off, and everyone on stage clearly had their watches set to the millisecond. My Lucky Day live is something you can’t look away from, and as such I expect Moldova’s televote on Saturday to be substantial…though in such a competitive year, not as massive as their televote in Kyiv.

I can’t not mention Australia and the sparkly ball of joy that was Jessica Mauboy – I’d have my citizenship revoked and be banished to Siberia. Biased I may be, but I’m (almost literally) bursting with happiness over the show Jess put on. Sure, she had some less than perfect vocal moments, but I actually liked the raw and unpolished way she sounded and moved. She performed professionally, but with enough vulnerability and authenticity to make her come across as relatable and genuine. And I’ve never seen someone hair-flick with so much enthusiasm – no wonder she got whiplash earlier on in the week! I wouldn’t change anything about our performance, and I hope Jess pulls something similar – or even better – out of the bag for the final.

My other main performance highlights were via Hungary, Sweden and Ukraine. AWS went off in the Altice by the look of it, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t attempt a headbang in my lounge room in support of the guys (I broke three windows and a table lamp, but it was worth it). Benjamin Ingrosso was always going to be an anticipated artist of the night for me (long story short ICYMI, I am a fully-fledged Swedophile and a big fan of Benjamin’s). Dance You Off was performed as flawlessly as ever, with the only thing I’d pick on being his choice of sneaker (go back to the Vans, man!). Mélovin’s closure of the semi made sure the run of songs went out with a bang (or technically, a flaming staircase) and he served up all the drama and intense gazes that I was hoping for.

There weren’t any bleeped-out f-bombs dropped, but I couldn’t help loving the postcard blooper reel anyway. We don’t usually get to see the production side of the vignettes that introduce every single song, let alone the parts of the process that don’t go according to plan. Thanks for that, Portugal – and take note, *insert whichever country we’re going to next year here*.

I think we all enjoyed the hosts’ Eurovision dance evolution skit – an original interval act idea if ever I’ve seen one. And speaking of the hosts (all twenty-seven of them), Filomena – who bears a passing resemblance to another ESC legend, Pastora Soler – is proving herself to be the host with the most, outshining the others (whose names I’m afraid I keep mixing up) with her green room antics and commendable attempt at the Loreen crab dance.

Results-wise, I was only really surprised by the first country to be drawn out of the hypothetical hat: Serbia. I didn’t predict Balkanika to qualify, but I’m glad they did, especially after Serbia missed out on a final spot last year. So did Slovenia, who are back in the final for 2018 too (in spite of Lea’s ‘technical malfunction’ gimmick). Russia did what I suspected and failed to advance for the first time – leaving Ukraine as the only country with its 100% qualification record intact (if we’re counting from the introduction of the semi final system). All the other qualifiers were reasonably expected – i.e. they were the 8 I managed to correctly predict. It’s been 8s all round for me this year, which is better than my 6 (!) from 2016; but a 9 in 2019 would be nice. In this case, I had Malta and Romania down as finalists instead of Serbia and Slovenia. But if it helps, I knew The Humans were goners once I’d seen their performance…

 

 

THE BAD

Speaking of Romania…as with Macedonia in SF1, ‘What were they thinking?’ is the phrase that comes to mind here. Goodbye is a great song, IMO, that would have been done justice if ANYTHING other than (what looked like) latex-clad masked mannequins were stuck all over the stage. It was like watching a performance broadcast live from a sex shop (and I didn’t want to know what had been dangled decoratively from the lighting rig). The outcome? An extra goodbye for The Humans, this time to Romania’s 100% qualification record. All bets are off in 2019 with regards to qualification, I’m telling you!

The only other thing I saw as a big downside to this second semi was Latvia’s failure to make it to the final. I kind of knew it was coming (and hadn’t predicted Laura to progress) but Funny Girl is so awesome and she was so kick-ass on stage, a part of me hoped she’d slip through. Let’s hope Latvia can avoid being sent home early (again) next time.

 

 

THE “OTHER”

For whatever reason, I thought the hosts’ script was slightly less AAAAAGGGGHHH this time around. Maybe it’ll be third time lucky and the script in the final will be totally listenable and not make me miss Petra and Måns like crazy. A girl can dream!

Norway – giving us Eurovision song 1500, thank you very much – kicked things off with aplomb, but I felt a little hesitation from Rybak. Maybe the pressure of trying to fill his own shoes has taken a toll, but I wanted him to absolutely let rip and charm the crap out of me like he did at MGP, and he didn’t quite get there. Now he’s safely in the final, perhaps we’ll see that extra gear we know he’s capable of.

The award for throwing everything possible at a performance has to go to Malta – they clearly took cues from Croatia 2017. Just when you thought nothing else could fly out of or appear on the stage surrounding Christabelle, it doggone did. The Chanel rule of removing one thing might have done them some good, but nonetheless I’m a little surprised they didn’t qualify.

Oh, Slovenia. To me, the ‘Oh shit, the music’s cut out!’ trick was a bad move in an otherwise top-notch performance – but apparently, I am wrong. It’s going to be even more cringeworthy when repeated on Saturday, but I’ll try and focus on what happens before and after that to console myself. At the end of the day, I’m happy to have Lea and her drop-crotch jumpsuit still in the game.

 

 

A WORD ON THE FINAL’S RUNNING ORDER… 

It didn’t take long for Christer Björkman and crew to unveil their 26-song masterpiece (let’s face it, the man’s had a lot of practice). Here’s what we have to look forward to this weekend:

First half Ukraine, Spain, Slovenia, Lithuania, Austria, Estonia, Norway, Portugal, United Kingdom, Serbia, Germany, Albania, France

Yep, it’s ballad central compared to the big-hitter other half. But you can tell Christer and co. did their best to create a varied line-up. Ukraine is an unconventional opening song, but I’m not against it. The most up-tempo, high energy tracks – Norway and Serbia – were put aside to be interspersed with all the slow stuff, which is understandable. France scores the lucky 13th slot, and gets to perform as late as possible in this half. Fantastique!

Second half Czech Republic, Denmark, Australia, Finland, Bulgaria, Moldova, Sweden, Hungary, Israel, Netherlands, Ireland, Cyprus, Italy

Mikolas Josef has the honour of getting the real party started (potentially with an ill-advised flip) and will be setting all of our camels in the mood (whatever the heck that means). Followed, in time, by Australia, Finland, Moldova, Sweden, Israel and Cyprus, he’s one of many favoured acts putting forward a banger in this half of the show. Will it all be too much with one after the other? Will Cyprus do what the odds suggest and win after not having to outshine anyone bar Italy? We’ll find out (too) soon. I think the voting sequence this year could see douze points going all over the place, though – or at least to a handful of different countries.

 

 

That’s all I wanted to comment on re: SF2, so now it’s your turn. What did you think of the show and the countries that came out of it smiling? And, who do you think will win the whole thing? Let me know in the comments as we count down to the final…and the inevitable, soul-sucking fog of depression that follows it (I like to end things on a positive note).

 

I’ll see you soon – don’t forget to check out my social media @EurovisionByJaz before the final for predictions, and during for funniness!

 

 

 

 

THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 7 (Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Serbia, Slovenia + the United Kingdom)

We’re nearly there, guys. It’s May, and the first live semi final of Eurovision 2018 is on Tuesday. TUESDAY!!!!!

I’ve never been so terrified at how quickly time is passing and so keen for a little bit more to pass at the same time. I’ve also never been so confused about which songs are going where, especially in SF1. But the chances of me embarrassing myself by getting 5 or 6 qualifiers correct is a discussion for another day.

Right now, I’m taking care of business by squeezing in the last few rounds of reviews for the year. This is the second last installment, and it involves ginger beards, cinnamon rolls and candy-coloured hair. Sweet. So who’s got the goods and who’s got some explaining to do out of Rasmussen, Ari, Ermal & Fabrizio, Sanja Ilić & Balkanika, Lea and SuRie? That’s subjective, but keep reading if you want my opinion!

