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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

   

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

THE TEL AVIV REVIEWS | Round 7 feat. Azerbaijan, Finland, Ireland, Slovenia + Sweden

Sorry to start off a post with profanity, but SHIT JUST GOT REAL, GUYS. The Eurovision 2019 rehearsals have started! Somebody pinch me. But not too hard, I have a low pain threshold.

Cyprus was the first country to take to the stage on Saturday, and as I type this we’re well into the third day of run-throughs. You may or may not know that I never watch rehearsals (I like the element of surprise) but I do read and listen to rehearsal reviews so I have some idea what’s happening (total surprise is overrated). Even so, you won’t find any rehearsal commentary here on EBJ – my favourites for that are Eurovision Ireland’s live blogs and ESC Insight’s podcasts. What I do have for you today is the penultimate round of my Tel Aviv reviews, feat. Azerbaijan, Finland, Ireland, Slovenia and Sweden, most of whom have already hit the stage in Israel.

You know what to do: keep reading for my thoughts on Chingiz, Darude & Sebastian, Sarah, Zala & Gašper and John’s songs for the contest so close we can taste it – then let me know in the comments who scores what in your opinion. I’ll be waiting!

 

 

 

If there’s one thing about Eurovision 2019 we can be surer of than Montenegro making it no further than Tuesday night, it’s that Azerbaijan will be wanting back in the final after losing their qualification record in Lisbon. It’s practically seeping out of their pores – not that Chingiz has visible pores or any other obvious imperfections. And Azerbaijan isn’t messing around musically: they’ve turned to Bulgarian, Swedish and US songwriters with strong ESC pedigrees this year. Truth was written by, among others, Borislav Milanov (husband of Tamara Gachechiladze and co-writer of If Love Was A Crime, Beautiful Mess, Bones and Malta’s Chameleon); Joacim Persson (also co-writer of Bulgaria’s recent contest contenders plus Chameleon, and Mikolas Josef’s Me Gusta); and Trey Campbell (member of Equinox and co-writer of Bones). Name-dropping of that calibre alone doesn’t ensure a successful trip to Tel Aviv. After all, some of these songwriters were also responsible for Dance Alone and In Too Deep. But it turns out Truth is a banger, with all the equipment to qualify and do reasonably if not incredibly well for Azerbaijan.

I’d summarise it like this: it’s a faster, sci-fi-free version of Bones and a big step up from the competent but cookie-cutter X My Heart. I don’t know about you, but I can definitely hear the bones of Bones in this and would have guessed the same writers were behind it even if I hadn’t known. Truth is actually a little more enjoyable than Bones for me, purely because it’s more uplifting and infectious. The production is cutting-edge contemporary; the lyrics are sparse and simple which makes for great singalong material (like you haven’t already screamed ‘SHUT UP ABOUT IT!’ at the top of your lungs at least once); and as usual, a hint of ethnicity has been stuffed into the package to remind us that this is the Azerbaijani entry. I don’t know how they get away with that, but they do – mugham etc can seemingly be shoehorned into any genre, and in this case it makes what would have been a standard pop song above average. All in all I’m excited about this entry, and I swear that has more to do with the song than with Chingiz being ridiculously attractive.

Interestingly, in 2018 Aisel was a jazz singer trying her hand at dance music, and it didn’t seem to fit. Yet Chingiz, whose area of expertise is flamenco fusion, has taken to dance pop like a well-groomed, gym-toned duck to water. So what could possibly prevent Azerbaijan from returning to their old stomping ground of the top 5? Well, funnily enough I see Truth doing similar things to Bones rather than climbing that high. As much as I do like the song, it’s missing a certain extra something that would make it a cert for a top 10 finish, let alone top 5. But that’s my thinking based on the song alone, and Azerbaijan have always been good game-players when it comes to staging. Truth is a better song than X My Heart without a doubt, so if it’s staged even half as well as that it will be an unstoppable qualifier. From that point, if it is presented in an attention-grabbing way (using some of the excess fluoro body paint from the video perhaps) who knows where it could go. On the other hand, if they ruin it live and disaster strikes, I am ready and waiting to console you, Chingiz.

 

In a line A well-produced banger with bite that gives us an excuse to yell ‘SHUT UP!’ 2018 VS 2019 2019, and that’s the Truth Predicted result SF 5th-7th, GF 11th-14th My score 10 points

 

 

 

 

Finland’s national final UMK was another one-act, three-song affair this year. But instead of the delightful Saara Aalto we got notorious 90s DJ Darude plus singer/actor Sebastian – and people were EXCITED. About Darude, anyway (no offence, Sebastian). I can’t say I was over the moon personally, but that’s because Robin Packalen said thanks but no thanks to YLE before they approached Darude. How do you say ‘devastated’ in Finnish? Mr. Sandstorm was a prize pick on face value though, I’ll admit. And as someone who has enjoyed Eurovision’s recent DJ/vocalist combos, I was looking forward to what Finland would present us with.

Unfortunately that turned out to be three versions of the same song, and that song was straight out of the decade when Darude had his biggest hit. I’m all for a throwback, but in this case it was a contemporary dance track I wanted…not something that could have been released as a single straight after Sandstorm in 1999. Look Away was the best option out of UMK despite the trio of songs being pretty damn interchangeable, and believe it or not I do actually like it. I don’t think it’s a good song for a contest in the final year of the 2010s, but I would dance my ass off to it in the Euroclub were I going to Eurovision this year (if you are, please bust a move on my behalf). I don’t even know why I like it when it’s so monotonous and depressing, but I guess the melody works for me – that pre-chorus is especially catchy. Plus there’s an intense atmosphere to the song in general that gives it a je ne sais quoi. But even I have to acknowledge the issues with this. It is dated, it is forgettable, and the lyrics leave a lot to be desired. ‘How can we go to sleep at night, and lay there in our beds, when we know what’s going on with the world today’ is passable in a Boggie-style ballad, but in a dance track it just sounds wrong (not to mention cheesy). I’m sure a lot of time and effort went into producing this song and into writing the lyrics, but it all seems a bit basic.

Another problem is that the whole ‘DJ at desk accompanied by solo male singer in leather jacket and/or hat’ schtick is, at Eurovision, clearly declining in quality. Norway nailed it in 2017; Poland had a good song last year but massacred the live performance; and now we have Finland failing to tick boxes in the song and performance departments. God knows how horrendous the 2020 attempt will be, because in 2019 it’s uninspiring to listen to and to look at. Sebastian’s vocals are far from polished, and that ‘Let’s all slow-clap with our hands in the air like we’re at a music festival!’ move is painful to watch. I didn’t mind the LED box the guys had on stage with them at UMK (complete with dancer) but it wasn’t enough to elevate Look Away. I really think Finland will struggle to qualify with this, which is a shame when the Darude name-drop was so well received. It’s just that there are easily ten more memorable, more enjoyable entries in the first semi. In my opinion, this one doesn’t have the fight to get to final night.

 

In a line Dated dance music with a message and not much hope 2018 VS 2019 2018 Predicted result SF 12th-16th My score 7 points

 

 

 

 

 

Poor Ireland. They’ve been desperately clinging on to ‘We’ve won Eurovision seven times!’ since 1996, which makes me wish Sweden would get a move on and win at least once more to shut them up. Yet they’ve never got a proper grip on what makes the ESC tick in the televoting era. There have been glimmers of hope in the form of Jedward, Ryan Dolan (before he finished dead last in the 2013 final), and Ryan O’Shaughnessy. But there’s been no streak of success, no formula found and no left-hand side of the scoreboard for the Emerald Isle since 2011. Now, in 2019, could 22 possibly be the magic number that takes them back to their glory days of not being able to stop winning?

To be blunt, no. Sarah McTernan’s song is too problematic for that. But first, some positives, because I do like this song. There’s something really charming about the retro Hairspray vibe it gives off, and it gets stuck in my head a lot because it’s so easy to sing and hum along to. The lyrics are simple and cute, and they aren’t annoying despite rhyming to an excessive extent (I think every possible rhyme for ’22’ was deployed apart from the childish and inappropriate one I know you’re thinking of right now too). The song is pretty simple in general, but that also makes it accessible – and stops it from being an assault on the senses like a bunch of other attention-demanding 2019 entries. It is funny that, like Finland, the music and tempo here doesn’t seem to match the subject matter. Sarah’s missing her ex even though she tries to move on with other people, but she’s telling us that over a sunny, boppy and poppy style of music and melody. Somehow, it works better for Sarah than it does for Darude and Sebastian. Maybe that’s because she’s more personable and believable, and can sell this song as well as anybody could. She sings it capably too. I’m a fan of her voice.

There isn’t anything else like this competing in Tel Aviv, so Ireland does stand out. There’s a passing resemblance to Serbia’s 2011 entry Čaroban too that might explain my attraction to it…though 22 is obviously Čaroban’s less energetic, more introverted and very distant cousin. And it’s time to get realistic about its chances, because as sweet as it is and as much as I wish it had the legs to leap into the final, I don’t think it’s meant to be. When I said 22 was problematic, I meant mainly in terms of it not being “extra” enough. It’s one of those songs that’s enjoyable while it’s playing, but it doesn’t leave a lasting impression. Basically, it’s a non-event, at least in the context of a highly competitive song contest. I doubt many people will find it impactful enough, 16 performances later when the voting opens, to remember – let alone vote for. And on top of that, in the land of conspiracy theories, Ireland is the EBU’s SF2 sacrificial lamb: a.k.a. they’ve been positioned second in the running order, like Montenegro in SF1. After Armenia’s power and passion, this entry will seem flatter than a soda with the lid left off. It’s safe to say Irish win no. 8 isn’t en route yet.

