Bonjour! In case you hadn’t noticed, Eurovision 2018 is so close that the road to Lisbon is practically walkable – provided you’re not wearing giant platform boots like the lead singer of Wig Wam. I’ve definitely noticed, given I’ve got so many reviews to cram into the few weeks left before the contest kicks off.
Clearly, it’s time for less talk and more action. And today I’m talking all things Azerbaijan, Estonia, Poland, Romania and Spain. Spoiler alert: there are highs, and there are lows.
How high and how low are we talking? There’s only one way for you to find out. Keep reading to see how I rate the entries from Aisel, Elina, Gromee feat. Lukas, The Humans and Amaia & Alfred. Make sure you vote for your favourite of today’s five while you’re at it…scroll for the poll!
My thoughts Last year we had their skeletons, and now – because Bulgaria has the bones covered in this year’s Eurovision Anatomy lesson – Azerbaijan has moved on to the major organs. They’ve also moved back to a non-Azerbaijani production with X My Heart, which I’m not thrilled about since Skeletons was one of their best, and certainly most original, entries in years. Aisel’s song is neither of those things in my opinion, but it does what it needs to: it’s a competent pop song and an addition to the Lisbon line-up that will deliver an adequate result without challenging for the win. If that’s what Azerbaijan is after, then a happy ending is en route. I do like the track – it’s well-written and produced, energetic enough to bop to (without having a X-my-heart attack), anthemic and catchy (for the most part…I’m on my pre-show listening ban at the moment and have forgotten how the verses go). All in all, it’s solid and doesn’t do anything wrong. But – I bet you could sense there was a big ol’ but coming – I have whipped out my fine-toothed comb and located some minor issues. Head lice on the otherwise healthy scalp of Azerbaijan’s 2018 ESC effort, if you’re up for such a gross metaphor. For starters, there’s the legacy of co-writer Dimitris Kontopoulos and how this song compares to what’s come before it. Kontopoulos is the brains behind a bunch of BANGING Eurovision songs, including Work Your Magic (Belarus 2007), Shady Lady (Ukraine 2008), This Is Our Night (Greece 2009) and You Are The Only One (Russia 2016). Sadly, this song just ain’t in the same league – but that might be the influence of Swede Sandra Bjurman, who gave us one of the contest’s most maligned winners ever, Running Scared. Another little irritation of mine is Aisel herself, who’s gorgeous to look at but is supposed to be a smoky jazz singer…so why has she been given a dance-pop song to sing that doesn’t suit her voice or show her off to maximum advantage? It seems like an odd combo of song and singer to me, and that’s a feeling that doesn’t strike me with most, if not all, of the other countries competing (think of Austria or Israel, for example. Cesár and Netta didn’t co-write their entries, but you can tell they were tailored to their voices and styles). It’s a case of Valentina Monetta Syndrome. Will the majority of other fans/casual viewers/jurors notice or care about the mismatch when they’re voting? I doubt it, and they’ll give Azerbaijan enough of a boost to reach the final and then finish around 12th-17th. I’d be satisfied with that – but if they’re not, then they need to try a different tactic in 2019.