 

  

My thoughts Everyone out there who’s been dreaming of the day Game of Thrones would meet Eurovision: this is your year! Okay, so maybe Rasmussen’s Higher Ground is more Vikings than GoT, but I really wanted to joke about the possibility of Denmark using gratuitous nudity and decapitations in their staging concept (in reality, it’s Belarus who’ve gone gratuitous and gruesome). What Denmark has done is let a Melodifestivalen reject represent them at the contest – an “honour” shared with Azerbaijan in 2016, and heaven knows how many other countries in heaven knows how many other years. But it’s not all bad, because a Melfest discard will still be half-decent at least, and this particular one is more than that. It’s definitely more adventurous than the Danish entries we’re used to (in style, performance, and in the sense that it screams ‘epic sea shanty!’ and begs for us all to wave our cutlasses in the air like we just don’t care). Combining Gregorian-esque chants with a pounding beat, an interesting time signature and a big ol’ belter of a chorus, it’s reminiscent of Himmel I Hav by Roger Pontare (of Melfest…go figure); only Higher Ground is more current, and more accessible by way of being in English. Even so, you wouldn’t hear a song like it anywhere outside of the ESC bubble or a movie soundtrack. To me, that’s part of the charm. There are a lot of layers to this song as far as production goes (you might say it’s as deep as the deep blue sea) with instrumentals that are rich and soaring, and powerful vocals from Rasmussen. I love the way his hair (and beard) blows in the manufactured breeze conjured up by our beloved wind machines – this song needs weather, though I don’t suggest Rasmussen pulls a Flashdance by drenching himself in water while wearing a leotard that leaves little to the imagination. My favourite thing about this track is how quickly it creates an atmosphere. Electricity is crackling in the air pretty much from the second it starts, and that’s hard to ignore – unlike a few Danish entries from recent years. I also have to commend the fact that there isn’t another song competing in this contest quite so suited to the nautical theme and ship-inspired stage. Congrats to Denmark for choosing so wisely, even if it was accidental. At the end of the day, I’m pleased with Higher Ground if not impressed by it. Anja Nissen was a hard act to follow for me, as someone (in the minority, I know) obsessed with her and Where I Am. That remains a song more stylistically Jaz than this one. Still, HG is a solid effort and stands out in the field. It’s got a reasonable shot of qualifying, but if it does I doubt we’ll see it on the left side of the scoreboard. Denmark still has a way to go before I start dropping the douze on them and calling them potential winners.

2017 VS 2018? I’ve fangirled over Anja too much to be disloyal, so 2017 it is.

My score 7

 

 

My thoughts Last round, I said that the Czech Republic had glowed the heck up in the space between Eurovision 2017 and Eurovision 2018. Flip the script, and you have Iceland – a country that has willingly swapped the incredible, why-the-eff-didn’t-she-qualify ice queen Svala and her Scandipop masterpiece Paper for….ugh. How do I even describe Our Choice without having to shove my life savings into the swear jar? I guess first off, I have to get one thing straight: I absolutely adore Ari. The Nathan Trent of 2018, he is a precious and über-talented human who deserves a brilliant song to represent Iceland with. It’s a massive shame that what he gets to represent them with is the musical equivalent of squishy cheese, vintage 1990. Seriously, this song sounds like it predates its own performer (Ari was born in 1998…let that sink in and horrify you if you think late 90s babies should still be in diapers). It puts Boggie’s Wars For Nothing, a similarly saccharine wannabe charity song, on the same level as We Are The World and Do They Know It’s Christmas? While there’s literally nothing I like about the song, the lyrics well and truly are the worst aspect. It’s 2018, we have entries likeToy and Dance You Off feat. razor-sharp lyrics, and Iceland thinks that lame lines like ‘There’s always a choice we can make to help and to heal in different ways’ and ‘Inside we’re all the same’ are acceptable? NOPE. Granted, Pollapönk got away with ‘Inside we’re the same’ in 2014, but that was a message song not originally written in hieroglyphics on a stone tablet by Ancient Egyptians. I think the credited songwriter here is trying to pull a fast one on us by pretending Our Choice was penned this century. I can make a concession given that the Icelandic NF Söngvakeppnin was very lacklustre this year. But regardless, I’m mystified as to how this topped the lot (Aron Hannes + Golddigger = far superior). I suppose Ari’s puppy-dog eyes, strong voice and ability to sell the song to some degree (not 100% – he ain’t Superman) must have had something to do with the win. It’s safe to say that is the only song contest this bland, stale ballad will be winning. PLEASE FORGIVE ME, ARI! It’s not you, it’s the song. And as if the signs for it going nowhere weren’t clear enough, Our Choice was lumped with the Slot of Death (no. 2) in the Semi of Death. The best possible outcome for Iceland this year is to not finish last on Tuesday night, and even that’s an ambitious goal. If Ari had released his song as an actual charity single to raise money for the homeless (thirty years ago), it might have done some good. But at a highly-competitive song contest in 2018, he’s just preaching to the non-converted.

2017 VS 2018? Bring back Svala (or give Ari something reasonable to work with).

My score 2.5

 

 

My thoughts There are two ways I’ve reacted to Italian entries lately: I fall in love with them immediately (grande amore!), or I think ‘hmm’ at first only to fall in love after three or four listens. What I always think is that Italian music is classy AF – unlike myself – and has its own unmistakeable thing going on. All of that applies to Ermal and Fabrizio’s Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente…except the instant enamour bit, because this was a song that snuck up on me with its brilliance, as opposed to smacking me in the face with it while blowing a vuvuzela and yelling ‘VIVA ITALIA!’. On first listen I found it too complex, too wordy and not hooky enough to remember. I think I must have had a headache at the time too, because Fabrizio’s insanely gravelly voice was up there with nails down a blackboard on the ‘Dear Lord, Make It Stop!’ scale. I looked up the translation of the lyrics; felt no change (I mentioned in the last round that I’m a soulless witch – Eurovision’s own Ebenezer Scrooge). Listened to it again; a slightly higher opinion of it. Listened to it again – to cut a long and boring story short – and BAM, just like that I was head over heels. And I don’t think it’s just a crush or a phase. I’m in this for the long haul, so put a ring on it, Italy! The complexity of this song is now something I appreciate about it: the melody and phrasing isn’t clear-cut and there’s no hooks that have been shoehorned in purely to make people dance, cry or headbang. The wordiness is one of those classic Italian musical tropes, and I feel like it’s in keeping with Ermal and Fabrizio having so much to say. And as for the lack of memorability I thought NMAFN had before…well, that’s probably still the case for a lot of first-time listeners, but I can’t get it out of my head now. The message is getting to me more these days, and I applaud the substance of the subject matter. That meaningfulness, combined with the beautiful guitar work, amazing chorus in which Italian has never sounded better, and contrasting smooth-edged/rough-edged vocals of the duo (that I understand now balance each other out, yin-yang style) makes for an overall impression of SI, SI, SI. Sure, it took a while for me to reach this state of obsession – which may not bode well for Italy’s contest chances – but good things come to those who wait. Speaking of this in a competition context, I have to come full circle and say ‘hmm’. Will Europe (and Australia) get this? Can the anti-war, anti-terrorism message be conveyed strongly enough via staging in three minutes to affect and pull focus in a 26–song final? One in which many of the other songs will be more instantly memorable and potentially overshadow Italy’s? Sadly, I doubt it. Italy was the overwhelming fave in 2017 (until the last minute) and ended up 6th. Unless this flips those fortunes, as current 10th favourite to win I see it ending up far lower. But I love it so much (finally), I’m hoping to be proven wrong.

2017 VS 2018? Anti-evil beats evolution – 2018.

My score 10

 

 

My thoughts There are a few songs in the Lisbon fam that are ESC throwbacks, and I love it. Taking me back in time to the mid/late 2000s are the likes of Belarus, Greece and Serbia (obviously, or I wouldn’t have mentioned this at the start of their review). Ethnic to the extreme with a Eurodance beat, and partly performed by a strangely attractive bald yet bearded dude? Hvala da, Slovenia joke intended. There’s no question Nova Deca could have slipped seamlessly into the line-up of the Istanbul or Helsinki contests (it would have been a great host entry in Belgrade too, no disrespect to Oro) but I’m happy it’s here in 2018 adding retro variety to the show. It’s striking from the second it begins, when the wailing (I’m sorry, but I don’t know how else to describe it) puts the ethno in ethnopop. Just when you think you’re in for 180 seconds of traditional Serbian folk music, DAT BEAT kicks in and promises much more – not that I would have been mad about a totally traditional Serbian song, especially after last year’s mostly Swedish production. Good energy, an anthemic quality and a catchy chorus (a key ‘Woohoo!’ requirement for me) fill the rest of the running time, and I have zero complaints about any of it. I’m not sure what else to say – sometimes you just like something and you can’t put into (that many) words why. I will admit that this is not a song anyone’s likely to call ‘so 2018’. But I don’t care. It’s another one you’d never stumble upon outside of Eurovision (or at least outside of the Balkans) which is one of the things I love about it. I’m sure the huge Serbian population here in Australia will respond to this positively, dancing up a SuRie storm. Whether or not that translates into votes, we’ll see. I do think Serbia will struggle for a final spot again, and to be honest my jaw will drop a little if Balkanika are announced as qualifiers – in a good way. Nova Deca would be a fantastic song to have in the final program, since no matter what it follows or precedes it will be different. And I think Serbia needs some encouragement to start sending ethno-fusion songs to Eurovision on a more regular basis, because when they do, they do it very well. They always get the Jaz tick of approval, anyway.