 

In a line Retro-flavoured, romance-themed pop with loads of charm but no oomph 2018 VS 2019 2018, a song that deserved better Predicted result SF 13th-16th My score 7 points

 

 

 

 

 

There’s always one country that takes you by surprise during national final season, and Slovenia managed to surprise me not once, not twice, but three times this year. First I was shocked when Raiven didn’t win EMA; then I was thrown by the actual winner being a song I didn’t remember hearing when I previewed the Slovenian snippets (having had no time to listen to them all in full); THEN I was totally taken aback when I watched Zala and Gašper’s performance of Sebi without knowing what to expect. To be honest, any expectations I did have weren’t high based on Slovenia’s unsteady quality levels at Eurovision lately. Maybe that’s why I was absolutely blown away by this entry from my very first encounter with it.

This song is stunning. Gobsmackingly gorgeous, with a backdrop of romance far more realistic than that of 2018’s ESC ‘it’ couple Amaia and Alfred (who broke up shortly after the contest, ICYMI). Zala and Gašper are coupled-up creatives immersed in their own world on stage, performing to each other rather than to the camera or the crowd – which could be a disadvantage, but I’ll discuss that when I’ve listed the many pros of this track and duo. It takes them two seconds to build up an intimate atmosphere, but I don’t feel like I’m interrupting something because I’m too busy a) appreciating the uncommon performance style, and b) being distracted by the otherworldly beauty of Sebi. This song takes me to another place, almost putting me in a trance. It’s dreamy and ethereal and should really be backing a montage of fantastical landscapes filmed by a drone. There’s a coldness to it that isn’t the clinical, off-putting kind, and it draws me in. I’m also drawn to the monotonous, hypnotic sound, and find that it’s the lyrical structure – sparse in the verses and steady in the chorus – that gives the song life in the absence of key changes and big notes. Everything about this is authentic to the artists, in keeping with Sebi (the title line of the chorus translates to ‘stay true to yourself’). The song is in the mould of the music Zala and Gašper usually make – it’s not like they wrote it in the quest to create the ideal Eurovision song. For that, I am grateful.

In a world that’s just, Slovenia would outrank the likes of Russia (the ultimate tryhard song of the year) and I’d love to see it rewarded for its originality and all of its other goodness. But I have a horrible feeling Sebi might be my Qami of 2018: an amazing song dragged down by a performance too many people think is dull. The fact that Zala and Gašper perform to each other exclusively is unusual, and while I think that is part of what makes them unique, I also think it could be their undoing. That, plus the subdued nature of the song and the lack of explosive moments that attract televotes. My fingers are crossed that the juries, at least, see the musical merit and integrity in this. I know I’m not the only one who thinks Slovenia is sending something magical to Tel Aviv and deserves to be in the final again. If you do too and you can vote in the first semi, make sure you support Slovenia so we can both see them on the Saturday night (and don’t end our Tuesday night in tears).

 

In a line Three minutes of otherworldly, goosebump-inducing gorgeousness 2018 VS 2019 2019, 2019, 2019!!! Predicted result SF 7th-12th, GF 12th-18th My score 12 points

 

 

 

 

   

It has been PAINFUL waiting so long to review this song. If you’re wondering why, then you obviously don’t know about the massive country crush I’ve had on Sweden since I became a Eurovision fan. I support them unconditionally at the contest (2009 being the exception) and two out of my three ESC/NF experiences have been in Stockholm. I also have a lot of affection for John Lundvik, the third male soloist in a row to win Melodifestivalen after making the final the previous year. So if you were hoping for a review that stuffed, basted and roasted this year’s Swedish entry, I apologise (without much sincerity). On the other hand, if you want someone to sing Sweden’s praises with heavy-handed bias, I’m your gal.

Too Late For Love was the song John was meant to win Melfest with. Not My Turn last year, and not Bigger Than Us which was his initial choice for the comp. This was The One, and if his history-making jury scores in March weren’t proof of that then I don’t know what is. This entry is three minutes of glorious, gospel-powered joy, whether you’re listening to it in studio or watching John and his amazing group of backing vocalists bring it to life on stage. I love (because it’s definitely not too late for it) how the song ebbs and flows. It quickly builds onto the simplistic first verse with the pre-chorus/chorus, before winding things back abruptly for the second verse, which some people think takes the wind out of its sails but I think makes you pay attention. Then it’s all up from there with the bold backing vocals and John’s big money note, before that awesome ending that asks ‘Is it?’ (a rhetorical question that we’re under no obligation to answer). There are so many moments in the song and performance that beg for votes, and not in desperate way: that aforementioned whopper of a note, the lighting used to bathe John in gold just as he starts singing about the sun etc, the simple but effective “backing singer reveal”…the list goes on. The whole thing is full of life, spirit and happiness, making those sun/light/spark metaphors fit right in. And it’s much warmer and more likeable than Dance You Off, as hard as that is for me to admit (I still think that televote score was a travesty). I do feel like Sweden learned something from last year’s stumble.

Ja, I have a blind spot where Sweden is concerned, but my vision isn’t totally obscured. I’m not trying to say Too Late For Love is the greatest song ever written or that it’s performed more genuinely than anything else in the 2019 contest. That’s not true. But I believe Sweden has a fantastic package deal for us. They have a song that’s engaging, uplifting and catchy; an artist who’s ridiculously attractive, charismatic and vocally flawless; and staging (if their promised changes for the ESC aren’t too dramatic) that’s all about O’G3NE-approved lights and shadows rather than props or gimmicks. It’s definitely the most “honest” entry they’ve had since 2016, which should help them score some televotes. It still has all the boxes ticked when it comes to jury criteria, though – and I’d say it’s one of only a few entries that should rank highly with both the public and the professionals. Or is that my bias talking? I don’t know. What is certain is that John is competing against himself, since there’s no question Sweden will qualify and be up against the UK in the final. I’d bet on Swedish John outscoring UK John. Not to first place, but he hopefully won’t be too far behind.

 

In a line Sweden doing what Sweden does best, but on a more relatable level 2018 VS 2019 This is not a choice I’m prepared to make unless my life depends on it Predicted result SF 3rd-5th, GF 4th-8th My score 12 points

 

 

 

 

That’s all, folks. I mean, that’s all of the semi-finalists for 2019 reviewed. Holy Hatari! I have no memory of doing all 35, but apparently it’s true. I literally have it in writing.

Here’s a look at today’s leaderboard:

  1. Sweden (12)
  2. Slovenia (12)
  3. Azerbaijan (10)
  4. Ireland (7)
  5. Finland (7)

And here’s the usual update on my full ranking, for the one person who cares (it may or may not be me): 

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

Well, after weeks of Hungary sitting on top I have a new and unsurprising winner. Grattis Sverige! Stay tuned for the final round of reviews to find out whether France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Spain or the UK can take that top spot for themselves. I promise the verdicts will be posted by the end of this week – definitely before Eurovision Week (the greatest week of the year and the highlight of all our calendars) begins.

In the meantime, enjoy watching and/or hearing about the rehearsals as they continue, and as we get that much closer to crowning the next king/s or queen/s of Eurovision.

 

PS – Don’t forget to rank Azerbaijan, Finland, Ireland, Slovenia and Sweden in the comments so we can have a catfight over who has taste and who clearly doesn’t…

 

 

 

 

 

THE TEL AVIV REVIEWS | Round 6 feat. Austria, Denmark, Malta, Moldova + Portugal

Hello (yet) again, and welcome to (yet) another round of Eurovision 2019 reviews! Rehearsals starting this Saturday – oh to the my to the GOD – is a reminder that time is running out, and if I want to spill all my personally-brewed tea on this year’s entries before the contest begins, I better pick up the pace. So here are five more judged and scored songs for those of you who’ve been enjoying them so far, via Austria, Denmark, Malta, Moldova and Portugal.

Check out my thoughts on PÆNDA, Leonora, Michela, Anna and Conan’s (pick the odd one out) contributions to the comp, then share yours in the comments. Love is forever and I’ll love YOU forever if you do.

 

 

Austria was arguably to Eurovision 2018 what Bulgaria was to Eurovision 2016: a country that hadn’t done much for a while coming out of nowhere and shooting up the scoreboard. It was more predictable when Poli did it, but since Cesár Sampson was one of her backing singers maybe we should have predicted his 3rd place (the man has a magic touch). With PÆNDA and Limits being Austria’s follow-up to Nobody But You, I’m curious to see if she can pull off another shockingly high result for Austria. Or if she’ll squat her way to a DNQ like the last blue-haired female soloist to compete in the contest. Or if she’ll wind up somewhere in between. Limits is the sort of song that could do anything. I could justify it finishing in the top five, fifteenth, last in the final or missing out on qualification altogether.

It’s such an introverted song compared to most of the others. I almost feel like we’re intruding listening to it, like PÆNDA should be singing in a soundproof room behind closed doors (and far away from the prying ears of Lake Malawi). Yet that super personal, intimate feel of the song is one of its appealing points. That feeling is threaded all the way through, with vulnerability and genuine emotion at the core of PÆNDA’s high-pitched, delicate vocals. I can’t deny that this is a touching track with loads of musical integrity. But at the same time, it does feel like a bit of a disappointment. While I’m glad Austria didn’t do a Cyprus and carbon copy their 2018 showstopper, I was hoping for more of a statement piece. Limits is pretty same-same for its entire three minutes, and the chorus in particular fails to elevate it to interesting heights. All those bajillion-syllable ‘yous’ feel a little lazy, like nobody could be bothered to fill in the space with anything more complex. I’m sure that’s not the case, but it’s the impression I get from such a repetitive and uneventful chorus.

