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

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

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

 

 

THE GOOD 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

THE BAD

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

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

 

 

THE “OTHER”

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

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

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

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

 

 

A WORD ON THE FINAL’S RUNNING ORDER… 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

  

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

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

My score 7

 

 

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

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

My score 2.5

 

 

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

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

My score 10

 

 

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

2017 VS 2018? 2018. Easy choice.

My score 8.5

 

 

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

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

My score 7

 

 

 

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

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

My score 6.5

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

  

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

My score 7

 

 

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

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

My score 12

 

 

 

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

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

My score 5

 

 

 

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

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

My score 7.5

 

 

 

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

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

My score 8.5

 

 

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

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

My score 3

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

My score 6.5

 

 

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

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

My score 7

 

 

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

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

My score 8

 

 

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

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

My score 5.5

 

 

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

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

My score 8

 

 

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

Here’s my mini-ranking for this round:

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

REVIEWS!!!

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

My score 12

 

 

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

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

My score 10

 

 

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

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

My score 7

 

 

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

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

My score 6.5

 

 

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

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

My score 6.5

 

 

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

SEND HELP.

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Until then,

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

…now!

 

Watch it here 

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

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

Song score 10

Artist score 8

Final score 9

 

 


Watch it here

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

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

Song score 6

Artist score 8

Final score 7

 

 


Watch it here

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

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

Song score 12

Artist score 12

Final score 12

 

 

Watch it here

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

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

Song score 7

Artist score 8

Final score 7.5

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

See you on the other side of JESC!

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

 

Watch it here

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

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

Song score 10

Artist score 10

Final score 10

 

  


Watch it here

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

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

Song score 12

Artist score 12

Final score 12

 

  


Watch it here

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

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

Song score 7

Artist score 12

Final score 9.5

  

 

Watch it here

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

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

Song score 7

Artist score 8

Final score 7.5

 

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Until then,

 

 

 

SHINE BRIGHT! Jaz’s JESC 2017 Reviews, Round 2 (Albania, Italy, Macedonia + Portugal)

Hi there, and welcome to the second episode of my Junior Eurovision reviews for 2017! A few days ago, Round 1 saw Cyprus, Georgia, The Netherlands and Poland get COMPLETELY CRUCIFIED by yours truly (JK, I was actually very nice). With the Tbilisi contest creeping closer and closer, there’s no time to waste – so I’m back with Round 2 today feat. Albania, Italy, Macedonia and Portugal. If you want to be a tree-hugging, choice-making Youtuber who dances through life (and let’s face it, who doesn’t), this post is perfect for you.

Keep reading if you want to know what I think of Ana Kodra’s Don’t Touch My Tree, Maria Iside Fiore’s Scelgo, Mina Blažev’s Dancing Through Life and Mariana Venâncio’s Youtuber. If you don’t, then I have to wonder why you’re here in the first place.

Cue reviews in 3, 2, 1…

 

 

Watch it here

Last year…Albania sent a belter of a ballad called Besoj to Malta – but as adorably shouty as Klesta Qehaja was, she couldn’t sing her way higher than 13th.