2017 VS 2018? Skeletons – cross my heart.
My score 7
My thoughts If your home and car insurance isn’t up-to-date, you might want to get on that because Elina is about to smash your windows with her on-point operatic vocals. Just as there’s nothing quite so painful to the ear as out of tune operatics, there’s nothing quite so impressive in the vocal world as flawless, crystal-clear pipes like hers. They’re the main selling point of La Forza, let’s be honest – so fingers crossed there’s no mic fail á la Laura last year. As for the song itself, well…I find both opera and popera hit-and-miss at Eurovision (I loved Grande Amore, hated La Voix) as does the scoreboard. La Forza slots in somewhere between those two past entries on my love/hate spectrum, with Estonia being closer to Italy than Sweden (just not geographically). I feel the powerful effects of the song, but not as strongly as a lot of other fans. I can’t help being swept up in the majesty of it all when the chorus drops though, and Elina is a hypnotic performer with a slight case of crazy eyes. With THAT VOICE, her ethereal beauty, a big song that suits her to a tee (take note, Azerbaijan), and a dress designed for Mrs. Slender Man that may or may not have projections on it in Portugal (I don’t think they’re necessary myself), Estonia has a statement piece on their hands. But do they have a winner? Possibly, but not probably. La Forza is firmly in a genre that does not appeal to everyone, and Elina can only do so much – i.e. perform perfectly – to change that. There is a clinical feel to the song and performance package too that gives it a coldness, and not in a cool purposeful way like Equinox’s Bones. I can’t see that vibe overcoming more warm-hearted rivals like Toy to win the televote, but Estonia has a good chance at a top three jury vote, I think. After two years of unexpected disappointments, Estonia is looking at an almost certain qualification (I reserve the right to take that back come prediction time *covers own butt in case*) and a final result that couldn’t be classified as a crash and burn. Elina’s talent alone is top 10-worthy, and how high she can go will likely depend on how many spines she can tingle when it matters.
2017 VS 2018? Verona is more up my street (if not anywhere near as vocally impressive).
My score 8
My thoughts From Flashlight to Light Me Up, here’s Poland! They’ve switched things up from a solo female ballad to a Norway 2017 sequel (albeit a less inventive, more lyrically pedestrian and typically inferior sequel) and I am pretty pleased with the results. Swedish dominance at Eurovision – outside of the actual Swedish entry – continues with Melodifestivalen’s Mahan Moin co-writing this track alongside fellow Swede Lukas, and the end product is what you’d expect. It’s slick, simple but effective, and will whip the arena audience into a semi-frenzy – especially as Poland is due on stage right after Georgia. Light Me Up is more fun and accessible (and yes, Salvador, fast food) than Sheni Gulistvis, and will probably be rewarded accordingly. I’m not going to pretend it’s The Greatest Song In The World™, but the fact that it is Grab The Moment’s more cookie-cutter cousin gets it on my good side. The chorus is insanely catchy, and the musical hook that follows creates an epic atmosphere. What else can I say? I’m an easily pleased person when it comes to pop music – as long as something has an infectious melody and decent lyrics, it will probably end up on a Spotify playlist of mine at some stage. If I’m going to go negative for a minute, I’ll do it by saying that Lukas had what I hope is a case of Ryan Dolanitis when this song won Krajowe Eliminacje. In other words, his vocals weren’t out of this world. But I know he’s capable of ironing them out for Eurovision (I hate to repeat myself, but as I’m on my contest song hiatus, I haven’t watched Polish performances from the preview parties to compare). Factor in the limit on the number of ways a producer/singer duo song can be performed – JOWST did an A+ version last year which would be a bad idea to mimic so soon – and there are a few flaws in Poland’s plan. I say that even as someone who really likes (maybe even…loves *insert soaring violin music here*) Light Me Up. Strangely, I won’t be shocked if Gromee & Lukas just miss out on qualifying. The 8th-ish mark in semi two seems as easy to access for them as 12th. But Poland is in possession of a great recent track record: they’ve made it to the final every year since their 2014 comeback. And luckily for them, the second semi is not as diabolically difficult to get out of as the first. If Poland does advance, don’t be surprised if they end up opening the final – it would set the mood like a charm, and it’s not a potential winner to be held back for later on in the show. You (might have) heard it here first!