If Limits was a minute long I’d enjoy it more, but as a full-length song aiming to grab my attention and keep it, it doesn’t work. I do have a sneaking suspicion Austria will be bringing it with their staging this year, however. The potential is definitely there. I’m thinking moody lighting, dreamy LED graphics and a quirky-but-not-too-quirky costume choice. Maybe some dry ice too, if it doesn’t bring back more memories of Rykka and her squatting. I also expect PÆNDA to deliver some beautifully gift-wrapped vocals to our doorsteps. If she does and she is surrounded by aesthetic goodness, the juries will find her hard to resist. Televoters, I’m not so sure. I can’t vote in the second semi, but if I could I’d have other countries in mind. If most home voters are the same, we could be saying adios to Austria on the Thursday night – but until rehearsals and the real thing, I’m not game to make a set-in-stone prediction on this one. I know my Limits.

 

In a line Fragile and beautiful but a bit boring 2018 VS 2019 2018, because there really ain’t nobody but you, Cesár Predicted result SF 7th-12th, GF 11th-17th My score 7 points

 

 

 

 

  

Denmark isn’t exactly the luckiest Scandinavian country in the contest these days. Then again, you make your own luck – so they’ve only got themselves to blame for their 2015-2017 string of buh-bow (a.k.a. sad trumpet) moments. Last year they brought out some burly, bearded Vikings and were back on form and back in the top 10. So why did they decide to ditch everything Rasmussen-esque in 2019 in favour of a song that sounds like it was written for a laundry detergent commercial? I’m all for countries bouncing around rather than replicating what brought them success the previous year, but this change of direction is a shock to the system. Not on the same level as Iceland’s change of direction, but a shock nonetheless.

So, Love Is Forever. For some reason I feel differently about this song every time I listen to it. One minute I think it’s cute and I really like the campfire feel, off-the-wall lyrics and language mix. The next, I think it’s way too sugary sweet, it gets on my nerves and I’m a) creeped out by Leonora’s unblinking eye contact down the camera and b) confused by the presence of that giant chair. It is a cute song, and the lyrics are (mostly) original and rhyme super-satisfyingly without resorting to fire/higher/desire – a trademark of co-writer Lise Cabble (who’s written a heap of DMGP and Eurovision hits including New Tomorrow and Only Teardrops). At the same time, it’s so twee that it borders on being more suited to JESC than ESC, right down to Leonora’s outfit – as worn by one of Serbia’s Junior artists in 2017. It certainly can be annoying if I’m not in the mood for it. And yes, it sounds like the audio of an ad where a perfect nuclear family frolics in their manicured garden, with their golden retriever and wearing white linen, in celebration of successfully removing a miniscule stain from said white linen with a revolutionary new laundry product.

Maybe Denmark’s success this year will depend on the mood televoters and jurors are in. Though if everyone else is as nonplussed by the chair as I am – and it has been confirmed that it’s traveling to Tel Aviv – that won’t help. Leonora won’t want people distracted by oversized furniture and her death stare when they could be focusing on an adorable, vocally solid song. Beyond vocally solid, actually. Love Is Forever isn’t the most challenging song to sing, but Leonora works extremely well with what she’s been given and I’m yet to hear her drop a note. I just don’t know about this entry in its entirety. There’s no point where it’s a disastrous car crash, nor is there a moment that makes it worthy of qualifying easily. Basically, it’s borderline. And given that Denmark may have their momentum stolen by the Swedish (meat) ball of joy appearing on stage after them, I’m leaning towards the side of the borderline that results in a DNQ.

 

In a line Cute and charming but a potential cause of diabetes and nightmares 2018 VS 2019 2018. I miss the manly stomping, glorious beards and long flowing locks Predicted result SF 9th-14th, GF 16th-20th My score 7 points

 

 

 

 

There’s a handful of countries unexpectedly bringing their A-game to Tel Aviv, and Malta is one of them. The tiny island picked Michela as their artist as part of her X Factor winner prize, eventually pairing her with Chameleon: a creation from the bright minds behind If Love Was A Crime, Beautiful Mess, Nobody But You and Bones. With a back catalogue like that, Malta’s Symphonix song had every chance of being a cracker. I was unprepared for just how awesome it is, especially since it’s nothing like party anthem ILWAC, Kristian’s slick power ballad, gospel force Nobody But You or the otherworldly pop of Equinox.

Sitting comfortably and confidently on the fence between weird and wonderful – meaning it’s both bonkers and packed with mass appeal – Chameleon makes the Maltese entry of the same name that almost was (back in 2016) sound incredibly passé. It’s a tropically-tinged floor filler with a powerful singalong bridge, and a chorus that takes away so much musical build so quickly it stops you in your tracks. I don’t know how such a non-chorus can be so effective, but this one just is. Outside of the chorus, this song is busier than Grand Central Station – but because every bit of it is catchy, memorable and current, it works. I swear Chameleon wouldn’t have been turned down by Dua Lipa in a parallel universe, and I’ve never said that about a Maltese entry before (as a big Dua fan, that’s a thumbs up from me). What also makes me dig this is Michela’s vocal delivery. We haven’t seen her perform it live yet (well, I haven’t) but we know from her X Factor performances that she can sing, and her vocals are soulful with an edgy catch. She makes this song even more interesting.

What else could Malta possibly do to make Christabelle’s DNQ a distant memory? Well, they could hire Loreen’s Euphoria choreographer and the design team behind Jamala’s incredible tree graphic. Wait – they did? Oh, okay then. I think we all know what Euphoria and 1944 have in common. Not that I think Malta is going to win Eurovision with Chameleon or anything…I don’t think it’s quite got the goods to go all the way. But unless an unlikely mistake is made with Michela’s staging (I’m hoping for something as colourful and fun as the music video) or she develops strep throat during rehearsals (touch wood in favour of that NOT happening), they are on track to score their best result since 2013. If all goes according to whatever plans they’ve made, mid-top-10 isn’t out of the question. Malta might be entering a Chameleon, but they’re not blending into the background!

 

In a line A little bit of bizarre and a lot of brilliance makes for a surprise banger 2018 VS 2019 2019 hands down Predicted result SF 4th-6th, GF 5th-9th My score 10 points

 

 

 

 

Moldova are the masters of two things when it comes to Eurovision: being memeable, and finding themselves in the top 10 against the odds (literally). They don’t always bring something weirdly wonderful though, and when they don’t it seems to be a mistake – just compare the results of Hey Mamma and My Lucky Day to Wild Soul and I Want Your Love. It’s with great regret that I announce something you probably already know: Moldova’s fate is sealed this year, and sadly it involves staying in the semis. It’s what Anna wants, right? To STAAAAAAY? Maybe missing out on the final isn’t what she has in mind, but I do not see a scenario in which this song, which I’d describe as a reject from a Céline Dion album circa 1996, goes anywhere.

I should say that Stay is a bit of a guilty pleasure for me. I manage to enjoy it on some level despite knowing it doesn’t hold a candle to the majority of songs it’s competing against. It’s dated, more melodramatic than a Mexican telenovela, predictable, blatantly borrowed from Swedes all too eager to be rid of it, and would need Céline Dion herself to elevate it to qualifier status. And don’t get me started on the lyrics. MY LORD. Have you ever come across a chorus so by-the-numbers? ‘Stay, until I find a way to be together, forever’s here to stay, no matter what they say, we’ll be together’? S Club 7’s cheesiest love songs didn’t have such lame lyrics in the early 2000s (a time when Stay still would have sounded stale). You must be wondering how it’s possible for me to like it at all, and I’ve actually been wondering the same thing. Granted, 1990s Céline Dion is legendary, and the fact that Stay is that kind of throwback works in its favour with me. I can pick out appealing parts of the melody too – the tune is the least offensive thing about this entry.

Seeing a tiny diamond doesn’t cancel out all of the rough, though. And there are more qualification-stoppers than I’ve already mentioned. Take, for example, Anna seeming to struggle a little singing in English (pronunciation-wise, that is…her vocal strength is A+). It’s times like this I wish Moldova would remember 2013 and how Aliona Moon and O Mie flourished in Romanian. But, like Croatia this year, they’ve decided on English and it puts the cringey lyrics on full display. I do think there is potential here for stellar staging, but it wouldn’t be enough to get Anna to the final. When Switzerland struts in and makes their undeniable mark on the stage straight afterwards, who’s going to remember – let alone want to vote for – Moldova? I’m sorry, but this is a no-hoper for me. Bring back the wack in 2020 please!

 

In a line A cookie-cutter power ballad that belongs in the 90s 2018 VS 2019 2018 Predicted result SF 15th-17th My score 6 points

 

 

 

 

Portugal fell as far as a host country possibly can last year (with the exception of Austria scoring zero points in Vienna…ouch). O Jardim was a stunning song and I still think its last place was undeserved, but at the same time I can see how it happened. The song didn’t stand out, but that will not be a problem for our gracious 2018 hosts this year. Telemóveis is totally bonkers and has nothing in common with O Jardim bar being in Portuguese, unless Cláudia and Isaura stuck spoons to their faces at one point and I just missed it.