The 2017 verdict Some people love it, some people hate it…the slightly weird music Albania often sends to ESC and JESC, that is. Music that isn’t particularly ethnic but is somehow stamped PROPERTY OF ALBANIA – think One Night’s Anger by Hersi. Unusual melodies and a mighty fine atmosphere (which mostly disappears if the lyrics are switched to English) are the key ingredients, and miniscule vocalist with surprising grunt in her vocal Ana Kodra (potentially Albania’s version of Anastasiya Petryk) has a song packed with both. It’s a message song too – presumably about the environment and human mistreatment of it, but to be honest it comes off as Ana being totes possessive about a tree that she legally has no personal claim to whatsoever (it’s not ‘Please be careful around this particular tree ‘cause I like it a lot’, it’s ‘DON’T TOUCH MY TREE IF YOU WANT TO SEE 2018!!!’). Yeah, the aggression is a little off-putting – as are the English lyrics which are possibly the worst and most awkward in the entire contest this year. However…I quite like this anyway. Who else is in the minority with me? *fist bumps all three of you*. As with most Albanian Eurovision-related songs, I can’t really put into words why I like it, but I just do. The melody of the verses is as distinctive as the melody of the chorus, and there’s a tribal feel to the beat and the music that I’m always drawn to (JESC examples = Moldova 2013, and funnily enough, Albania 2015). Ana herself needs to be more in control of her live vocal and be more commanding on stage, especially if she’s stuck out there by herself as per Albanian Junior tradition – that would be a big improvement on the overall effect of Don’t Touch My Tree. But regardless of the negatives and the fact that I know this is going nowhere in the comp, I’m a fan. Call me crazy if you want – it’s probably true because I talk to myself constantly.

Song score 8

Artist score 6

Final score 7

 

 

 
Watch it here

Last year…Unexpectedly, Fiamma Boccia’s Cara Mamma charmed itself into 3rd place. Bravo!

The 2017 verdict Here’s a brief history of my reactions to Italian JESC entries, because one of them is the same as the reaction I’m having to Maria’s Scelgo. 2014 (Vincenzo Cantiello’s Tu Primo Grande Amore) – fell head-over-heels instantly and may have cried when it won; 2015 (Chiara & Martina’s Viva) – never made it out of ‘this is meh’ territory; 2016 (Fiamma’s Cara Mamma) – didn’t think much of it at first but began to hear the appeal after a second or third listen. Now, in 2017, things haven’t come full circle since I’m apparently having another Fiamma moment with Maria. Ranking (then 15) entries after listening to Scelgo once, I had it last – not because I hated it, but because I liked everything else more. Then I decided I needed to give it a fair go as I’d listened to the likes of Russia 50 times and the situation was becoming a bit unfair. So I did, and all of a sudden this song seemed…better. It’s got that typically Italian way about it of sounding like there are twice as many words to be sung than actually fit into the timeframe of the track, but that’s part of the charm. The melody is interesting but not too complicated, and the chorus does have an earworm-y quality to it. I’m not 100% sold on the way they’ve mixed languages, but I love how it’s done right at the end, with the line ‘I choose not to be afraid’ finishing things off in a sweet, cohesive way. As always, this is a classy effort from Italy, but I doubt it will pull in the points to score as well as Cara Mamma (surprisingly) did last year. I just don’t think it’s going to capture juries (or voters…YASSS WE GET TO HAVE OUR SAY AGAIN!) to the same extent. And I get the feeling it could be quite messy live, but I’ll be happy to stand corrected. 

Song score 8

Artist score 8

Final score 8

 

 


Watch it here

Last year…With a brilliant song but maybe not a brilliant song for Junior Eurovision – Love Will Lead Our Way – Martija Stanojković made it to 12th place. I guess love couldn’t lead her all the way.

The 2017 verdict This is all too familiar. From JESC 2016àESC 2017àJESC 2017, Macedonia has sent a string of high-quality, current and catchy pop songs to Eurovision events – but the first two just didn’t work in a competition context. I think last year’s JESC entry was too mature for the contest, right down to the dance moves. Dance Alone suffered from a similar issue (but when you’re too adult for adult Eurovision, some serious reevaluation is required!). Now the same fate seems to be looming for Mina. Dancing Through Life (alone, Jana-style? Not alone, Aram Mp3-style? WE NEED ANSWERS!) is without a doubt – in my opinion, obvs – an epic EDM track with so many hooks crammed into it, you could hang up the coats of the Buranovskiye Babushkis AND all of their extended families. Verses? Catchy. Choruses? Catchy. Chant-along oh-oh-oh bits? CATCHY. The genre is also perfectly suited to Mina’s voice, and with the pounding pace and explosive money note, has all the energy you could want in a song without the ‘hyped up on red cordial’ feel that can crop up at JESC. Sadly, overall this entry belongs more at Eurovision than where it is competing – and unless Macedonia can find a way to make the performance super young and fresh (which would probably jar with the song) I’m worried it’s not going to perform very well on the scoreboard. Sophistication can and does succeed at Junior, but there’s a grey area where youthful stuff works and more mature stuff works. Outside of that, there are songs that are too childish and songs that are too grown-up. Russia, for example, has struck a balance between the two, but Macedonia hasn’t quite managed it. Dancing Through Life is a better prospect than LWLOW, but I will be shocked if it ends up in the top 5. Personally speaking, I love it.