2017 VS 2018? 2018 – it’s the JOWST effect.
My score 10
My thoughts The late-1980s power ballad police called, and they want to put The Humans’ Goodbye behind bars – but I’m not keen to let them, because I’m actually really fond of it. I’ve found myself in the awkward position of being pro-Romania this year when most other reviews of their song have been negative…when last year was the complete opposite (I didn’t dislike Yodel It!, but I was in Camp Take It Or Leave It while the majority of other fans were in Camp OMG THIS IS EPIC). If you think I couldn’t possibly justify my attraction to this entry for 2018, think again! Firstly, I have zero problems with late-1980s power ballads, so Goodbye being the Eurovision edition of Alone by Heart gets a thumbs up from me. It’s definitely a slow burner, taking a solid minute or so to transition from piano ballad to big hair/shoulder pads/inch-thick eyeliner territory. Unlike most other sane people who are not stuck in a decade in which they weren’t even born, however, I think what happens is worth the wait. I’m happy to stick around listening for the beat to drop and the guitars to kick in, and I think people hearing Goodbye for the first time during semi two might be curious enough to do the same (or get bored and use the second half of the second as a toilet/snack break, I’ll admit). No exaggeration, that ‘Why don’t you see the beauty that surrounds you everywhere?’ line in the first chorus gives me LIFE. The entire chorus, in fact (when it finally arrives) is a cracker. Another thing I appreciate about this is that it doesn’t follow a predictable song structure, so it never seems to repeat itself – not in the excessive way we’re used to with a lot of ESC entries, at least. Throw in the powerful, raspy-edged vocals from lead singer Cristina and what is the greatest, most appropriate song ending of this year’s contest (it practically begs for a dramatic mic drop) and I hope you can now see why I’m on Team Romania. There are plenty of other songs that I believe are better than this – it’s sitting at the 20-ish mark in my top 43 at the moment, though as I’ve said there are literally only two songs that I dislike – but overall I think it’s a great 80s-influenced PB (power ballad) that won’t get Romania a Eurovision PB (personal best) but might grab a few of my votes. I get why people are saying it might undo the country’s 100% qualification record, but personally (in my special biased way) I have a feeling it will squeak through. Or maybe even do better than expected…
2017 VS 2018? Yodel It has worn pretty thin with me, so I’d have to say Goodbye.
My score 8.5
My thoughts It has to be said: Spain had a disastrous contest in Kyiv, with Manel’s money note fail becoming the sour cherry on top (and a sound-on GIF that did multiple rounds on social media, and that I may or may not have laughed at). Based on Do It For Your Lover – which didn’t do it for anyone – whatever followed was bound to come across as a masterpiece. But DOES IT??? *insert tense music here*. Tu Canción can best be described as a romantic lullaby, performed by a couple who got together during the quest to seek out the Spanish entry for Lisbon. I know we’re supposed to get all misty and wipe away happy tears whenever this backstory is mentioned, or whenever we see Alfred and Amaia’s onstage PDAs that are not manufactured at this point (though wouldn’t it be interesting if they broke up before the contest…I’m not hoping, I’m just curious). I must have a black hole where my soul is supposed to be though, because I find both the song and the public displays of affection too sugary sweet for my taste. It’s like the duo are in their own little love-cave when they’re performing, and that doesn’t engage me as I’m watching them. Instead, I feel like I’m looking through the window of their honeymoon suite and really should turn away to give them some privacy. Hashtag awkward! The song itself is certainly a step up from Do It For Your Lover in terms of a competition song, but I prefer the summery, fun vibes Manel offered to be honest. Tu Canción is probably the closest thing to a reigning winner copycat that we’ve got in 2018, and no doubt Salvador would approve of the lack of fireworks and flood of feelings. I just don’t have any strong feelings either way – schmaltz aside, it is a pretty and delicate ballad with a nice flow to it, but nothing more to me. I do have an approving nod to spare for the vocals – the tinkly quality and clarity of Amaia’s voice balances out the rough-edged sound of Alfred’s, and they harmonise like a match made in heaven. Maybe they are…maybe there’s an ESC wedding on the horizon! Not that I’m saying these two should get married on stage during their final performance, but in the absence of LEDs you’ve got to be creative with your gimmicks. I’m unsure how Spain will go on the Saturday night, but it’s safe to say they’ll end the night in a better position – and having put on a more polished show – than last year. Personally, Tu Canción isn’t my favourite of the Big Five + Portugal, but it’s not at the bottom of my list (so please don’t plot my death, Spanish Eurofans).
2017 VS 2018? I liked Do It For Your Lover for what it was. Don’t judge me (too harshly)!
My score 6.5
There you go: that’s another five songs for Lisbon reviewed by yours truly. I should probably stop doing this, but…10 down, (only?) 33 to go!