I don’t even know how to describe this song, especially since it took me weeks to figure out if I even liked it. It turns out I do – I like it a lot. That’s partly because it’s so original, partly because in spite of that it’s still very Portuguese, and partly because I’m proud of Portugal for being so adventurous. Telemóveis is striking from start to finish and undeniably unforgettable. The first thing that grabs my attention is actually Conan’s vocals, which are smooth as silk but have a haunting quality that makes his native tongue sound particularly nice (I can’t say ‘sensual’ based on his performance, but Portuguese is definitely a sexy language). Thank heavens he can sing, because a song this out-of-the-box would sound so bad if its singer was even slightly off key. The song itself has so many different layers and segments to it and they’re all intriguing. It’s like a mystery to be solved in three minutes, and I can never solve it so I’m left scratching my head…but somehow I’m still satisfied because my ears have had an artistic experience. This really feels above and beyond a lot of the other songs for Tel Aviv, and I don’t mean that in a holier-than-thou way. I just mean that next to more predictable, derivative pop, it’s on another planet. Those dance moves from Conan and his co-star are definitely unlike any I’ve seen on this planet before.

ICYMI because I was making no sense, I’m a big fan of Telemóvéis. I love the music, the vocals, the unpredictable structure and how avant-garde it is. I even love the crazy costumes and even crazier choreography that make it stand out even more. It’s by far the most experimental entry of the year, and again I’d like to applaud Portugal for picking it. I can’t say I have a clue how people outside the Eurofandom will respond. On one hand, Conan is memorable times a million and the song is one of a kind. But the whole package is also strange and potentially inaccessible – and that’s even more obvious given Portugal is performing between Estonia and Greece, two countries armed with very accessible, instant entries. One of three things will probably go down: Portugal will make everyone forget Estonia and fly into the final; Estonia and Greece will make Portugal look too bizarre and prevent them from qualifying; or I’m overthinking things and all three will advance. If you told me I could have a pasteis de nata but only if I picked one scenario, I’d have to go with Portugal missing out. But please, PLEASE prove me wrong, jurors/televoters.

 

In a line A sensational song so arty, it should be on display in the Tate Modern 2018 VS 2019 2019, but I love them both Predicted result SF 8th-12th, GF 8th-15th My score 10 points

 

 

 

 

30 down, 11 to go! I wouldn’t want Eurovision to shrink back down to 20-something entries, but 41 is hard work. It wasn’t difficult for me to rank today’s five, though I did have a few ties to break:

  1. Portugal (10)
  2. Malta (10)
  3. Denmark (7)
  4. Austria (7)
  5. Moldova (6)

Congrats Portugal, and better luck next time Moldova.

Now for an update on my overall ranking if you’re interested, and why wouldn’t you be? Actually, don’t answer that:

  1. Hungary (12)
  2. Switzerland (12)
  3. The Netherlands (12)
  4. Greece (12)
  5. Estonia (10)
  6. Portugal (10)
  7. Norway (10)
  8. Cyprus (10)
  9. Malta (10)
  10. Czech Republic (10)
  11. Belarus (10)
  12. Russia (8)
  13. Romania (8)
  14. Belgium (8)
  15. Armenia (8)
  16. Iceland (8)
  17. Serbia (8)
  18. Albania (8)
  19. Denmark (7)
  20. Lithuania (7)
  21. Croatia (7)
  22. Australia (7)
  23. Austria (7)
  24. San Marino (7)
  25. Moldova (6)
  26. Montenegro (5)
  27. Latvia (5)
  28. Poland (5)
  29. North Macedonia (4)
  30. Georgia (4)

 

Next time I’ll be reviewing Azerbaijan, Finland, Ireland, Slovenia and Sweden – and after that there’s just the Big 5 and Israel to take care of. Follow me everywhere at @EurovisionByJaz so you don’t miss a thing, and be prepared to tell me what you think of them all.

Speaking of which…who’s your most-streamed and most-skipped on Spotify when it comes to Austria, Denmark, Malta, Moldova and Portugal? Let me know below.

 

Happy Almost-Rehearsal Week!

 

 

 

THE TEL AVIV REVIEWS | Round 5 feat. Belgium, Greece, Iceland, Poland + San Marino

TWO WEEKS TO GO!!! How we got so close to Eurovision 2019 so fast I’ll never know, but I’m not complaining. The always amusing stand-in rehearsals have started, and within one week the real-deal rehearsals will begin. Maybe then we’ll know who’s actually going to win the thing, because it’s far from being predictable at this point…for me, anyway. You Netherlands/Iceland/Italy superfans out there might disagree.

Speaking of Iceland, they’re one of the countries I’m judging today as I continue cramming in all 41 song reviews before May 14th. They’ll be joined by Belgium, Greece, Poland and San Marino in a majorly mixed bag of tracks, but that was bound to happen when Iceland was involved.

Check out my thoughts on/scores for Eliot, Katerine, Hatari, Tulia and Serhat, then share your own in the comments. Who’s floating your boat and who has your ship sinking?

Sorry about the nautical metaphors…they’re so Lisbon 2018.

 

 

2015-2017 had Belgium going from Eurovision strength to strength, like they were on a set of monkey bars and had a hell of a grip as they swung from one rung to the next. It was only a matter of time until they won the whole thing, right? Well, funnily enough it was A Matter of Time that saw them lose grip and fall flat on their face. 12th in their semi last year was their worst result in a while, but now the responsibility is back in the hands of RTBF – the broadcaster that gave us Loïc Nottet, Blanche and two 4th places. Eliot’s Wake Up has even been penned by Pierre Dumoulin, co-writer of City Lights. I feel like Belgium might want to mimic Blanche’s result here, but have they really got the goods to do it?

My first impression was no, and my current impression is still no. I do think Wake Up is a good song with great moments. When it opens with those otherworldly, 1980s-esque synth sounds, it sets us up to believe we’re safe in the hands of something special. For me, that feeling stays strong through the first verse, because it is an excellent one – catchy and complete with a beat that promises an epic chorus. Unfortunately, that’s when things become the opposite of epic. The stellar chorus teased by the start of the song never comes. I know every person on the planet has said the same thing, but doesn’t that ring alarm bells? It seems to be universal that the chorus doesn’t measure up to the rest of the song or make it more exciting, when it should be the part that actually does make you Wake Up (not have a quick nap as you wait for it to be over). Obviously not every single song has a statement chorus, which is fine on Spotify or on the radio – but in a competition, you don’t want to be underwhelming. It’s a shame because everything else about this song is totally whelming! I love the 1980s-meets-2010s feel, (most of) the melody and the lyrics. And I can imagine cool, artistic staging making this memorable in Tel Aviv.

Eliot isn’t a risk-free performer, based on lives we’ve seen so far. He does have a lot of potential though, and can pull off a solid vocal. I just want him to be more confident and more charismatic on stage, and own the song so it doesn’t overshadow him. He has Blanche’s songwriter behind him, but he needs to channel Laura Tesoro when it comes to taking charge of his performance. Belgium is opening the first semi’s second half – a positive – and performing before Georgia, which is also a positive (just not for Georgia). But then comes a string of songs ranging from ‘considerably more interesting than Wake Up’ to ‘I will never forget what I just witnessed as long as I live.’ And that, to quote Blanche (who I’ve mentioned a lot in this review) puts Belgium in the danger zone. I would like Eliot to qualify, but I worry that a Sennek sequel – a.k.a. another 12th place – is in his future.

 

In a line Slick, sophisticated synthpop with a sadly forgettable chorus 2018 VS 2019 2019, even with that sadly forgettable chorus Predicted result SF 8th-12th, GF 17th-20th My score 8 points

 

 

 

 

Remember when Greece was the untouchable, golden country of Eurovision? I’m old and do recall those days, but if you were born after 2000 you actually may not. The era was 2004-2011, when they won once, finished in the top three twice and never ended a contest’s final night lower than 9th. Then things took a turn for the (much) worse, from 2014 onwards in particular. Greece did manage to cling on to their 100% qualification record post-2011, until they lost it in Stockholm. THEN, after a bounce-back in 2017, they fell in the semi-finals again last year. So that’s where we’re at now, and I suppose I should stop giving you an unnecessary Greek history lesson and talk about Better Love.

The Duska discussion should start with me saying this is my favourite Greek entry in ages – and it’s not like I’ve hated their recent contributions. Continuing the tradition of bringing a great song when represented by a Greek-Canadian, Greece has got to be onto a good thing with this (you could say they’ve found the secret combination for success *insert canned sitcom laughter here*). Better Love is an amazing track that puts a bunch of other power ballads to shame. It’s well-written, builds musically and melodically, and manages to stick in my head in a way that’s usually reserved for up-tempo dance bangers á la Cyprus and Switzerland. The lyrics are simple and pretty minimalistic, especially in the chorus, making it easy to sing along to. I also like the balance Better Love strikes between sounding original and sounding familiar enough to be accessible – Portugal, on the other hand, might struggle because of their overwhelming originality (but that’s a debate for another day). What I LOVE about this song, and what makes it as magical as it is, is Katerine’s distinctive vocals. They hook me from the moment she says ‘Live for the mess’, which is good advice and I do it all the time where my bedroom is concerned. And when she hits those high notes in the chorus, and the even higher notes in the bridge…wow alert!

The elephant in the room now I’ve mentioned vocals is Katerine’s pre-party performances. They were sketchy from what I heard, but I’m not too worried about that being an issue at Eurovision. That’s because every other live of hers I’ve seen has been flawless; there’s still time for these things to be brushed up; and even vocals that sound awful in an arena or other live venue can sound fine on TV (that I know from my own ESC experience). So Katerine gets the benefit of the doubt from me, and if she does sound good on TV then that’s what will matter in terms of results. Can you tell I’m desperate to defend this entry? Greece has a brilliant song on their hands, and if it sounds good and looks good – recreating the arty/nonsensical video feat. lots of pink tulle might work – they should be back in top 10 for the first time since 2013.