Song score 10

Artist score 8

Final score 9

 

 

Watch it here

Last year…nada. 2017 will mark Portugal’s third appearance at Junior, and we last saw them compete in 2007 (when, for the record, Jorge Leiria came 16th with Só Quero É Cantar).

The 2017 verdict I can’t be the only one who was excited at the prospect of Portugal returning to JESC, after a Poland-esque hiatus. Their very first adult contest win clearly gave them the motivation to give Junior another go, and hopes were high in the Eurofam that they’d deliver something of comparative calibre to Amar Pelos Dois. What we got instead was a kids’ edition of The Social Network Song (if I even need to say ‘kids’ edition’). This time, Youtuber will go all the way with its title intact, which is as sketchy as the EBU allowing Dami Im to sing ‘FaceTime’ when we all know they meant the Apple kind. Potential double standards aside, I have a hard time believing that this song was not composed by Ralph Siegel – that’s how cheesy and passé it is in 2017. However, it was extra cheesy and passé when we heard the demo version performed (if I remember rightly) by the actual adult composer. Mariana, as a child, makes it more palatable and even slightly enjoyable. But the cringe-factor of the “funky” tune and barely-more-than-a-single-word chorus remains. The poor girl can only do so much to salvage the situation. It’s even more of a shame because her voice is strong and she has great control over it. If she can project some more confidence and sell Youtuber to the best of her ability in Tbilisi, she might avoid last place (she’s very precious and I don’t want her to end up there). Ultimately, though I don’t hate this with a passion and acknowledge that it has one or two decent moments, I have to call a spade a spade – this is one of the weakest entries of the year, and it will struggle. I just hope a bad result doesn’t put Portugal off trying again in 2018, because they are capable of great things. Learn from your mistakes, guys!

Song score 6

Artist score 7

Final score 6.5

 

 

Eight down, eight to go – someone high-five me, quick! I feel like I’ve been pretty generous so far with my critiques and scores (maybe it’s my inner Father Christmas). Then again, this is Round 2 of 4 and there are plenty more opportunities for me to be unnecessarily cruel to children. Yay!

Here’s the ranking for this round:

  1. Macedonia (9)
  2. Italy (8)
  3. Albania (7)
  4. Portugal (6.5)

Macedonia takes this one out, with Italy not far behind. Will that be at all reflected in reality next weekend? Considering the tendency of my favourites to drop just out of winning range, probably not.

Speaking of favourites, it’s time for you to choose yours:

 

And don’t forget to leave your own mini-ranking in the comments. Let’s see if we agree on anything or if you’re wrong 😉

 

NEXT TIME Keep your eyes peeled for Round 3 of the JESC 2017 reviews, feat. Australia (I’ll try to keep a lid on my bubbling bias), Belarus, Malta and Ukraine. Who’s done wonders and who’s disappointed? You’ll see my perspective very soon!

 

Until then, much love love and a whole lotta peace peace…

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

Now let’s go.