2017 VS 2018? 2018. Easy choice.

My score 8.5

 

 

My thoughts Pink hair, don’t care. That’s Lea Sirk (and her Portuguese twin Cláudia Pascoal), repping Slovenia with a song that makes last year’s On My Way sound even more passé than it actually was. First things first, I’m still pissed that BQL were knocked back again at EMA with another amazing Maraaya creation. I sincerely hope their victory day will come. In the meantime, we have Hvala, Ne!, a song I have quite the like/dislike relationship with. Do the good things outweigh the bad, IMO? Let’s see. Positives: It’s contemporary and radio-friendly; it has attitude; it’s in Slovene when the temptation to switch to the English version would have been high; and Lea is a solid performer and vocalist. The NF performance was simple but effective too, so if they’ve replicated it in a way that fills the bigger ESC stage, I’ll be happy. Negatives: It’s kind of flat and monotonous; the noise in the chorus that punctuates ‘Hvala ne’ sounds like a smoke alarm having a nervous breakdown, and I am not here for it; and Lea’s NF outfit was super unflattering (it looks like she’s wearing something similar for Eurovision, and I do not approve). Okay, so it seems I’m leaning towards the angel on my shoulder rather than the devil on the other one re: Hvala, Ne! But at the same time, the song doesn’t ignite enough passion in me – in a yay or nay way – to make me want to vote for it. And I suspect I’m not the only person thinking this. There aren’t any ‘wow’ moments to speak of, and Lea’s position in the running order isn’t too favourable – Montenegro before her, while not the best Balkan ballad ever, is grander; and Ukraine after her? Well, they could destroy any impression Slovenia leaves like it’s a scrap of paper left on top of Melovin’s flaming piano. I can see Slovenia finishing in the 11th-14th bracket in SF2, but no higher. If I’m right, I won’t be glad to see the back of Lea and her amazing fairy floss hair, but I won’t miss her song in the final a whole lot either.

2017 VS 2018? I’m actually torn on this one. Both have big pros and cons. 2018, I think?

My score 7

 

 

 

My thoughts In 2017, the UK reminded us all that glitters is gold – and that a gold-drenched stage and singer won’t necessarily propel you into the gold medal position. Something they’re hoping will do the trick is sending a two-time backup singer (for Belgium, with Loïc and Blanche) in the form of SuRie. She’s a superstar on social media and the kind of Eurovision artist we all want to be our BFF…so it’s a shame that Storm doesn’t live up to her awesomeness as a person.  Like Germany, the UK is not earning their automatic Saturday night spot with this – a song that would have a hard time qualifying from a semi. It’s nice, there’s nothing wrong with it, and SuRie is a joy to watch perform as she’s a Little Miss Sunshine onstage like Jess Mauboy. The lyrics are cheesy and predictable at times, but she charms her way through them and makes me believe she means what she’s saying (not that I’d been having trouble believing storms don’t last forever). But no matter how hard I look, I can’t find any ‘oomph’ in this. It’s lacking an element of excitement to light my fire and toast my marshmallows. Is it a heart-warmer? Not really. Can you dance to it? Nope. Is it hard to resist singing along to? Not in my experience. To put it another way, if Eurovision was an election campaign made up of political candidates, the UK wouldn’t be one who makes a powerful statement and attracts voters like Portuguese custard tarts attract Lisbon tourists. Up against the other automatic finalists, Storm comes across mediocre – and my ‘meh’ feeling only increases when I compare it to the other 37 songs. I hate that I’m not even surprised by that happening with a UK entry. Who wants to be accustomed to average? Lucie Jones gave us a glimmer of hope last year, but if she couldn’t finish higher than 15th, I don’t think SuRie can either. This year is turning out to be more on par with 2017 than we first thought in terms of the overall standard, so because Never Give Up On You > Storm, my early prediction for the UK now is 18th-22nd. But here’s your consolation prize, SuRie: when it comes to crowning the Twitter Queen of Eurovision 2018, nobody else stands a chance.

2017 VS 2018? I loved Lucie, so sorry SuRie.

My score 6.5

 

 

37 down, SIX TO GO!!! I’m on the home stretch, y’all, and that’s worth a happy dance. While I’m getting jiggy with it, you can check out this round’s ranking: 

  1. Italy (10)
  2. Serbia (8.5)
  3. Denmark (7)
  4. Slovenia (7)
  5. United Kingdom (6.5)
  6. Iceland (2.5)

All I’m going to say on this one is…poor Ari.

Does Italy give you the most grande amore out of these six songs, or does Rasmussen’s majestic beard song win you over every time? Maybe you actually *gulp* enjoy Iceland? Make your decision and vote for your favourite now!

 

NEXT TIME It’s all come down to this: the final six countries competing in Eurovision 2018. Who’s got me fist-pumping and who’s got me face-palming when it comes to Belarus, Montenegro, Norway, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland? This weekend, all will be revealed…

  

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

My score 7

 

 

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

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

My score 12

 

 

 

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

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

My score 5

 

 

 

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

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

My score 7.5

 

 

 

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

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

My score 8.5

 

 

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

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

My score 3

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 3 (Albania, Finland, Greece, Lithuania + Moldova)

Good *insert time of day here*, guys. In a plot twist that everyone saw coming, I’m back with more Eurovision 2018 reviews – and with rehearsals for this year’s contest kicking off NEXT WEEKEND (how did this happen?), I have zero time for one of my traditional rambling intros. Lucky you.

Speaking of you…if you saw the title of this post and decided it was worth a look, then you’re probably wondering what I think of Eugent, Saara, Yianna, Ieva and DoReDos – plus the musical offerings they’re bringing to Lisbon’s mahusive potluck dinner. Keep reading if you want to stop wondering! Then, as always, you can pick your personal fave of the five (scroll for the poll) and share your ranking in the comments. I know you want to…

 

 

My thoughts Way back in ye olde 2017, Eugent’s Mall became the first song to be selected for Eurovision 2018 (if I remember rightly). It’s a typical move for Albania, with Festivali I Këngës always falling during the festive season. The plus side is that Albanian entries have more time to grow on us and/or be reworked; the downside is that sometimes they don’t age like a fine wine so much as like a loaf of bread. So is Mall, all those months later, a drop of something delicious or a stale loaf of sourdough? And why do I constantly compare music to food? I can’t answer that second question TBH, but I can tell you that for me, this song is somewhere in the middle of awesome and awful. I think it’s quite wallpaper-like: imagine this year’s contest as a room, with Israel being the avant-garde statement armchair and San Marino being the ugly, dated fireplace (spoiler alert for my San Marino review) and you’ll know what I mean. Mall is there and it’s competing, but there’s no fire in it as far as I’m concerned, and nothing that really grabs me – even in the chorus, which if no other part does, should be the part of a song that sticks. I definitely don’t hate it, because there’s really nothing to hate. It’s not super-current but it isn’t decades too late either; it’s well-produced and the music is richly-layered, even minus the live FiK orchestra; it’s anthemic and will probably have some arms waving in Altice Arena…basically, I don’t see/hear any major flaws. What I hear actually impresses me the most about Albania, in terms of Eugent’s vocals. They’re flawless, clearer than the crystal Eurovision trophy, and powerfully projected in a way that will fill the spacious Portuguese stage even if he’s standing on it solo (no France 2017 issues are in his future). But excellent vocals aren’t enough in a competition full of great vocalists – many of whom also have standout songs up their sleeves. Mall is not a standout song in my opinion. It’s a decent song with an Albanian essence that suitably qualified Eurofans can detect with a single sniff (which I appreciate that about their entries). And I’m glad Albania is putting faith in their own tongue for the first time since Identitet in 2013. Unfortunately, I doubt it will pay off. I cannot see this qualifying, especially from the first half of death in the semi final of death (the Grim Reaper will be busy on the Tuesday night). Even though Albania will sound brilliant coming right after Iceland (spoiler alert for my Iceland review), I’m anticipating around 16th place in the semi for Eugent.