 

In a line Power ballads don’t get much better than Better Love 2018 VS 2019 2019 Predicted result SF 1st-3rd, GF 6th-11th My score 12 points

 

 

 

 

Who in the world could have predicted the transformation Iceland would make between 2018 and 2019? Last year they gave us an angelic cinnamon roll (look it up on Urban Dictionary if you need to) performing a love love, peace peace anthem that was about as iconic as a glass of water. This year they have presented us with anti-capitalism, BDSM-dressed performance artists with a penchant for screamo-heavy industrial synthpunk (I think). Holy crap. I feel like Ari is too sweet and innocent to witness Hatari in action. SOMEBODY SHIELD HIS EYES!!! The funny thing is, the Hatari boys seem to be fairly sweet and innocent themselves when they’re doing their day jobs or taking selfies with schoolkids – basically whenever they haven’t been sewn into black latex. But on the stage belting out Hatrið Mun Sigra, it’s a different story. A scary one that shouldn’t be told before bedtime.

I need to tell a story of my own to explain why this song isn’t as appealing to me as it is to a lot of Eurofans. Screamo (if that’s the right term for vocals that require post-performance lozenges) is an off-putting technique and not something I actively listen to, and I know what’s mainly to blame. In general, it’s an assault on the ears…but when I was a kid, I was scarred for life by the credits of a music show we have in Australia called Rage. They don’t freak me out now like they used to, but watch them here and then imagine you’re a child who’s snuck out of their room in 2am darkness to watch music videos on TV only to be terrified back into it fast. I’m telling you this because Hatrið Mun Sigra reminds me a lot of that clip, with all of the aggressive screaming. Though I like the rest of the song, I can’t totally get past the scary parts.

Pushing my fear aside, I get the obsession with this. The industrial style of the music is not unlike Margaret Berger’s I Feed You My Love, and that’s a plus. The song has a hypnotic beat and a slick sound that I really like, and the contrast between the floaty chorus and the hardcore verses – then how they’re layered over one another at the end – is interesting to say the least! I also get a kick out of a song called ‘Hate Will Prevail’ representing a country who, 12 months ago, implored us to treat each other well, help, heal and ease the pain etc. I just wish Iceland had drawn the same half of the first semi as Montenegro so they could have performed after Heaven (for Christer Björkman’s love of the sawtooth approach and for our entertainment). I have no doubt Hatari will qualify from where they are in the semi, though HMS is not a song juries will flock to – it will be relying on a massive televote on both nights. Can Iceland pull a Poland 2016 and shoot up the final scoreboard after a low jury vote? I think they can. Time will tell…and hate will prevail.

 

In a line Like skydiving, this is terrifying but enjoyable at the same time 2018 VS 2019 2019 – BDSM trumps bland Predicted result SF 4th-6th, GF 5th-13th My score 8 points

 

 

 

 

Coincidentally, every country in this round of reviews failed to qualify last year. In most cases that was understandable, and Poland is no exception. Light Me Up is a great Euroclub song that I still listen to on the reg. But whenever I think of Gromee’s snake dance and Lukas’ incredibly inadequate vocals, a shudder runs through my entire body and I have to lie down for half an hour. So it’s a relief now to have Tulia, a group of girls we can rely on to deliver vocally…and to NEVER EVER snake dance. I appreciate Poland going in a different direction this year, right down to internally selecting instead of holding a national final (rumour has it they couldn’t afford one since they’re hosting JESC in November). You certainly wouldn’t catch me dancing to Pali Şie in the Euroclub unless it had been severely remixed.

But – and you might have sensed a ‘but’ coming – although I applaud Poland for trying something new, I can’t get on board with this song. It did help when I learned that Tulia’s vocal technique is a legitimate one where they aren’t supposed to be harmonising. Sadly, that doesn’t stop my untrained eardrums recoiling from the sheer force of what sounds, to me, like yelling. I don’t want to trash Tulia because what they do, they do very well. It’s just not my cup of tea. I know they have plenty of fans who will support them and like the sound of all those voices singing the same notes at the same time, so I don’t feel too guilty. Granted, it’s not just the vocals that I can’t get into. The melody of the song has a spark to it but it never lights a full-on fire (of love) in me like the ominous one in the videoclip. I find the chorus too simplistic, especially when the English lyrics drop. And I think Pali Şie is quite same-same all the way through: it doesn’t lose steam but it doesn’t gain traction and really go somewhere either.

None of the above means I’m not fully prepared for Poland to win me over with their Eurovision performance, by the way. From what I saw at EiC, Tulia slayed those vocals (don’t sue me, Wiwibloggs…that word was necessary) and their costume choice was what I expected – extra polished and extra Polish. We know they won’t be coping with choreography while trying to keep their voices in check, so there’s no reason for them to sound questionable. Visually, ‘ethnic with an edge’ is how I hope for the song to be staged, and if it is I wouldn’t be surprised by a qualification. Should Poland go through, I’ll be happy for them and pleased that Europe (and Australia) embraced something so different. If they don’t, I won’t be mad about not having to hear Pali Şie in the final. My a-Poland-gies.

 

In a line I’m a harmonies girl in a (usually) harmonised world, and this is too much for me 2018 VS 2019 2018 Predicted result SF 9th-13th, GF 19th-23rd My score 5 points

 

 

 

 

When Serhat was announced as San Marino’s rep for 2019, I immediately felt like the dumbest person alive for not seeing it coming. Sure, the principality had only recycled Valentina Monetta in the past (unless you count the JESC recycling of Michele Perniola and Anita Simoncini) and it was more likely to be her name they dropped than anybody else’s. But still, Serhat became so iconic back in 2016, he should have been a predictable returnee. It was a matter of when, not if – and here we are with Say Na Na Na, a.k.a. Serhat Strikes Back, a.k.a. the sequel to I Didn’t Know minus monocle. To tell you the truth, I don’t know what to think of this entry and that’s partly because I don’t know how seriously to take it. I’m leaning towards ‘not very’.

Say Na Na Na is every stale Eurovision cliché possible packed into three minutes, without actually having been lampooned by Love Love, Peace Peace (props to San Marino for entering a throwback and finding a loophole at the same time). It’s cheesy, it’s dated, and if anyone other than Serhat was performing it, they’d be definite DNQ material. But somehow – and I have no idea how – it kind of works. This guy certified himself as the ESC disco king as soon as the original I Didn’t Know was swapped for the remix, and his reign continues with this terrible yet enjoyable track. It’s the guiltiest of pleasures, with lyrics like ‘Don’t forget my number, call me any time, I will always tell you life is beautiful and fine’ (which makes Serhat sound like the least helpful psychologist ever) sending the cringe factor through the roof – while set to such a catchy tune that I can’t help singing along. The chorus in particular is an earworm and a half, and will no doubt have the contest crowd obeying Serhat’s command to say you-know-what.

I think we can all foresee the staging treatment this will get, and if it’s anything like the music video or Serhat’s Stockholm performance, it’ll be a massive step up from last year. The fact that San Marino has been given the pimp slot in SF1 suggests the EBU is happy for them to be our freshest memory. That’s quite the confidence boost. It doesn’t mean qualification is a given – just ask Triana Park – but it’s rare for the last song out to stay in the semis. That, combined with Serhat finishing 12th in 2016, has me shook at the prospect of this actually making the final. I don’t 100% agree that Say Na Na Na should qualify, because it’s far from being one of the best 10 songs in semi one. But Serhat himself? Well, I can’t deny that I’d happily have him qualify just for the hilariousness of it, and as a reward for selling the shiz out of another substandard product.

 

In a line A throwback track just as wonderfully awful as Serhat’s last 2018 VS 2019 2019, without a doubt Predicted result SF 9th-13th, GF 18th-22nd My score 7 points

 

 

 

 

25 down, 16 to go! I have no choice but to whip through these reviews faster than John Lundvik down a 100m track in his sprinting days. It is now the end of April, after all (HOW?!?!?).

Here’s the mini-ranking for today’s round:

  1. Greece (12)
  2. Belgium (8)
  3. Iceland (8)
  4. San Marino (7)
  5. Poland (5) 

And here’s where Greece etc fit in to my overall list at this point:

  1. Hungary (12)
  2. Switzerland (12)
  3. The Netherlands (12)
  4. Greece (12)
  5. Estonia (10)
  6. Norway (10)
  7. Cyprus (10)
  8. Czech Republic (10)
  9. Belarus (10)
  10. Russia (8)
  11. Romania (8)
  12. Belgium (8)
  13. Armenia (8)
  14. Iceland (8)
  15. Serbia (8)
  16. Albania (8)
  17. Lithuania (7)
  18. Croatia (7)
  19. Australia (7)
  20. San Marino (7)
  21. Montenegro (5)
  22. Latvia (5)
  23. Poland (5)
  24. North Macedonia (4)
  25. Georgia (4)

Do we have anything in common so far? Is there anyone who doesn’t have Georgia bringing up the rear (sorry Oto)? I’m curious, so let me know in the comments.

 

Watch out for my Austria, Denmark, Malta, Moldova and Portugal reviews later this week, and have your opinions at the ready…

 

 

Until then,

 

 

 

 

THE TEL AVIV REVIEWS | Round 4 feat. Armenia, Belarus, the Netherlands, Norway + Russia

Hello again, if you’ve been here before…and welcome if this is your first time dropping by! I’m Jaz, and these are my Eurovision 2019 reviews. If you’d like to catch up or need a refresh on the countries I’ve covered so far, check out Rounds 1-3, ASAP:

  • Round 1  Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Montenegro + Serbia
  • Round 2  Australia, Georgia, Hungary, Romania + Switzerland
  • Round 3  Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania + North Macedonia

All up-to-date? Awesome. I’ll get going with Round 4 then, featuring Armenia, Belarus, the Netherlands, Norway and Russia. In this bunch is the bookies’ favourite, the bookies’ second favourite, a former Junior Eurovision co-host, a powerhouse vocalist and KEiiNO (look, they’re hard to describe in just a few words). It’s a mixed bag, but I was feeling generous when I reviewed them and may have handed out some very high scores. Want to know who got what? Well, there’s only one way for you to find out!