  

 

Watch it here

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

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

Song score 7

Artist score 6

Final score 6.5

 

  

Watch it here

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

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

Song score 10

Artist score 10

Final score 10

 

 

 

Watch it here

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

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

Song score 8

Artist score 10

Final score 9

 

 

Watch it here

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

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

Song score 12

Artist score 8

Final score 10

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Until then…

 


 

 

JAZ JUDGES EUROVISION 2017 | Belgium, Croatia, Greece, Israel, Ukraine, the UK…and Russia

Happy Eurovision Eve, guys! If it’s still Eurovision Eve Eve when you’re reading this, then Happy That to you too.

As promised, I’m back with the final round of EBJ reviews for this year’s adult contest. It’s down to the wire given that Kyiv’s first semi is so close, and the jury semi even closer (timezone-ally speaking again, it may be over by the time you read this). Plus, there’s still the all-important – and in my case, hilariously inaccurate – predictions to be made, which I may end up posting on social media only (if you don’t see them here, check out my Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, all @EurovisionByJaz). So – and I’m saying this to myself – let’s have a little less conversation and a little more action, please!

Read on to find out how my guest juror/mother and I rate the entries from Belgium’s Blanche, Croatia’s Jacques, Israel’s IMRI, Ukraine’s O.Torvald, the UK’s Lucie…and yes, Russia’s Yulia. I couldn’t come this far and then leave her out, even though she’s out of the competition.

Here’s the last seven songs of 2017, according to two extremely intelligent and attractive Australian women.

*tumbleweed blows*

Moving on…

 

 

My thoughts I don’t know what’s gotten into Belgium lately, but they’ve been batting the ball right out of the field with their Eurovision entries – 2013, 2015, 2016 and now 2017 being the gold star examples (the less we say about the creepfest of 2014, the better). Blanche’s City Lights took me by surprise, because for some reason I was expecting her to be assigned some twee, folksy guitar-strummer á la Joan Franka, which is SO not up my street. I don’t know why I expected that – she must just have that look about her. Anyway, I apologise, Blanche. You/your songwriters have given us a skillfully-crafted, cutting edge alt-pop song that’s melancholy in all the right ways. If Kristen Stewart were a song, this would be it: edgy, flat and lacking in emotion, but bizarrely attractive nonetheless. There’s nothing about it I can pick on – even the repetitiveness makes it more hypnotic. Blanche’s voice is way smokier and sultrier than you’d expect from a seventeen-year-old, and it sets off the song perfectly. The contrast between Belgium last year and now (with different broadcasters behind each entry) is huge, and I love them both. The only issue is that there’s one negative difference between Laura and Blanche, and it’s to do with their on and off-stage personalities. Laura, with all of her theatre and TV experience, was a ball of energy and enthusiasm with more charisma than Triana Park’s Agnese has wigs. She charmed the press, audience and home viewers with ease. Blanche is virtually the opposite, as far as I can tell – reserved, quietly-spoken and pretty nervy on stage. Obviously she shouldn’t smile her way through performances of City Lights, since that wouldn’t make any sense. But her uncertainty and lack of emotion at times put what is a fabulous, should-be-a-surefire-hit song right into the danger zone she’s singing about being alone in. That’s why Belgium has dropped considerably in the odds since rehearsals started, and why we could be looking at a (somewhat shocking) non-qualifier here. But, not having seen any rehearsals myself and not knowing what Blanche might muster up for the jury and broadcast shows, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and base my score of 10 points on the song itself.

My mum says… Wow – that’s a voice with depth! I can’t believe it’s coming out of someone so young. It kind of makes Blanche the antithesis of Ireland’s Brendan. Her song is just as impressive as her voice. It doesn’t sound manufactured, and its moody in a way that kept me interested even though it was really repetitive, which is a hard thing to do. Bravo, Belgium! 8 points.