2017 VS 2018? 2017. Call me controversial, and I’ll take it as a compliment.

My score 6.5

 

 

My thoughts An unfortunate trip to Kyiv last year ended much too soon for Norma John (and if you think I’m over it, THINK AGAIN…and read this post). And so Finland brought out the big guns for Lisbon – perennial competition bridesmaid Saara Aalto, her belter of a voice, and her bucketloads of charisma and stage presence. Let’s be real, we ALL adore this woman. She’s a precious Nordic angel who had to take a turn on The X Factor UK before Finland realised they’d better just internally select her lest she be poached by the Brits. That brings me to my main point re: Monsters. The track is being showered with love by fans and in the fan-voted OGAE poll (no surprises there) but would people be raving about it if someone other than Saara was performing it? The way I see it, the song is secondary in the overall package of the Finnish entry to Saara herself. The country is sending an artist with a song, not an artist AND a song, if you know what I mean (and Norway is in a similar position). I’m not saying Monsters isn’t good enough for her or that it’s not good at all, but it could do more for its singer than it does. Sweden’s Deb duo are the driving forces behind it, and have created a dance-pop almost-banger that isn’t exactly at the forefront of the music scene right now (Ireland sent a vaguely similar song to Malmö, Estonia to Copenhagen). It is catchy, with a strong chorus and a distinctive vocal hook – ‘I ain’t scared no more’ – plus an inspirational message passed on in a way that doesn’t make me feel nauseous (Iceland, pay attention). And you can bet your entire collection of Eurovision merchandise that I’d be burning major calories in the Euroclub with this song as my soundtrack, were I going to Lisbon. Anything that makes you want to move – and not towards the nearest exit to escape it – is good, right? But while I can easily acknowledge the merits of Monsters, I can also easily admit that it’s not one of my favourite songs of the year. I like it but I don’t love it, and I think Saara is capable of more. She’s not going to be the contest winner we thought she’d be back when her name was announced (though why we thought that when she’s finished second so many times, I don’t know). Finland should be back in the final again after sitting it out (involuntarily) for three years, but at this stage I do have them under as borderline in my predictions. Am I letting my lack of enthusiasm cloud my objectivity, or is Monsters legitimately not that amazing? We’ll find out in a few weeks.

2017 VS 2018? Blackbird moves me. Monsters (kind of) grooves me, but I can’t say no to Norma John.

My score 7

 

 

My thoughts Going full Greece didn’t do the former ESC darling any favours in 2016 – it resulted in the loss of their 100% qualification record. Demy got them back to the final last year with cookie cutter Greek-free dance though (go figure…so why have they opted for something ethnic this year? Answer: because Yianna Terzi could pay the right price. And thank Hellas for that! I love it when any country sends a song to Eurovision that couldn’t be from anywhere else, and it doesn’t happen that often these days. That’s my no. 1 reason to applaud this entry. Reason no. 2 is that Oneiro Mou features the kind of drama Koit and Laura name-dropped in Verona; my way of saying that it’s atmospheric and mysterious (when I pretend I never looked up the lyrics on Google Translate). The verses get a bit of intrigue bubbling as you wonder, when listening for the first time at least, where the song is headed. Then the chorus delivers extra drama – maybe not in the most bombastic  way possible, but in a way that I get a kick out of. If this song wasn’t in Greek, it wouldn’t have half the appeal that it does, so I’m grateful for that too. And Yianna, besides having an incredible head of hair á la Tamara Gachechiladze (no need to turn that volume up, ‘cause it’s already on full blast) is also a well-established, seasoned performer. Ergo, she won’t go all deer-in-the-headlights on stage and will hopefully give us a studio-grade rendition of Oneiro Mou. I say that as someone who’s yet to check out her live vocal chops (I’ve barely had time to brush my own teeth lately, so please excuse that) but I’m assuming she’s got the goods. Greece has made it out of semi finals with weaker songs than this – ICYMI it was NOT love between me and This Is Love, and I’d class that as a weak song that squeaked through. Still, 2016 proved that they’re not infallible, and even in a nautically-themed contest, Greece is unlikely to sail though to Saturday night (HA HA). Like Albania, they’re fighting to emerge from that tough first semi, and I’d say it’s 50:50 – pre-rehearsals – as to whether they’ll make it or not. If the song is staged well (Lights! Dry ice! Wind! Give it the full salon treatment) it’ll help. If not, it might blend into the background, and that would not make for a happy Jaz. The more nationalistic music we get to hear in the final the better.

2017 VS 2018? 2018. Demy didn’t do it for me.

My score 8

 

 

My thoughts I’m going to do those of you out there who love this song a favour and spare you having to read this review: it’s not going to be a positive one. Usually I’d ramble on about what happened to Country X last year and make you wonder how I feel about them this year before releasing the kraken that is my opinion. But I want to get straight to the point with When We’re Old, because it’s part of my personal Infamous Four – a.k.a. the four 2018 entries that I just don’t like. I have a top 15 (all of which I want in my top 10), a next best 5 to 10 songs, then a sizeable ‘OK’ category…but underneath that at #40-#43 lies Lithuania and three other countries that I’m yet to talk about. Ieva is at #40 rather than right at the bottom of my ranking, but she’s in my bad books. Why? Because if Lena Meyer-Landrut was only allowed to sing in her inside voice, and starred in a musical version of The Notebook wherein the soundtrack was composed by a rhyming dictionary and a wheel of vintage cheddar cheese, When We’re Old would be the result. Like Iceland’s Ari, Ieva is lovely inside and out, but she’s singing something that is sickeningly sweet and savoury at the same time. Sugar + cheese = not a nice combo (MORE FOOD ANALOGIES JAZ WTF?!?). Sure, it’s romantic and emotive, but I’m afraid my cold, unfeeling heart refuses to be affected by it (perhaps because I’m currently the most single person on the planet and cannot relate to the sentiment). There’s no doubt the song will grow on me during the contest period, and I might be eating these words by the time May becomes June. As of right now, though, I’m not keen for Lithuania to qualify, even if they have a much better chance of making it in Lisbon than they did in Kyiv (they seem to qualify when I don’t want them to and vice versa, with a few exceptions along the way). Of my Infamous Four, When We’re Old is the only one I can visualise in the final, but it will be my toilet break song if it does (and if I don’t need to go to the toilet when Ieva’s on, I’ll go and sit in there anyway). I’m feeling generous with my scores this year, so don’t be surprised by the number you see below…just know that most of those points are for Ieva, NOT her song.

2017 VS 2018? I have to say Rain of Revolution, because it’s more fun and less limp.

My score 5.5

 

 

My thoughts You can’t discuss Moldova 2018 without talking about Moldova 2017 first (well, I can’t). The Sunstroke Project are a gift from the Eurovision gods, having presented the world with an iconic meme in 2010 only to outdo themselves last year by presenting their country with its best-ever result. The problem is, like Bulgaria and Portugal, they set a standard for their successors that is not easy to meet. Repeat NF offenders DoReDos have Russian powerhouse Phillip Kirkirov in their corner, and that helped snag Sergey Lazarev the bronze position in Stockholm. That’s what this trio needs to live up to – 3rd place – but I don’t think the Phillip effect is going to get them that far. There is a heap of stuff to like about My Lucky Day: the classic Moldovan trumpets and infectious tune; the enthusiasm of the band when they’re performing it (maybe they caught that from the Sunstroke boys?); the NF/probable ESC mirrors (props that fit into the Portuguese LED-less puzzle very nicely); and the overall throwback feel that transports me back to contests from 2008-2010. It’s just a fun, fluffy song. Musical fairy floss, you might say, but it’s just light and sweet enough to make you (by which I mean me) want more. Is it a masterpiece? No, in case you thought I was under the impression it was. Lyrically, the situation could be improved…and even though I’m 26 and not 12, I can’t help thinking that the words ‘number two’ should be avoided by songwriters (maturity level = dangerously low). But because it doesn’t take itself too seriously, I don’t feel like I have to take the lyrics too seriously. Moldova hasn’t quite built on their 2017 success in the way I’d hoped, and like Bulgaria did after Poli in 2016. But when I look at this song without thinking about Hey Mamma and how it compares, I can’t complain much (which is a big deal for me). Top 3 on the scoreboard? Nope. Top 10? Maybe. Final? Almost definitely. They’ve got a guaranteed douze from Romania to help them on their way, and they might get a few votes out of me too.