Here’s today’s ranking:
- Poland (10)
- Romania (8.5)
- Estonia (8)
- Azerbaijan (7)
- Spain (6.5)
This is a very mixed-up version of the ranking most other fans would create, I know. You can hit up the comment box below to tell me how you’d organise this bunch from best to worst. Or not-so-best, in my case…I definitely don’t hate Spain. I do really, really like Poland though. Stick around for the rest of my reviews to see how Gromee and Lukas stack up against the entire Class of 2018.
Besides sharing your own ranking, why not pick your outright favourite of these five too and see if you’re in the majority?
NEXT TIME I’m putting on my Eurovision lab coat (it’s still white, but white sequins) and sliding Albania, Finland, Greece, Lithuania and Moldova under my microscope to see whether good things or bad things are lurking in their entries for 2018. Don’t miss my diagnosis!
Bonjour! I’m back with another round of Eurovision 2017 song reviews (what else would I be doing at this time of year?). I hope you have a spare three to five hours to read through them all.
Just kidding. It’ll take two hours, max.
This is the halfway mark, so if you’d like to catch up on the countries covered by me and my mum (who’s still here delivering verdicts from a first-impression, non-obsessive fan perspective) so far, I’ve linked them below for your convenience. Hey there, people who are just as lazy as me!
- Round 1, feat. Azerbaijan, Denmark, Georgia, Hungary, Norway + Portugal
- Round 2, feat. The Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands + Poland
- Round 3, feat. Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Macedonia, Malta + Switzerland
Now it’s time to cross six more countries and their awesome/average/abysmal songs off the to-do list. Today’s role-call: Bulgaria’s Kristian, France’s Alma, Italy’s Francesco, Romania’s Ilinca & Alex, Serbia’s Tijana and Sweden’s Robin. It’s the ESC equivalent of the popular kids’ table in a high school cafeteria, basically (with a few of the kids absent or in detention).
Have your opinions at the ready so when you get to the end, having found at least twenty comments you disagree with, you can say what’s on your mind – we want to hear everything.
Let’s get going!
My thoughts Let’s face it, Poli Genova left Bulgaria’s 2017 artist with shoes to fill bigger than that gigantic clog every tourist makes a point of posing with in Amsterdam. Stepping up to the plate (or into the huge-ass shoe) as a 17–year-old boy and the first ESC competitor to have been born in this millennium (#ifeelold), you’d think Kristian Kostov should be scared. But not only is Bulgaria currently the second-favourite to win the whole contest, they’ve brought in the bets with an absolute stunner of a ballad. Beautiful Mess is all beautiful and no mess. It’s almost like a down-tempo, male version of If Love Was A Crime: ultra modern, melodically memorable and full of lyrical determination (and similarities, right down to ‘together we’re untouchable’ versus ‘our love is untouchable’). It’s even gone down the same route of including a strangely alluring sample as a hook. As a result, I love it for many of the same reasons that I loved – and still love – ILWAC. I wouldn’t say Bulgaria has tried to carbon copy Poli’s super-successful entry so much as build on it, since it did do so well for them. Oddly, though, despite them being higher in the betting odds than they were in 2016, I don’t think Kristian can nab them another 4th place. He’s a brilliant performer with an almost studio-perfect voice, and twice the charisma of some of his fellow teen acts (Blanche, I’m looking at you in particular) but there is something missing from Beautiful Mess that, in a year of Italys and Swedens, will stop it from climbing quite that high in my opinion. However, I’m happy to be proven wrong. Did you hear that, universe? 10 points.
My mum says… I have to agree that the only Bulgarian mess is the one mentioned in the lyrics. The song is…well, beautiful. It’s interestingly worded for a romantic ballad, and heavy on the emotion without being weepy. Kristian has a voice and an ability to convey that emotion way beyond his seventeen years! I’m impressed. 10 points.