Belgium’s score 9.00

 

 

 

My thoughts There are only a few duos competing at Eurovision 2017, but Croatia’s is the most notable given that it’s a duo made up of Jacques Houdek…and Jacques Houdek. Yes, we have a man duetting with himself in the contest, via a song that isn’t so much well-blended popera as it is pop-opera with a definitive divide between the two. And it is HILARIOUS. Hilariously terrible, that is. Things don’t get off to a good start when Jacques opens with some wannabe inspirational (i.e. retch-worthy) spoken lyrics that even the most warm-hearted person would find hard to take seriously. It’s not exactly downhill from there – that, IMO, is the worst part of the song – but when cheesy lines give way to Pop Jacques and Opera Jacques fighting for attention, it’s time to laugh (because it’s absolutely mental) or cry (because it’s a Disney-fied disaster). No other song so strongly begs the question ‘What were they thinking?’ than My Friend. Yet apparently, it works well enough on stage to be in contention for qualification. Whenever I hear or see someone say that, it makes me wonder if I’ve woken up in my worst nightmare. I think the only aspect of Croatia’s entry deserving of a place in the final is Mr. Houdek himself, because he’s a top bloke with bucketloads of talent (I can’t deny that he nails both the Jekyll and Hyde vocal segments of his song). Apart from that…no. Just no. I take a little sugar in my coffee, but I don’t fill the entire cup with an unpleasant combo of white and raw, if you know what I mean. That would be way too sickly. 2 points.

My mum says… Oh my gosh. If the TV show Touched By An Angel was ever made into a musical, this would be the theme song. Not that I’d know that for sure, because I would NOT be buying tickets to see it. Is ‘abysmal’ too harsh a word to describe this song? I mean, the voices are good – great even, when you realise that they’re both coming out of the same person – but everything else is…ugh. 2 points.

Croatia’s score 2.00

 

 

 

My thoughts It’s still hard to comprehend the fact that Greece lost their 100% qualification record last year. You’d think that would be the kick in the pants they needed to reclaim their Eurovision glory days of 2004-2013, when they could hardly keep themselves out of the top 10. The announcement of Demy as their artist confirmed that, and I was excited. Then along came the three candidate songs, one of which she’d end up singing in Kyiv…and they were all utterly average and totally uninspired. This Is Love, a dance track that feels half 2000s ESC and half cookie-cutter club hit, was the best option, I’ll give them that. But all it does is satisfy the requirements for an okay pop song. It takes zero risks, feels super familiar (like it’s a Frankenstein creation of other dance songs stitched together) and doesn’t feel lyrically original. It’s not offensive, but I have no reason to fall head over heels in love with it (hence why I’ve taken to calling it This Isn’t Love in my head). It’s just there, in the line-up, not measuring up to a good 75% of the other entries. If anything can save it – and I suspect it will be saved – it’s Demy and the staging. I’m pretty confident that will get Greece back into the final, and for all I know, back into the top 10. That’s not a result I’d rejoice in, though, as much as I love Demy. She’s better than this song, and I expected something much stronger. Hashtag disappointed! 5 points.

My mum says… I have to admit, I’ve already forgotten how This Is Love goes, but when I was listening to it I was pretty bored. I feel like Greece did try to start a fire with it, but there’s just no spark. I wasn’t even moving to the music – danger alert! Demy has a nice voice, but her stage performance will have to be incredible to make up for the weaknesses in her song. 3 points.

Greece’s score 4.00

 

 

 

My thoughts It’s convenient that my random selection resulted in Israel being reviewed right after Greece, since they’re so stylistically similar. It makes it even easier for me to say that I Feel Alive is miles ahead of This Is Love in every department (in my opinion, of course). And no, that’s not because Imri has the power to melt me into a human puddle of swoonage with one brief, smoldering gaze. I’m not (quite) that shallow, guys! I just think it’s a far better and far more original song. It’s definitely more current-sounding, and I like how even though each part of the song is different, the whole thing is cohesive and the energy/intensity level never wavers. It’s also great to have a bit of ethnicity shoehorned in via the instrumental break. Overall, I find this entry very catchy and danceable, and we need some of that to break up the ballads that are a bit hard to dance to if you’re alone á la Jana Burčeska. Unfortunately, there’s a question mark over Imri’s ability to pull off a pretty tricky (if my in-shower attempts are any indication) vocal. He has enough stage presence (and muscle tone) to win people over, and as he’s sung backup for Israel the past two years in a row, he can handle the Eurovision experience in general. But can he hit those high notes? Notes that could be Jemini-level awful if he doesn’t nail them? If he wasn’t doing double duty as a singer and dancer – because I’m guessing there’s some choreography for him to work with – he’d have a better shot. But I’m worried. He has the honour of closing the second semi final, and he needs to leave a good impression behind if he wants to be the lucky charm that helped Israel make the final in 2015 and 2016. I’m not sure, but I hope that he can do it. I Feel Alive would be a cracking song to have on the Saturday night. 8 points.