2017 VS 2018? Will Moldova ever top Hey Mamma? They haven’t this year.

My score 8

 

 

Okay…now that I’ve practically written a novel about each country, the stats are: 15 down, 28 to go! I suddenly feel the need to listen to Blue’s I Can to make me feel like I can get the whole Class of 2018 covered in time.

Here’s my mini-ranking for this round:

  1. Greece (8)
  2. Moldova (8)
  3. Finland (7)
  4. Albania (6.5)
  5. Lithuania (5.5)

So it’s Yianna – by one of her amazingly-textured hairs – who wins this five-way battle. Stay tuned to see where she fits in to my ranking of all 43 songs once the reviews are (FINALLY!) done.

Do we have love for Greece in common, or is it Aalto all the way for you? Maybe you’re reeling from my review of Lithuania because you love it so much. Vote for your favourite below, and share your thoughts/spill your tea in the comments!

 

NEXT TIME Coming up on my Lisbon ‘Hit or S*%t’ list (that’s a working title for next year’s reviews…what do you reckon?) are Australia, France, Georgia, Ireland and Latvia. You won’t want to miss me trying not to be biased when I review We Got Love, so make sure you come back for Round 4.

 

 

 

 

THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 1 (Armenia, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta + the Netherlands)

Hello there! I bet you thought this day would never come – the day when I’d finally get my Euroshiz together and do what every other ESC website has been doing for a month.

REVIEWS!!!

Okay, so you might have known I’d kick things off eventually if you’re familiar with my sloth-like tendencies (never visit this blog for breaking news, because it won’t be breaking by the time I talk about it). Now that there are four weeks to go until Lisbon’s first semi final, though, you’re about to be flooded with my verdicts on all 43 songs competing in Eurovision 2018. It’s a review tsunami, so strap on your lifejackets and take a big breath!

For Round 1, my high-tech random selection process – in which I copy-pasted a list of the countries, closed my eyes and pointed at it 43 times – resulted in Armenia, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta and the Netherlands being the fortunate first group to be judged (you’ll have to wait a while for the lucky last). So if you want to see how I rate Sevak, Eleni, AWS, Christabelle and Waylon, you came to the right place.

Check out my reviews, vote for your favourite of today’s five, and share your thoughts in the comments. Pretty please?

 

 

My thoughts If you’d told me a few months ago that Tamar Kaprelian would not be representing Armenia at Eurovision this year, I would have had a very melodramatic meltdown. Poison (Ari Ari) is an ethnopop masterpiece after all (Disagree? CASH ME OUSSIDE, HOW BOW DAH?!?) and when I listened to the snippets of everything else Depi Evratesil had to offer, I didn’t hear anything as awesome. As Donny Montell knows, love is blind…but it also made me deaf to the potential of eventual winning song Qami. I honestly can’t even recall hearing a snippet of Sevak’s power ballad – the first all-Armenian language song sent to adult Eurovision – even though I definitely did. Yet all it took was one look at/listen to his national final performance for me to forget about Poison (almost – a banger is always a banger) and fall head-over-heels for Qami. ‘Wind’ as it translates to – and it’s a safe assumption that he’s talking about the force of nature, not the aftermath of a particularly spicy vindaloo – ticks every box on my mental checklist for epic ballads. It’s a slow burner that starts off subtly before exploding at the end of the second chorus (kind of like the 0-100k/ph dynamism of Aram Mp3’s Not Alone). It’s haunting and mysterious. The melody is stunning, and the repetition of the title gives us non-Armenian speakers something to latch on to. Plus, the contrast between the delicate first half and Sevak’s vocal and visual strength (there’s wearing your heart on your sleeve and then there’s wearing your abs on the outside of your shirt) makes the overall package vulnerable and powerful at the same time. I know a lot of fans aren’t as psyched about this one as I am, but every year there’s one song I adore that not many other people seem to (and it can either bomb, or kick butt in the actual contest like Origo last year). I do think there is room for Qami to do some butt-kicking in Lisbon, this not being a ballad-heavy year and Sevak having the kind of song that could be a mind-blower if it’s staged right. But that’s more of a hope and prayer than a prediction, so don’t hold me to it!

2017 VS 2018? 2018, hands down (sorry, Artsvik).

My score 12

 

 

My thoughts Speaking of ethnopop masterpieces…enter Cyprus! Strutting in wearing a catsuit and a pair of sky-high heels, of course. Last year I was pleasantly surprised by Hovig’s Gravity, which was constantly compared to Rag & Bone Man’s Human – familiarity doesn’t breed contempt with me, I guess. I’m mentioning the comparison because once again, Cyprus has delivered a great pop song that happens to fit neatly into the mould of one I’ve heard before – in this case, a bunch of songs from Helena Paparizou’s back catalogue. Is there anything wrong with that? Umm, NO. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud originality, and Lisbon is lucky to have it in the form of Israel, Ukraine etc. But even a Paparizou album filler would be welcome at Eurovision, and since we can’t have the queen herself performing one (though she did record a version), Eleni and her Fuego are the next best thing. I love this, and it was an instant love strengthened by the fact that ‘You got me pelican fly fly flying’ is legitimately one of the lyrics. That IS original! I feel like this song was engineered especially to appeal to ethnopop tragics like myself because, in that department, it does everything right. Simple, neatly-rhymed verses + a chorus made up of hooky melodies and yeahs (which can be exchanged for ohs) + a memorable riff played on a traditional instrument = this, and every other ethnopop entry ever. Basically, it’s Aphrodisiac (Greece 2012) with a 2018 magic wand waved over it. With the product placement from the music video out of the question for the live ESC performance, and Eleni sure to be looking as hot as the fire she’s singing about, my only concern is how she’ll sound. The lives of hers I’ve checked out have been fine – albeit feat. some heavy lifting from backing vocalists – but I have heard she isn’t the most reliable live performer. Still, if Jedward can sing seemingly in tune (with their backup vocalists’ mics turned way up) then anyone can. And if someone can point me in the direction of proof that Eleni is actually a top-notch singer and convince me that I shouldn’t be worried, they’ll get a gold star. I really want this to be Cyprus’ fourth finalist in a row, not their first DNQ since 2013.

2017 VS 2018? This is like choosing a favourite child. NOPE. Not happening.

My score 10

 

 

My thoughts You’ve got to give Hungary credit for never sending the same song to Eurovision twice. Their bounce-around approach has, since their 2011 comeback, given us dance pop, electro rock, an acoustic alt-ballad, EDM, a charity song, anthemic rock and an ethnopop slice of heaven (Joci Papái was my favourite last year and is still a true musical love of mine). In 2018 we’re getting something different again with hardcore(ish) rock/metal/I’m clearly not an expert on the genre of AWS’ Viszlát Nyár but it sounds intense to me. It’s certainly the most hardcore, rocky song competing in Lisbon, and while that will help it stand out, such songs don’t always go over well at the ESC (I can’t imagine juries going nuts over this). The fact is that the demographic AWS are aiming at is not found, in droves at least, in the Eurovision audience (if someone did a Venn diagram to demonstrate it, the two fan bases would have a pretty tiny overlap area). I’m definitely not the kind of person who would readily abandon their pop sensibilities for anything involving screaming to music. So you might be surprised to learn that I actually like this. Like, not love (á la Origo, which I said I’d marry in my review last year if I could) but yes, I dig it. It reminds me a little of Dead By April’s Melodifestivalen entry Mystery, which I was obsessed with back in 2012 – it features the same mixture of soft moments and intense, scream-your-lungs-out moments that a) make it dynamic, and b) stop it from totally alienating people who aren’t regular purveyors of hard rock. As always, Hungarian sounds alluring and mysterious as the language of choice (is there a genre it doesn’t work with?), especially in the verses. Overall, Viszlát Nyár might be well outside my top 10 for the year, but there are only two or three songs I dislike and this is not one of them. I’m a big supporter of Hungary in the contest and I do hope AWS give the country their 8th consecutive qualification…but I think it could be a tough task. The best comparison song would be Softengine’s Something Better, which did very well for Finland in 2014 but was a lot more accessible (and the screaming was confined to the last twenty seconds or so). I don’t expect Hungary to perform as impressively as that if they do make the final, and TBH, I’ll live if they don’t. Still, it would be nice to have some rock on hand to spice up the best Saturday night of the year.