See what I think of Srbuk, Zena, Duncan, KEiiNO and Sergey’s songs for Europe (slash Australia slash the rest of the world) and share your thoughts in the comments.

 

 

Armenia + Eurovision = a bit of a sore point for me after my precious Qami did a DNQ in Lisbon. I do understand how it happened (though I will argue that it’s an amazing song until the day I die). But that was the first time ever a song in my top three hasn’t made the final. I’m used to songs I love finishing last in the final, but the Sevak situation was a fresh kind of hell I’d prefer not to experience again. Fortunately it isn’t going to happen with Armenia this year since a) Walking Out has a way better chance of qualifying, and b) I’m not super-duper invested in it to start with.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like it. I didn’t know what we were going to get from Srbuk once we finally got it, besides something along the lines of Half A Goddess. The ESC entry didn’t end up sounding like that at all, but that’s testament to this lady’s versatility. Walking Out is more of a soulful power ballad with an edge, but almost all of its attitude comes from Srbuk herself and her cracking vocal performance (literally…watch your windows towards the end). She tells a story with her voice as she swaggers through the song, letting frustration and anger build during the verses and then venting it in the chorus. Speaking of the chorus – with a few anticlimactic ones in the 2019 contest, it’s great to have something explosive from Armenia that’s bound to be sung along to by everyone who’s ever wanted out of a relationship (or anyone who’s just feeling angsty). It’s the centrepiece of the song, as it should be. But Walking Out doesn’t reach its climax with the chorus. That happens in the last thirty seconds thanks to Srbuk’s screeching. Impressive, in-tune screeching which makes the song a lot more memorable. You know what they say: go hard or go home.

As Armenia has gone hard, I don’t think they’ll be going home early this year. Qami’s staging must have been a misstep because I do trust them to stage the heck out of a song like this. Based on the music video, I’m expecting something powerful and artistic with an emphasis on strong choreography. And of course, a troupe of attractive men wearing tuxedo jackets over their bare torsos would be a welcome addition. Shirtless men involved or not, there’s no doubt Srbuk will start the SF2 party off with a bang (too bad Maruv can’t provide the bang for SF1). And assuming she nails her vocals for the jury shows and the broadcasts, this will have major woman power. I know I said I wasn’t obsessed with Walking Out, but I still think it kicks butt. You go, girlfriend.

 

In a line An attitude-packed theme song for pissed-off spouses and other angry people 2018 VS 2019 2018 – you know I’m qrazy for Qami Predicted result SF 5th-9th, GF 8th-14th My score 8 points

 

 

 

 

Like Armenia, Belarus will be looking to recover from a somewhat surprising (until we’d witnessed the performance) DNQ in Tel Aviv. The only similarity between ZENA and Alekseev, since she doesn’t have flowering plants penetrating parts of her body and won’t shake like a leaf on stage, is the scent of national final rigging they share. I know there may be no truth in the rumours, but like last year it seems only one act had a chance of winning the 2019 Belarusian NF. And that was ZENA, whose name I apparently have to type in capitals even though it looks like yelling. Junior Eurovision fans will recognise her as one of 2018’s co-hosts, and her experience presenting such a big show on such a big stage – in English – has helped a heap with her ESC journey.

Oh god…did I just use the term ‘journey’? Forget that, please. At sixteen, ZENA is confident performing to a crowd and to cameras; she can sing and dance at the same time (not flawlessly on both counts, but I’ll come to that); and she has no trouble with English pronunciation, which is a bonus when you’re singing a song as wordy as Like It. I thought Italy was supposed to be master and commander when it comes to maximum words per minute, but Belarus takes the title this year. The wordiness is one of the things I really like about Like It. This is such a fun song, and an underrated one in the fandom as far as I can see (which is about as far as my Twitter timeline). It’s catchy, energetic and age-appropriate without being too youthful to have adult appeal. The frantic verses are thankfully broken up by the more minimalist pre-chorus and chorus, the latter being so simple you could lip-sync it in your sleep…which isn’t a bad thing. And the whole song is catchy as heck. I wouldn’t be shocked if Zara Larsson came out with something like it (title pun intended).

On the downside, it’s a better studio song than it is a live song, but ZENA’s performances so far have been far from disastrous and just need polishing. She is one of those vocalists who can struggle until they get to belt out a big note. She handles those better, but who could blame her when there’s barely time to breathe during those verses? Apart from some vocal coaching, I’d also like to see some development in the staging come Eurovision rehearsals. It wasn’t bad at Eurofest, but kind of basic and could easily be amplified to match the much bigger event/stage space in Tel Aviv. All in all I see potential in this package, and I’d love to see it qualify. Sadly, though, I don’t think I’ll have any spare votes for Belarus by the time I’ve voted for my other first-semi favourites.

 

In a line Yes I’m gonna like it, yes I’m gonna like it 2018 VS 2019 This is a tricky one, but 2018…I think Predicted result SF 9th-13th, GF 16th-20th My score 10 points

 

 

 

 

The Netherlands have been pretty hot Eurovision property since 2013, when Birds (inexplicably) gave them their first top ten result in years – and paved the way for a string of successes including Calm After The Storm’s second place. Sure, Trijntje Oosterhuis-gate was an exception, but the less we mention that the more we can pretend it never happened. After a solid if divisive showing last year in Lisbon, the Dutch are back on form in 2019…and then some. We’re talking about the current and longstanding odds leader here: The Voice of Holland alumnus Duncan Laurence (who was coached on the show by none other than Ilse DeLange) and Arcade. To cut a long story short, this song is so good I didn’t even notice Duncan was butt naked in the music video at first – which for me, a straight woman with an eye for a sculpted male behind, says a lot.

To NOT cut a long story short, here’s the specifics of why I think Arcade is amazing. Starting out sparsely but creating an atmosphere fast is musically uncommon, but this song does it with ease. It’s arresting from the beginning, with the first line alone enough to send shivers down my spine. Then Duncan drops in with his delicate vocals – lighter than air but carrying the weight of loss and hopelessness at the same time – and tells us an emotional tale without a trace of the contrived, cheesy lyrics Waylon crammed into Outlaw In ‘Em. Everything that leads up to the chorus is fragile and beautiful, and then the chorus comes along and Duncan gets to let the pain loose while packing a punch of his own. It’s all ethereal and floaty and full of feelings, and stops you in your tracks (unless you’re a soulless cyborg). And on top of that, the metaphor that runs through the song actually makes sense. An arcade à addictive games à pennies in slots à winners and losers…well, it makes sense when you listen to the song. Unlike, for example, Malta’s cannibal/animal/miracle mish-mash of WTF from 2018.

We will have to wait until rehearsals start to know whether The Netherlands can win Eurovision 2019, but so far so good. That includes Duncan’s live performances, when he’s delivered a falsetto that has had me falling to the floor. There are certainly less obstacles on his way to the win than there are for the other favourites: Italy might not have the mass/jury appeal they need, the Swiss EiC performance raised doubts, and Russia is trying way too hard to their detriment. All of those countries are more likely to rank highly with juries OR televoters, not both – whereas the Netherlands has televoting appeal and jury boxes ticked. That’s thanks to a stunning song, an attractive and likeable performer (who we know has been blessed in the butt department) and the chance to use Arcade’s atmosphere to create a spellbinding stage show. Given that the man behind both CATS and Walk Along – who is somehow the same man – is in charge of this entry’s presentation, there’s a hit-or-miss risk. But with all the hype and Duncan’s status as favourite, I can’t imagine the delegation stuffing this one up. Amsterdam 2020 is a definite possibility.

 

In a line A ballad so beautiful, I could cry 2018 VS 2019 As much as I adore leopard print, it’s got to be 2019 Predicted result SF 1st-3rd, GF 1st-3rd My score 12 points

 

 

 

 

The 2019 selection season was full of surprises, and it often wasn’t the favourite act who took home ESC representation rights. In Norway, however, KEiiNO – made up of MGP returnees Tom Hugo and Alexandra Rotan, feat. the Norwegian Jon Henrik Fjällgren – won to the shock of nobody. Only Alexander Rybak could have beaten them (even if he’d taken part with a song called ‘That’s How You Play A Recorder Really Badly’ that lived up to its title). Spirit In The Sky is another light-and-fluffy entry from Norway, but it arguably has a bigger fanbase than That’s How You Write A Song did. I like both songs a lot, but while Rybak’s was a guilty pleasure I’m happy to own my enjoyment of KEiiNO’s.

It’s a banger, folks. A banger with JOIKING. It’s as if the aforementioned Jon Henrik Fjällgren teamed up with Jessica Andersson and Martin Rolinski for Melodifestivalen. Only this is Norway, and believe it or not, I can stop talking about Sweden for long enough to discuss a different country. So, Spirit in the Sky: what an epic combo of modern and traditional sounds it is! Tom kicks things off with a mysterious pre-verse verse (if that’s a thing) before Alexandra takes the lead and brews up the dancefloor filler chorus we just know is coming. Then Jon Henrik Fred gets joiking and makes Norway’s mark on Eurovision 2019 tattoo permanent. There are a handful of musical styles at play here – pop, dance, a touch of schlager and those ethnic elements – but they all work together as well as Tom, Alexandra and Fred. In this trio, nobody in particular carries the performance or outshines the rest of the group. Kind of like O’G3NE, but without the mind-boggling harmonies and sisterly synchronicity.