My mum says… Here’s a song that had my foot tapping very quickly. That’s a good sign for me, because I react to music how I react to books: if it doesn’t grab me and make me feel something fast, I’ll give up on it. I Feel Alive is very catchy, and I love the instrumental bit that sounds a bit like an Irish jig (don’t worry, I know it isn’t). I’m keen on stuff like that! And I’m told Imri is a beautiful sight to behold, so it sounds like Israel has the total package. 7 points.

Israel’s score 7.5

 

 

 

My thoughts I know I shouldn’t be dwelling on stuff that happened during national final season, but I’m still convinced that Tayanna’s I Love You would have been one of the best host entries in Eurovision history. It’s heartbreaking that she ended up sick prior to the Ukrainian final and barely managed to sing her way through the whole song when it mattered the most. In that sense, I can see how O.Torvald won instead. Their final performance, elevated by some gruesome but awesome prosthetics that took Time literally in a jaw-dropping way, was fantastic. Sadly, that’s not the staging they’re using for the ESC (I guess it’s not that suitable for what’s considered a family show) so they’re relying more or less on song alone to get the job done. The ‘job’ being ‘host entry that scores enough points to not be an embarrassment, but doesn’t put Ukraine in danger of having to host again in 2018’. I have a feeling a right-side scoreboard finish is in the band’s future, though. Don’t get me wrong – I’m very happy to have rock in the competition. Time stands out just because of its genre, and I think it’s got a lot going for it, apart from adding variety to the grand final. But I don’t think it’s memorable enough to thrive on simplistic staging, and I can’t see it outdoing Sweden’s 2013 result with Robin Stjernberg. In fact, I’m predicting it will finish lower than that – in the 16th-20th range – in spite of the support it’ll get from the crowd, being the host entry and all. Ukraine shouldn’t suffer the indignity that Austria did on home soil in 2015, but it’s very unlikely they’ll do what Sweden did last year and finish in the top five. O.Torvald’s musical rivals are too hard to handle. 6 points.

My mum says… I don’t know why, but this reminds me of a B-side to a 1980s ballad. The music’s interesting, but I didn’t like much else. It’s quite a dramatic change from Jamala, so at least Ukraine aren’t creatures of habit. 3 points.

Ukraine’s score 4.5

 

 

 