2017 VS 2018? It’s a no-brainer – Origo all the way.

My score 7

 

 

My thoughts Not for the first time – they did it last year too – Malta is sending an artist to Eurovision who’s tried to represent them before with a better song than the one they’re actually getting to go with. In Christabelle’s case, 2015’s Rush really should have been her Eurovision song, but it finished 2nd in MESC that year (Saddy McSadface). And so, three years later, we’ve ended up with Taboo, a mostly Maltese production feat. input from Thomas g:Son (shocking). I’ve developed a bit of a love-hate relationship with this song, though now I think about it, those words are probably too strong – ‘like-dislike’ would be more accurate. Basically, there are parts of it I really like and others that I really don’t. First, the negatives: it may not be as lyrically lame as past Maltese entries, but it’s all over the place with metaphors and similes, making it fairly nonsensical and the message confusing (apparently it’s about mental health struggles, ICYMI). The chorus in particular bugs me like crazy – it seems like the songwriters wanted it to be meaningful, but it turned into a mess of words that happen to rhyme with ‘animals’ (criminals, miracle, *my brain explodes*). The dubstep break is my other main gripe with Taboo, just because it feels passé and could have been left out to no great loss. Positives-wise, there’s good energy, a hypnotic beat, a contemporary-sounding melody, and an overall approving nod for Malta choosing something like this. And I have to mention the MESC performance, which was OTT but very cool at the same time…even if it might be hard to replicate on Lisbon’s LED-less stage. To her credit, Christabelle is a likeable performer with a decent voice, providing she’s not running a marathon or doing star jumps constantly during a performance (code for ‘don’t make her move too much, Team Malta!’). I think Taboo has a better chance of qualifying to the final than Claudia’s Breathlessly did last year – that proved us all right when it went nowhere. But in semi two, where five or six countries could easily advance from the first half alone, Malta’s odds are 50-50, and the shock value will be minimal whether they qualify or not. Unfortunately they’re performing just three songs before Sweden, and Benjamin is armed with an uptempo song accompanied by a slick, impressive stage presentation – much like Malta, but better. And with Sweden being almost a dead cert to qualify, if one of the two is going to be sacrificed to the DNQ gods, it will be Malta.

2017 VS 2018? 2018 fo sho. I’d rather break the taboo than be breathless.

My score 6.5

 

 

My thoughts The first question to ask someone who’s about to hear Outlaw In ‘Em for the first time is ‘How do you feel about country music?’. If their answer is ‘Not good’, then they won’t be giving it douze points, or anything close. Waylon’s solo Eurovision entry is without a doubt the countriest country song I’ve ever come across. Every lyric, every guitar lick – even the title – is dripping in the genre, and makes me feel like an idiot (or should I say ‘good for nothin’ varmint’?) for not wearing a cowboy hat. Of course, as soon as the song’s over, normal cowboy-hatless life resumes. I have to say, I do enjoy a country song or 65, but I’m more of an easy-listening cruisy country fan, as opposed to a rip-roarin’, honky-tonkin’, gun-totin’ type. In that sense, you can understand why I much prefer Waylon feat. Ilse deLange (a.k.a. The Common Linnets) with Calm After The Storm to this entry. The fact that Outlaw is so darn country – to the point where it’s about to fall off a cliff edge into Cheesy Canyon – is a turn-off for me, even though I appreciate the go hard or go home mentality (a half-assed country-tinged track for Waylon? No sirree). It reminds me of Achy Breaky Heart too much to take seriously, only it’s too fast to boot-scoot to. I know I’m in the minority here, but I don’t want all of y’all to challenge me to a stand-off just yet. I’m not totally, 110% anti-Outlaw. On the plus side, I like the lyrics: unlike Malta, the theme here is clear and consistent; and the rhyming is beautiful, which makes the overall package sound neat. The song is unique (in this competition, anyway) and definitely memorable. And Waylon is a great performer even when he’s not locking eyes with Ilse – in Portugal he’ll be making eyes at the camera instead, and I’ll imagine he’s staring straight into my soul (in a sexy way, not a demonic way). Will he end up staring down the barrel of qualification, though? The betting odds say heck yes, but I have to wonder if this song is going to be too divisive. It does come to life more on stage than in studio, so I can see it meeting expectations on the night/s that count most. Yet the mass appeal needed for a win isn’t there, and I can’t see a Common Linnets result in Waylon’s future either.

2017 VS 2018? 2017. Girl power and incredible harmonies > full-on country extravaganza.

My score 6.5

 

 

And that, guys, is Round 1 done and dusted. Five down, 38 to go in less than four weeks.

SEND HELP.

Then, when you’ve dialed 911/000/whatever your country’s equivalent is on my behalf, you can take a look at today’s mini-ranking:

  1. Armenia (12)
  2. Cyprus (10)
  3. Hungary (7)
  4. Malta (6.5) 
  5. The Netherlands (6.5)

So it’s Sevak who takes the top spot, which is obviously not a shock to me because I already knew how I felt about these five songs (let me hear you say ‘DUH!’). Now the question is, can Qami hold on to the #1 position as the EBJ 2018 reviews continue? You’ll have to stay tuned – and subscribed, hint hint – to find out. Opt in for new post email alerts in the sidebar, or find me on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram (all @EurovisionByJaz) to make sure you don’t miss a thing!

Before I sign off and in turn stop begging you to follow me on social media, I do have another question:

 

NEXT TIME The Lisbon reviews are just revving up…and if I want to get them finished before Eurovision happens, I need to get a move on. Drop by on the weekend when I’ll sit myself down on the EBJ judging panel to critique Azerbaijan, Estonia, Poland, Romania, and Spain!

 

Until then,

 

 

 

SHINE BRIGHT! Jaz’s JESC 2017 Reviews, Round 4 (Armenia, Ireland, Russia + Serbia)

Today’s the day, everyone who’s into Junior Eurovision! You’d have to be if you’re reading this.

There are just hours until Georgia hosts their first-ever contest, with the jury final done and dusted and a big chunk of votes already in (we still have until 15.59 CET to get our pre-show votes in, so get on it if you’re yet to have your say). What makes things even more exciting is that, even after rehearsals, it’s still an open contest without a totally predictable, probable-runaway winner. So – with due thanks also going to the current method of announcing the results – we should be on the edge of our seats until the very last score is calculated (unless one of the hosts screws things up like Valerie Vella, Queen of Spoilers, did last year). I’m SO excited for this!

I do have another few jobs to do before I can sit back, not relax (TOO EXCITED) and enjoy the show later. One is to make my official predictions for the comp public, which I will be doing on Instagram this afternoon (follow me @EurovisionByJaz…the link is over there in the sidebar). The other job is to squeeze in the final round of 2017 song reviews, of course! Here’s what’s gone down so far:

  • Round 1 feat. Cyprus, Georgia, The Netherlands + Poland
  • Round 2 feat. Albania, Italy, Macedonia + Portugal
  • Round 3 feat. Australia, Belarus, Malta + Ukraine

That means Armenia, Ireland, Russia and Serbia are left – so stay tuned to see what I think of Misha’s Boomerang, Muireann McDonnell’s Súile Glasa, Polina Bogusevich’s Wings and Irina & Jana’s Ceo Svet Je Naš. It’s happening right…

 

…now!

 

Watch it here 

Last year…powerhouse duo Anahit & Mary scored Armenia’s second 2nd place in a row with Tarber – a song I am still listening to on a daily basis and refuse to hear a bad word about.

The 2017 verdict Armenia is one of the most successful JESC countries period, having only finished outside of the top 5 twice in 10 participations. They’re on a particularly impressive run at the moment with a consecutive 3rd, 2nd and 2nd on their performance record. The problem with that, of course (*morphs speedily into Negative Nancy*) is that they’ve set themselves a standard so high, they might need the aid of a professional pole-vaulter to make sure Misha can top it – or at least equal it, since the only way to truly top it would be to win. I will be talking about the rehearsals here, but when it comes to song alone I’d say that Boomerang does have ‘winner’ written all over it. I didn’t feel it at first, but something clicked on listen no. 2 and I began to believe that Misha (well, studio Misha) had everything required in that three minutes to take the new and (some would say) improved JESC trophy home. I’d describe this song Eurovisually as a hybrid of Aram Mp3’s Not Alone – a power ballad that starts off subtly and simply before exploding into a million pieces of ‘Wow! – and Lisa Angell’s N’oubliez Pas, because it’s backed by a pounding militaristic beat. What it adds to that combo is interesting rhythm changes, and a younger vibe thanks to Misha’s delicate vocals (delicate until he unleashes his inner Anahit and/or Mary towards the end). It’s an aurally arresting mixture that suggests Armenia shouldn’t be discounted from the race, as per usual. But PLOT TWIST: from what I’ve heard about their rehearsals (told you I needed to mention the R word), an out-of-character misstep might be in store instead. Live performances can build an ordinary song up or tear a great one down, and though I haven’t watched any rehearsals as normal, reports of questionable vocals, a hoverboard that may not be serving Misha all that well and things just not coming together have me worried. I was going to tip Armenia as a possible winner, but now I’m wondering if they’re going to dip below their current worst-ever result of 8th. Before seeing evidence of that though, I will stick to my guns and not write them off. After all, Armenia has never ended a Junior contest lower than 2nd when they’ve entered a song with a single-word title. COINCIDENCE? Yeah, probably.