Lack of harmonies and blood relations isn’t going to stop KEiiNO from outdoing O’G3NE in the Eurovision final, I suspect. Their song is too catchy and iconic to finish outside of the top 10. I realise that the second semi has Norway performing between the deadly serious, straight-faced drama of Albania and the delicate, moving Netherlands…and some fans understandably think Spirit in the Sky will taste cheap and tacky in that sandwich. Personally I think it’ll be a breath of fresh air after a run of intense, down-tempo ballads, and it will stand out. I don’t expect another semi winner from Norway this year (and TBH I’m still not sure how it happened last year) but I am expecting a comfortable, deserved qualification and a result on par with Grab The Moment or Monster Like Me.

 

In a line Sensationally Scandinavian ethno-dance-pop 2018 VS 2019 2019. This is how you write a song Predicted result SF 4th-6th, GF 7th-10th My score 10 points

 

 

 

 

I think we all knew that this day would come: the day Sergey would return to Eurovision to avenge himself after 2016, The Year Russia Should Have Won According To Russia (and the televote). On the plus side, 2019 isn’t looking too much like 2016: Ukraine is no longer competing, Australia is at risk of a DNQ and sadly, Måns and Petra are nowhere to be seen. On the other hand, once again there are songs that might squeeze into the winner queue ahead of Russia based on Russia showboating and trying desperately hard to win. God knows – though he might have told Philip Kirkirov – what Sergey is going to have to do on stage this time to eclipse everybody else’s staging, but we certainly need to brace ourselves.

About the song…well, great expectations were heaped on Russia, I know. We all figured Sergey wouldn’t make a comeback with any old entry and would want to win, and with great expectations come inevitable tweets from Eurofans complaining about how underwhelmed they are. But really, a dated but dramatic and earwormy song elevated by impressive staging was Sergey’s M.O. in Stockholm, so we should have seen Scream and Kirkirov’s promise to knock our socks off coming. I’m glad the song isn’t a stylistic carbon copy of You Are The Only One. Instead it’s a big, theatrical ballad that belongs in a Broadway musical, and it’s bound to let Lazarev show off his spectacular set of pipes (because the man can sing) rather than keep him busy dancing and climbing up/falling off unclimbable walls. The instrumentation is grand and beautiful and makes me wish we could have a forty-piece live orchestra just for the occasion. I like the chorus, especially that ‘OH OH OHHHHHHHHH’ bit, which gives me goosebumps. And I appreciate the message of the song and how it more or less advocates men being allowed to cry. I totally support that.

But there are cons to those pros. Sergey may be in tears on May 18th, but not trophy-lifting tears. Behind all the drama of this track is little substance. It’s much ado about nothing. And I have trouble getting past the lyrics, which are so clichéd and excessively rhymey they sound like a poem I might have written in my diary when I was a pre-teen. I still see Scream as a possible winner, but I’d be disappointed if it did take the prize (let’s pretend Russia hasn’t won before with a returning male artist whose victorious song wasn’t as strong as their previous top three entry). Considering how statement the song is, Sergey’s talents and how impactful the stage show will be, Russia may be there or thereabouts, but the whole thing screams (HA) 2nd place max to me. There are plenty of better, more contemporary and less desperate-FTW songs competing, and if Russia did win it would be like it only happened because Sergey had an IOU. Should they do it, I’ll be happy for the man himself since I fell in love with him a little in 2016 (I went to his press conference where he was super sweet and humble and tripped up the stairs when he came in which was too cute). But Scream as a winning song? Net.

 

In a line A big, bold comeback that shouldn’t win by default 2018 VS 2019 2019, unless Sergey also gets an ill-advised mountain prop to sing on top of (or would that actually work for this?) Predicted result SF 2nd-5th, GF 2nd-4th My score 8 points

 

 

 

 

And that’s my five for today judged and scored! Stand by for me to change my mind on said scores at least three times before the contest arrives. At the moment, they look like this:

  1. The Netherlands (12)
  2. Norway (10)
  3. Belarus (10)
  4. Russia (8)
  5. Armenia (8)

Surprise, surprise – the favourite to win is also my favourite of these five. Sorry for being so predictable.

Now, an update on my overall ranking for anyone who’s interested (if you’re not, just make like Finland and look away):

  1. Hungary (12)
  2. Switzerland (12)
  3. The Netherlands (12)
  4. Estonia (10)
  5. Norway (10)
  6. Cyprus (10)
  7. Czech Republic (10)
  8. Belarus (10)
  9. Russia (8)
  10. Romania (8)
  11. Armenia (8)
  12. Serbia (8)
  13. Albania (8)
  14. Lithuania (7)
  15. Croatia (7)
  16. Australia (7)
  17. Montenegro (5)
  18. Latvia (5)
  19. North Macedonia (4)
  20. Georgia (4)

Hungary is holding on to my top spot, but how much longer will that last? Can Belgium, Greece, Iceland, Poland or San Marino take them down a place…or five? Will I ever stop asking annoying rhetorical questions? Find out during my next round of reviews.

Make sure you don’t miss a thing by following me @EurovisionByJaz across all the usual socials. And don’t forget to let me know how you’d rank today’s ESC 2019 entries in the comments.

 

 

Love love, peace peace!

 

 

 

 

THE TEL AVIV REVIEWS | Round 1 feat. Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Montenegro + Serbia

Excuse me for cutting the ribbon on these reviews in the most predictable of ways, but I can’t believe it’s time to do this again. How can we possibly be FOUR WEEKS away from the first semi final of Eurovision 2019? Netta only won in Lisbon like, three months ago, didn’t she?

As it turns out, no, she didn’t. It was almost a YEAR ago. And with this last pre-ESC month bound to fly by faster than Salvador Sobral left the stage after handing the 2018 trophy to the singer of a song with far more fireworks than feelings, I can’t keep you in suspense any longer. It is time to take a long, hard and overly-judgemental look at all 41 (maybe 42 if I can squeeze Ukraine in somewhere) entries for Tel Aviv, in typical Jaz style. That means you’ll need energy, determination and multiple cups of coffee to get through each round of five or so songs. Are you ready for this?

Up first for critique in 2019 (after a Tribute to Ye Olde Eurovision random draw) are Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Montenegro and Serbia. Let me know what you think of Jonida, Tamta, Carousel, D mol and Nevena’s tracks in the comments, after you’ve checked out my thoughts and scores. And remember: honesty is the best policy around here…

Let the Tel Aviv Reviews begin!

 

 

Albania’s Festivali i Këngës is THE national final of the festive season, and back in December it delivered the first Eurovision entry of 2019 direct to our doorsteps. Jonida Maliqi – with her super-cool name, razor-sharp fringe, ultra-white teeth and punch-packing vocals – is off to Tel Aviv with Ktheju Tokës, which is thankfully staying put in Albanian after Eugent Bushpepa did so well in his native tongue last year. It’s been revamped for the better and hasn’t lost its original spirit, but did I like it when it was selected and do I like it now? The answer to both of those questions is yes. This song has more mystery and intrigue than a Dan Brown novel, which is just how I like my Albanian entries. There’s often something about them that sets them apart and is just so…Albanian. Ktheju Tokës is no exception.

Everything about it is interesting: the way Jonida works her way through it with vulnerability and power; the unconventional melody of the verses; the haunting atmosphere and hypnotic beat…I mean, wow. It may not be the most radio-friendly or streamable song of the year, nor is it particularly instant and hooky – but it is original and impactful. I will say that the studio version is kind of strange (it makes Jonida sound like she’s singing slightly out of tune) whereas the live version is the one with all the impact. Here we have a singer who can belt out big notes like nobody’s business, and emotively eyeball a camera at the same time. And you just know she’s going to wear something amazing in Israel, making us forget about the possessed bride look the last Albanian female soloist went for. So for me, that’s a kickass song + a fierce vocalist + stellar styling that we’re in for from Albania.

Having said all of the above, I’m far from convinced that Jonida will sail through to the final. She’s in the second semi, which is the more competitive one – and not just because there are 18 countries competing for qualification as opposed to 17 in the first semi (thanks to Ukraine’s shenanigans). With big hitters and likely top-scorers like the Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland also in the Thursday line-up, she has an uphill battle ahead of her. With the right staging and a solid all-round performance though, the hill shouldn’t be too steep to climb (even if she’s wearing stilettos). And there’s no other song remotely like Ktheju Tokës in the entire contest, let alone in her semi – so she’s bound to stand out. I’d love to have Albania in the final again. How about you?

 

In a line Albania doing what Albania does best: being exotic, mystical and powerful 2018 VS 2019 2019. Us ladies have to stick together! Predicted result SF 8th-12th, GF 15th-19th My score 8 points

 

 

 

 

Following up Fuego, a Eurovision entry iconic in so many ways, was always going to be a tough task for Cyprus. With thousands of keyboard warriors/amateur music critics (including myself) waiting to drag the island if they didn’t build on their 2018 success, the pressure to do so was higher than Kaliopi’s whistle tone. I feel like they have delivered, but let’s not pretend there’s no ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ mentality at (re)play here. Tamta’s song has been co-written by three of the minds behind Fuego, and it sounds like their brief was ‘Pen another banger with a beat drop and the exact same structure in order to catapult Cyprus into the top 10 again.’ But I’m not saying Fuego was the most original song to ever exist, and I do think Replay is different enough in the realm of pop music, where lots of stuff is similar, to make calling it Fuego 2.0 a bit unfair. I can’t blame Cyprus for finding a bomb formula and sticking to it.