My thoughts I’m not as partial to Emmelie de Forest as a lot of other people. Only Teardrops is far from being one of my favourite ESC winners, and I much prefer Anja Nissen’s Where I Am to the song de Forest co-wrote for her DMGP appearance last year. My point is, when I heard she was responsible for a Eurovision: You Decide song, I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy. Never Give Up On You quickly won me over, however, because I loved how bare-bones it was at the NF, with hardly any instrumentation backing it and no beat that kicked in when it seemed obvious that a beat would kick in (when Lucie hits her big note towards the end). But apparently I’m fickle AF, as I then decided the song would benefit from some sort of driving beat to give it some oomph. When the revamp was unveiled feat. just that….you guessed it, I found myself preferring the original version. The ESC version has a bit of an identity crisis – it’s halfway between understated piano ballad and soaring power ballad, with an electronic influence creeping in that does make it contemporary, but ultimately sounds wishy-washy. The UK are in danger of becoming musical wallpaper once again – but if reports on their stage presentation are to be believed, they might have hauled themselves out of trouble at the last minute. From the photos I’ve seen, they’ve gone for a gold-heavy, art-deco theme that I wouldn’t have imagined suiting the song, but it looks like the camera will love it. If it does suit the song, then this entry could be a very well-wrapped package. The song is certainly up Lucie’s alley, as it caters for both her pop side (as an ex-X Factor contestant) and her theatrical side (as a past and future star of Legally Blonde: The Musical). I’d love to see her do well, but there are better ballads that are 99% likely to make it to the final and be in direct competition with her – think Finland and Portugal. And it is the United Kingdom we’re talking about. I’m always doubtful. But you can’t say they haven’t taken the contest seriously this year, or put in the level of effort required to succeed. 7 points.

My mum says… This is very nice. I like a ballad that’s powerful without being too loud and screamy, and this definitely falls into that category. I can imagine Lucie in a long, flowy dress with the (fake, wind machine-generated) wind in her hair as she channels all of her emotion into it. Her voice is gorgeous, and it’s not hard to picture her on the West End stage…or the Eurovision stage, for that matter. I’ll have my fingers crossed for the UK, because I don’t want to have to pretend I wasn’t born there! 7 points.

The United Kingdom’s score 7.00

 

 

 

My thoughts I don’t like the way Russia’s departure from Eurovision this year played out, on the Russian or Ukrainian ends. But try as I might, I can’t help being relieved that Flame Is Burning won’t be competing in Kyiv and won’t be taking a spot in the final away from a higher-quality song. Sorry to be so blunt, but OMG, I HATE IT. Maybe that’s partly because it came from Russia, and every time they (try) and send an “inspirational” preaching-for-peace ballad to the contest, it makes my skin crawl. That doesn’t just apply to Russia, though…see my Croatia review for proof. Anyway, just as a song, if you don’t think about its origins, it’s awful. Lame lyrics, a lacklustre melody and a style that went out of style about 25 years ago do not make for something I’d voluntarily listen to. The other problem is Yulia’s thickly-accented English, which makes it hard to understand anything she’s singing (although you could look at that as a blessing). With a better song in Russian, her talents would be put to way, way better use – which, with any luck, is what’ll happen next year if Russia re-involve themselves and send her. So, the moral of my story is, I won’t miss Flame Is Burning, just like I didn’t miss Romania’s Moment of Silence last year. I’ll just feel super sorry for their performers. 1 point.

My mum says… I don’t hate this like Jaz does (which made her jaw drop about a kilometre) but it’s nothing outstanding, that’s for sure. If it was competing, it sounds like it would be forgotten five minutes after it was performed. That’s not the key to Eurovision success, is it? And her accent is so strong, it’s distracting. 2 points.

Russia’s score 1.5

 

 

I can’t believe I get to say this, but that’s it – 43/43 reviewed! The ranking for this round looks like this:

  1. Belgium (9.00)
  2. Israel (7.5)
  3. United Kingdom (7.00)
  4. Ukraine (4.5)
  5. Greece (4.00)
  6. Croatia (2.00)
  7. Russia (1.5)

Belgium (pretty unsurprisingly) takes out the nonexistent trophy, with Israel and the UK hot-ish on their heels, and the others not even lukewarm. But did Belgium do enough to top the full EBJ Jury ranking? Watch this space to find out.

How would you rank the songs we reviewed today? Would Belgium be your number one too, or is there something else floating your boat? Let me know in the comments.

I’ll probably be making another appearance here pre-semi 1, but in case I don’t, I want to wish all of you a very merry contest experience! I’m looking forward to a low-key one myself, after a few years of not watching from my couch, but I will be on Twitter, typing away through all of the live shows. Maybe I’ll meet you there? It’s going to be freaking beautiful!