Song score 10

Artist score 8

Final score 9

 

 


Watch it here

Last year…Ireland participated for the second time with Bríce ar Bhríce by Zena Donnelly, improving on their debut 12th place with 10th (I predicted it to come last…oops).

The 2017 verdict I have to say, Ireland hasn’t exactly set my soul (or any other part of me) on fire with their JESC entries to date. All three have been good but not great IMO – though in 2015 and now in 2017, it’s more a case of the genres not being my bowl of Irish stew. Muireann is a cool kid who’s been personality plus when interviewed in Tbilisi this week, and there’s no denying she’s got talent. But Súile Glasa just doesn’t do much for me. It’s like a bowl of porridge (what’s with all the food references? If I’m not careful I’ll be discussing the Irish Potato Famine in detail next) without any flavouring. Okay, maybe a little flavouring…it is sweet. And the chorus is the stuff of sing-along dreams even in Irish. AND – check out all of these positives I’m pulling out! – I like the breathy, earth-child sound of Muireann’s voice. But like is as far as my relationship with this song will ever go – it’s in the Friend Zone, people. I am aware that my Music That Will/Will Not Work In A Competition Based On What I Think Of It radar is in good need of a repair job – and that my apathetic attitude towards Súile Glasa isn’t shared by many other Eurofreaks Eurofans. With that in mind, Ireland could be on track to improve on their debut result even further by improving on last year’s – I’m sensing 8th place for Muireann using my virtually non-existent psychic powers. In my personal ranking, it’s a lot lower than that, but not because it’s heinous. To me, it’s another You and Me by Joan Franka (i.e. I just don’t ‘get’ it). And Ireland in JESC so far…well, let’s just say I’m happy to have them at the party, but they’re definitely not the life of it.

Song score 6

Artist score 8

Final score 7

 

 


Watch it here

Last year…The Water of Life Project’s Water of Life pulled in the third-highest kids’ jury vote which propelled them into 4th place overall.

The 2017 verdict I have ADORED Russia at Junior for the last few years. Water of Life, in fact, was my runaway favourite of 2016 and I still love it a year later. Prior to 2015, though, I found them pretty hit-and-miss. I’m telling you all this stuff you probably don’t want to hear to make you question whether or not I’m a fan of Russia’s 2017 entry Wings. The short answer is yes. The slightly longer answer is HECK YES. Now for the longest answer of all: while it’s not another hands-down fave of mine (there are a few other songs I love on a similar level) Polina’s musical bid to win JESC no. 2 for Russia is right at the top of my list (floating around with those other few). This is everything I want in a ballad and more – so much so that I don’t even care about the nonsensical areas of the English lyrics despite being a former English major and staunch advocate of correct grammar. Taking inspiration from the soaring, electronic-edged ballads Sia has made famous, Wings is polished pop perfection with a massive chorus, epic build up to that chorus, a strong story backed up well by visuals in the music video (and on stage, I’m told) and a money note that overshadows all others we’ll hear in Tbilisi. Polina is an absolute powerhouse with all the necessary facial manipulation skills to sell the song to the audience and through the camera lens. I may acknowledge that the use of English in Wings has weaknesses, but that’s purely in the lyrics themselves – I really like the way the languages switch, with the song coming to an end in Russian right where it started. Speaking of the end…how good is it with the repetition of the final chorus line? Overall, Wings packs a memorable punch that I’m praying sees Russia in the top 5 again. Sadly, they seem to have trouble winning no matter how hard they try (something Sergey Lazarev could identify with) and this package doesn’t feel quite like the winning one to me – but that’s mainly because my favourites hardly ever win JESC or ESC and I’ve become pessimistic. The almost impossible could happen, and I’ll be doing my part to help it along by voting for Russia!

Song score 12

Artist score 12

Final score 12

 

 

Watch it here

Last year…poor Dunja Jeličić was out-hoverboarded by Belarus (ouch!) and ended up at the bottom of the leaderboard in U La La Last place.

The 2017 verdict Unlike Armenia, all Serbia has to do at JESC 2017 is not lose in order to outdo their showing in 2016. Unfortunately, that may be a tall order for Irina and Jana…but you know what? They wouldn’t come last if the outcome was up to me. Ceo Svet Je Naš is a cute little throwback to Junior contests of the past – think 2003 to 2005 – with a 1920s flapper feel shoehorned in. I’ve said before that I like it when countries go classic JESC on us, and the same goes for this entry. It’s clearly a kids’ song for a kids’ contest, and wouldn’t double up as an adult Eurovision song like Belarus or Macedonia, which makes it an awesome addition to the line-up. Being so sweet and simplistic, it’s also a breath of fresh air amongst more serious, hard-hitting and dramatic stuff á la Armenia, Poland and Russia. What puts the girls in losing contention isn’t so much the lack of good material – it’s just that by comparison, most of the other 15 songs have more to offer and are more exciting. Even I, who will bop to this while wishing I was wearing some fringe and feathers, am not tempted to vote for it when there are plenty of other songs on offer that practically demand to be supported. It’d be like picking up a sugar cookie from a buffet full of layer cakes and ice-cream sundaes (here I go again with the food analogies). I’m guessing most other people – those of us at home and those on the juries – will feel the same. As a result, I can’t see Irina and Jana charming their way out of the bottom 5. If Montenegro couldn’t do it in 2014 with a throwback duo, I can’t see Serbia doing it now.

Song score 7

Artist score 8

Final score 7.5

 

 

Finally, after four rounds, I get to say it: 16 down, 0 to go! The last mini-ranking for the year looks like this: 

  1. Russia (12)
  2. Armenia (9)
  3. Serbia (7.5)
  4. Ireland (7)

Polina wings her way (HAHAHA not) straight to the top, with Misha not too far behind, and the others fairly far behind…all according to me, obviously. There’s not long at all to wait until we find out who’ll actually come out on top and who’ll be left on the bottom (because somebody has to be).

Now it’s time for The Question I Always Ask Because I’m Nosy.

 

I know I haven’t asked you yet what your overall Junior Eurovision 2017 favourite is – so make sure you do head over to my Instagram and follow me @EurovisionByJaz if you don’t already. When I post my album of rankings and predictions later on today, put yours in the comments or tag me in those you post so I can see them! We can start a social media war over our differing opinions and trade insults that are definitely not kid-friendly…all that fun stuff.

Then it’ll be show time. Give me a Y A S S S! I’ll be hanging out on Twitter during the contest and I hope to see you there too, hashtagging the heck out of #ShineBright.

Enjoy your viewing experience, no matter who wins. I mean, it actually doesn’t matter since we’re going to Minsk next year regardless. Personally, I’m Team Australia (shocking), Georgia, Poland and Russia, so I’ll be crossing my fingers for them. Waving four different flags is a bit much for me to handle at the moment (also, I do not own a Georgian or Russian flag).

 

See you on the other side of JESC!

 

 

 

SHINE BRIGHT! Jaz’s JESC 2017 Reviews, Round 3 (Australia, Belarus, Malta + Ukraine)

If you’re not ready for Junior Eurovision 2017 (which TBH I’m not, considering I’m still frantically trying to get my song reviews done on time), too bad – it’s nearly here! The countdown is in single-digit days, rehearsals have started in Tbilisi’s festively-decorated Olympic Palace, and Mariam Mamadashvili is probably wondering what to have printed on her business cards now that ‘Current JESC Champion’ is about to be void.