Catchy from the second it starts, slickly produced and perfectly suited to Tamta, Replay ticks all the boxes on the ‘Is This A Banger?’ checklist, right down to the less-ethnic-than-Fuego-but-still-ridiculously-danceable instrumental hook. It’s one of those songs where each part is equally memorable, without a weak link like an anticlimactic chorus. Unfortunately the most memorable moment comes during the first verse, when Tamta apparently says she’s ‘shitting her body tonight’. Call me immature if you must (I am, to be fair) but it’s pretty off-putting and sounds nothing like the actual lyric – ‘them sheets need my body tonight’. I’ve been trying to roll with it and tell myself that Tamta’s so keen on the subject of the song, her bodily functions go haywire at the mere thought of him. Can’t say I’ve ever met a guy who had that effect on me, but that’s not a bad thing.

Misheard lyrics aside, Replay is as flawless as Tamta’s 37-year-old skin which is way more youthful than my 27-year-old skin. No, it isn’t as iconic as Fuego, and Tamta probably won’t hit the Eurovision heights Eleni did. But I’m still impressed. That extends to Cyprus recruiting Sacha Jean Baptiste to create their staging again, a sign that they mean business. Fingers crossed the look and feel of the performance doesn’t clash with Switzerland’s, given that She Got Me is in the same musical category and is also being staged by Baptiste. Neither song needs flashy, gimmicky staging to compensate for musical weaknesses, since there aren’t any – they just need something complementary (why am I suddenly reviewing Switzerland? Save it for later, Jaz). Unless a major screw-up happens somewhere along the way, I can’t see Cyprus finishing outside of the Tel Aviv top 10, though it’s safe to say they won’t be going one better than they did in Lisbon.

 

In a line Obvious joke, but here’s a song I want to replay, replay, replay, YEAH 2018 VS 2019 2018 Predicted result SF 2nd-4th, GF 5th-8th My score 10 points

 

 

 

 

Latvia has been sending epic songs to Eurovision for some time now – I’d say consistently since 2015. Yet the last few years have seen them stuck in the semis, even languishing in last place in Triana Park’s case. I’m going to get right to it and say that for me, that run of rad entries has come to a screeching halt, but I expect the DNQ trend to continue. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate That Night. In fact, it’s so innocuous and sweet, like a no-frills vanilla cookie, I don’t know how anyone could hate it…and perhaps that’s the problem. Compared to the other songs in the Latvian national final it’s a masterpiece, and I have no doubt that the country made the best choice based on what was on the buffet table. But I feel like it lacks oomph, coasting along on the same level for three minutes and making me keen for those minutes to tick away so I can listen to something more exciting.

Yes, easy-listening and subdued songs can be exciting, holding your attention and making you want more (I’m thinking of Slovenia’s Sebi specifically). This one, however, doesn’t do anything for yours truly. I don’t mind the melody or the melancholy folksy feel, and vocalist Sabīne suits that vibe for sure. It’s more the missing dynamism + the super repetitive structure of That Night that sucks the life out of me. There’s not a lot to it, and as a result nothing much to reel you in (and when I say ‘you’ I mean ‘me’, because I know there are Eurofans who adore this). I feel like this song is a less bizarre musical version of a Lars von Trier film, and if you’ve ever tried to sit through a Lars von Trier film and lost the will to live, you’ll know I’m not being complimentary.

I know I’m coming across way harsh (to quote Clueless like I do at least twice a day), but where my personal preferences are concerned, Latvia can do a lot better than this. And I honestly think Carousel will struggle to pick up votes in that crazy-competitive second semi final. There are other acoustic-y tracks in the running order, as well as other “introverted” songs that are more captivating (think Austria and Arcade). Then there are the big, bold extroverts that are sure to hoover up votes like an industrial-strength vacuum cleaner (think Sweden, Switzerland and Sergey Lazarev). If Latvia does qualify I think it will be a borderline qualification, and I can’t see them troubling the top 10 or even the left side of the scoreboard. But what do I know? I may have followed Eurovision obsessively for over a decade, but I’m still rubbish at predicting results. Riga 2020 it is!

 

In a line Nice and nothing more 2018 VS 2019 Definitely 2018 Predicted result SF 10th-14th, GF 17th-21st My score 5 points

 

 

 

 

There are a few countries that can (sadly) be relied upon to produce surefire non-qualifiers over successes. Montenegro is definitely one, no matter how hard I wish they’d suddenly unveil something sensational like next-door neighbour Serbia does on a regular basis. This year their story started out with a glimmer of hope, for me at least. I’m not saying D mol ever had a chance of making the final, but I did have Heaven down as my guilty pleasure of the year. And as a tribute to S Club 7 with undeniably striking staging, the song kind of worked. I actually enjoyed it. In a nostalgic way, sure, but enjoyment is enjoyment.

But then *insert dramatic Law & Order DUM DUM here* Heaven had a musical makeover that I would describe as an over-accessorisation. Now it’s so unlike the original, sickly-sweet-but-tolerable original version that I feel like I need to judge two different songs. But I will just judge the one with multiple personality disorder that’s actually going to Eurovision – and it is a mess. There’s nothing that hasn’t been thrown at it in the quest for a more competitive edge, but the OTT approach has backfired. The structure is all over the place and impossible to follow; the beat kicking in after the first chorus takes me back to Junior Eurovision circa 2005; the vocal gymnastics are misplaced and desperate; and the synthesisers/miscellaneous other noises in the mix sound like they were dropped in as frequently but randomly as possible by someone doing the Macarena blindfolded. Why, Montenegro, why?!?

To add on to my list of negatives, I can’t see a way for Heaven to be saved by staging. Replicating the NF presentation would look amateurish, especially now LEDs are back in action – and what kind of miracle-working, mind-blowing stage concept could cool down and tidy up such a hot mess anyway? I’m sorry for dragging D mol through the mud (more than I meant to) but I have to be honest. The group themselves are not the main problem, and as a sextet mostly made up of teenagers, they do impress me with their stage presence and camaraderie. They just deserve a better song, because this one will not do anything for them other than send them packing straight after the first semi final.

 

In a line It was never heavenly, but now it’s hellish 2018 VS 2019 2019, believe it or not Predicted result SF 15th-17th My score 5 points

 

 

 

 

She’s baaaaaaaack! Nope, that’s not the tagline of a terrifying Carrie sequel, but rather my way of saying hey to Nevena for the third time in (J)ESC history. If you’re not a Junior Eurovision fan, you might not know that she represented Serbia in 2007, finishing 3rd – years before she’d appear at Eurovision as part of Moje 3 and unfortunately fail to qualify (I could write an essay on why that was down to those ridiculous costumes, but I won’t). It seems she fares better when she strikes out on her own, and she’s done that big time in 2019. Not only is she competing in Tel Aviv as a soloist, but she also wrote the music and lyrics of Kruna on her own. What a woman! Let’s breeze past the fact that she’s also an incredible vocalist and drop-dead gorgeous before I end up with the world’s biggest inferiority complex.

Kruna is a dramatic power ballad, one that has had the power amped up even more via a revamp (Montenegro, THIS is how you give a song a good makeover). The music starts out softly and becomes more intense in sync with Nevena’s vocals, and the combo of acoustic/electric guitar work is one of my favourite things about the song. I appreciate that the big statement chorus doesn’t take too long to arrive, because it can be boring waiting for a ballad to go somewhere. And just before it does rock up (so to speak) we get those English lyrics that do double duty: they add interest without seeming like they were shoehorned in just because, and they give us non-Serbian speakers a feel for what the song is about in a very short space of time. Overall, Kruna is the musical equivalent of wearing a floral dress under a studded biker jacket. It’s feminine and classy, but it also has an edge.

Okay, okay, I’ll talk about Nevena’s talents. She’s an amazing singer, and her delivery is passionate and believable. Her ability to sing lullaby-style and the opposite without batting her lashes is impressive, and sure to elevate her jury appeal. And of course, she’s stunning and super telegenic. Is there anything wrong with this package? Well, it doesn’t have the aura of a winner, and while I feel the feelings Nevena is putting out there, others may not. Plus, even I needed a few listens to really get on board, so I can see why the song might not be instant enough to be a vote magnet. Having said that, I do think Nevena has a better shot at making the final now she’s Moje 3 Minus 2. Serbia is competing in that less scary first semi, alongside a lot of uptempo and/or divisive songs – so they’ve got a decent chance to advance as far as I see it. With atmospheric staging and a costume choice less questionable than those 2013 creations (circus hooker chic? I still can’t land on the right label for them) the gate should open wide enough to let them through.

 

In a line A sophisticated, pitch perfect power ballad 2018 VS 2019 2018, but it’s a close one and kind of hard to compare the two Predicted result SF 7th-13th, GF 14th-19th My score 8 points

 

 

 

 

That’s all for today, folks! And with the first five countries taken care of, here’s my first mini-ranking for the year: 

  1. Cyprus (10)
  2. Serbia (8)
  3. Albania (8)
  4. Montenegro (5)
  5. Latvia (5) 

Congratulations to Cyprus for winning me over…but how long will Tamta stay on top? Stay tuned for the rest of my reviews to find out. I’ll be including the running ranking at the end of each round so you can see who’s sitting where.

 

Next time I’ll be putting Australia, Georgia, Hungary, Romania and Switzerland under my (imaginary) musical microscope. But before that, leave me a comment so we can compare notes on Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Montenegro and Serbia. Who’s your favourite of the five? Is there a winner in there or will Eurovision weekend be Eurovision-free for this bunch? Whatever’s on your mind, I want to know…especially if we happen to agree on something.

 

 

 

 

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!