In fact, the contest is so close than I have zero time for a classic Jaz Introductory Euroramble™. All I’m going to say is here’s Round 3 of my annual reviews, feat. Australia, Belarus, Malta and Ukraine. Check out my verdicts and vote for your favourite of the four below! 

 

 

Watch it here

Last year…I couldn’t help being happy – though very, VERY confused – when Alexa Curtis finished 5th with We Are. I suspect the absence of a televote had something to do with it.

The 2017 verdict We’re back, bitches! Actually, scratch that, because I should be keeping my language in check when discussing JESC. We’re just…back. As an Australian, it’s hard not to be pleased that our Eurovision invitations are still being extended (even in the face of frequent backlash/mutterings from other countries, which I do understand. But at the same time, IT’S HAPPENING, SO GET OVER IT). Also pleasing is the fact that we’re yet to send a bona-fide dud to the adult or junior contest, and the seriousness of our approach is worth at least one less snide remark, right? I definitely think so when it comes to Isabella’s Speak Up, which is arguably our best JESC entry ever. It doesn’t have My Girls whiff of lyrical cheesiness, or the wishy-washiness of We Are – the lyrics are great, the chorus is catchy and easy to sing along to, the vibe is young without being too young, and it includes one of the best key changes of the year (which Isabella has already proven she can nail live). I honestly feel like I would rate this song no matter which country it was coming from or what language it was sung in. It’s not as bubblegum pop as, say, Kisses and Dancin’ from The Netherlands last year, but it has a similar charm and upbeat energy that makes you smile. All in all, there is very little to pick on re: Australia 2017 – before seeing it live, anyway (rehearsals have obviously started, but my golden rule is NEVER watch them). Isabella will be backed by some dancers, the outfits and graphics will be slick, we’re performing second-to-last…what could go wrong in a contest that’s weaker than the last few? Well, a lot. I have an unfortunate feeling that even though a) Speak Up is our best Junior track so far, way better than We Are, and b) as I just mentioned, 2017 is not the strongest field of songs, we’re not going to make it into the top 5 again. I think we deserve to with this – not necessarily reaching the podium, but 5th or 4th place, sure. I just have this gut feeling that Australia is headed for more of a 6th-8th ending á la 2015. Still, I don’t have the most reliable guts on the planet, so anything could happen. My fingers are extra crossed!

Song score 10

Artist score 10

Final score 10

 

  


Watch it here

Last year…Alexander Minyonok and Muzyka Moikh Pobed received the Christer Björkman douze points of approval, which (when combined with a usage of hoverboards that totally eclipsed Serbia’s) helped him hit the heights of 7th place.

The 2017 verdict This might not apply at adult Eurovision, but you should always keep an eye on Belarus at Junior. They’ve won it twice and done very well for themselves on most other occasions. The trend continues 110% with Helena and I Am The One, and I’m going to cut right to the chase by saying she may actually be the one (someone had to say it). This song is undeniably high-class, and I don’t think many people could call it anything less than flawless without lying a little bit. It’s not even in my personal top three for 2017 and I’m calling it perfection. Beautifully produced – right down to the music video – and big on atmosphere and drama, it does everything a dark pop song should do without being cookie-cutter predictable. Belarusian lyrics + English title = totally fine by me, as are the explosive choruses and moments of light and shade that make the Serbias and Portugals of the year sound flatter than a pancake. Helena’s voice can get a teensy bit grating in the chorus if I’m extra-critical, but as long as she has ultimate control over it and stops it from entering The Screech Zone (it’s like the Twilight Zone, but you need multiple pairs of earplugs to make it out alive) I can deal. Speaking of things that might happen live…I want this performance to be the way I’m picturing it in my head SO BAD. The mystical ball from the MV better be there at least, and dynamic, epilepsy-triggering laser lights basically go without saying. For the costume, I’m thinking boho-robot, but that’s a concept I need to write an explanatory thesis on later. For now, I don’t know what else I can say about Belarus bar the following: the other four or so songs in winning contention better watch their backs. Then again, this could be the pre-show favourite that doesn’t quite meet expectations. There’s only a few days until we find out!

Song score 12

Artist score 12

Final score 12

 

  


Watch it here

Last year…home girl Christina Magrin delivered possibly THE vocal performance of the year, and came 6th with Parachute. I still can’t stand the song…but damn, that voice!

The 2017 verdict If this was the Junior Eurovision Cuteness Contest, Malta would walk it because Gianluca is so, so cute *melts despite not being the biggest fan of kids in general*. But it’s not. Sure, being adorable and charismatic and having impressive eyebrow-waggling ability for a 10-year-old will benefit him, but he needs an A-grade song to secure Malta’s third JESC win since 2013. Does he have it in Dawra Tond? Well, it was better three years ago when Armenia sent it and called it People of the Sun. It is very similar to that bronze medalist of Betty’s, but as with movies and music, the original is usually better. Still, the infectious sunny energy of POTS is worth taking “inspiration” from, so I can’t be too harsh on Dawra Tond. The pros include: a bit of Maltese for the first time since 2010; simple lyrics and phrasing that make this sing-along friendly and a total earworm; a good combo of retro (there’s something Mambo No. 5 about it) and modern dance-pop sounds; and that energetic beat that Malta can’t stay away from for too long (though they’ve won Junior with and without it). Overall the song doesn’t show off Gianluca’s incredible vocal abilities as much as I would have liked, but it does have some big moments. Performing between female ballad-fielders Ukraine and Russia should make Malta stand out, but with Polina being a heavy hitter and a handful of other stronger songs scattered throughout the running order, I wouldn’t bet any money on Gianluca winning (but I’m still pre-predictions, so don’t hold me to that if he does!). Honestly, I don’t want him to, but I could live with a decent finish in the range of 3rd-7th. Any higher and I’ll be forced to post bitter (yet not offensive because KIDS) statuses, tweets and stories all over social media to console myself.

Song score 7

Artist score 12

Final score 9.5

  

 

Watch it here

Last year…Ukraine had something of an off year at JESC, only making it as far as 14th with Sofia Rol’s ballad Planet Craves For Love. The nonsensical Cirque du Soleil staging didn’t help.

The 2017 verdict Ukraine are a bit hit-and-miss with me at Junior, though I’ve liked all of their recent entries (I’ve got no complaints about the 2012-2016 songs on a purely musical level). And hit-and-miss is actually how I feel about Anastasiya’s Don’t Stop specifically. It has grown on me since it won the national final back when dinosaurs still walked the earth (a.k.a. ages ago). But, while there are parts of the song I love, there are other parts that really irritate me – so on the whole I can’t say I’m going to be voting for it. Getting my tick of approval are the verses – nice melody and structure, plus an acoustic-y, chilled-out vibe that gives me life – and anytime the violinist pops up even though that does remind me a bit of Jacques Houdek’s My Friend. However, my main peeve is kind of a big one: the chorus. Anastasiya seems very sweet and she has a nice voice, but whenever an ‘ay-i-ay-i-ay-i-ay’ comes out of her mouth (which is a handful of times in every chorus) the nearest mute button becomes all I can think about. Sometimes you don’t know why you’re annoyed by something…you just are. And sadly, as sweet as she is, Ana is not Gianluca-level cute in that I would forgive her if she stole all of the money out of my purse. There’s always the chance of her new and improved live version winning me over, I guess. Looking at/listening to Don’t Stop as objectively as I can, I think it has the potential to do fairly well in the contest, if not amazingly so. It’s not a winner (if Ukraine think that the key to winning Junior is sending a very small child called Anastasiya, they are wrong) but my notoriously unreliable crystal ball tells me mid to lower top 10 is attainable.

Song score 7

Artist score 8

Final score 7.5

 

 

Well, there’s another four songs I can cross off my list. And here’s the mini-ranking from this round: 

  1. Belarus (12)
  2. Australia (10) 
  3. Malta (9.5)
  4. Ukraine (7.5)

So Helena’s the one AND number one on this occasion, closely followed by Isabella *screams patriotically*. This was a pretty high-scoring round though, so on the miniscule chance that Anastasiya is reading this, she shouldn’t feel bad. That score won’t put her at the bottom of the overall ranking still to come. DRAMA!!

Is Belarus your favourite of today’s four tracks, or is Malta more your cup of tea? Perhaps Australia or Ukraine have served up your preferred kind of pop. Take your pick!

 

NEXT TIME There’s one final round of reviews for me to get through – so who’s left? Armenia, Ireland, Russia and Serbia, that’s who. Keep an eye out for that post to find out who gets douze points from me.

 

Until then,