Bulgaria’s score 10.00
My thoughts Ooh la la! Speaking of countries that have ridden a wave of 2016 musical awesomeness into 2017, here’s France. Armed with Alma instead of Amir this time (á la Italy’s move from Francesca to Francesco) they’re bringing some sexy, summery tropical pop to Eurovision in a year with nothing else like that competing. I adore this song. I did have the original, all-French version at an even more heavenly status, and I’m still a little miffed by the switch to a slightly lame English chorus; but the ESC version of Requiem still ticks most of my boxes. Like the French pop I tend to favour, it’s not too predictable, but the catchy chorus sticks and stops the song from becoming inaccessible. And, I must admit, the English makes it easier for moi to sing along as I flamenco haphazardly around the house. Alma is a gorgeous girl/woman (she’s a little older than me hence IDK what to call her) and a good performer, but I have doubts about France’s ability to stage Requiem in a way that doesn’t make us all say ‘Mon dieu!‘. They did a nice job on J’ai Cherche last year, but they can’t be trusted implicitly to NOT screw things up presentation-wise, unlike Sweden or Russia (RIP) for example. They’re dealing with a song that could come across trés terrible with the wrong choreography, dodgy dancers, unsuitable costume choices, etc. However…if they pleasantly surprise me, I will sit quietly and watch them collect just enough points for a non-embarrassing, possibly excellent result. 10 points.
My mum says… I’m not sure if I like this or not, which tells me it might not be the most instantaneous entry in Eurovision this year (of course, it could just be me not feeling the amour). I like the drama it brings in its own way, and I did visualise myself walking Parisian streets with armfuls of Chanel purchases (I don’t know who’d be paying for all of that) while it was playing. But I felt it was a little disjointed, almost like two similar but not similar enough songs stuck together. Maybe it’s an acquired taste? 5 points.
France’s score 7.5
My thoughts If, just a few short months ago, you’d told me that Italy would somehow manage to present us with a dancing gorilla as part of their Eurovision act and have it be classy in that typical Italian way, I would have tossed a bowl of al dente spaghetti into your lap (the obvious reaction for someone in a state of disbelief). But, almost 100 million YouTube views and a shedload of OGAE Poll points later, we have the delightful Francesco and Occidentali’s Karma heading off to Kyiv…and he’ll probably be leaving with a Kosta Boda mic trophy in his human (not ape) hands. I’ll come right out and say that his song isn’t one of my absolute, unconditionally-loved favourites for 2017 – it’s drifting around the 6th to 10th zone in my overall ranking. But I, like 99.99% of people with functioning ears who’ve listened to it and/or seen Gabbani + gorilla in action, have succumbed to the irresistible, joyful and majorly memorable nature of the track. It’s effortlessly effervescent and sugary fun without being overly sweet, like a pint glass of pink lemonade. Every part of it is a hook to hang on to in itself, and the audience involvement created by the ‘Namaste, ale!’ is genius (although I can no longer finish off a yoga session in a peaceful way because I feel compelled to shout that every damn time). Francesco himself is personable and walks the fine line between a serious and tongue-in-cheek performance whenever he’s on stage, which should secure the affections of juries and televoters. Unless the significance of the man in the monkey suit is lost on a massive amount of people, I don’t see any stumbling blocks in the way of Italy winning their first Eurovision since 1990. And it could be a ‘fairytale’ ending for them in more ways than one, if you know what I mean. So, can I see myself happily eating gelato in Milan next May? Si.. 10 points.
My mum says… So this is the big favourite? It’s not my favourite out of the songs I’ve heard so far, but I can understand why so many fans love it en masse. I think it’s instantly likeable, unlike France, and you don’t need to speak Italian to feel Francesco’s joy and energy. The music’s very funky and happy too. I would so dance to this after a few too many glasses of Prosecco. 7 points.
Italy’s score 8.5
My thoughts Just when I thought we were never going to get a Eurovision entry that combined inspirational hip-hop with interludes of yodeling, along comes Yodel It! – the one we’ve all been waiting for. Or was that just me? Okay, so I’m being a bit sarcastic. But that doesn’t mean I’m about to reduce yodeler Ilinca and sing-shouter of uplifting lyrics Alex Florea to sobbing heaps of depression. In theory, this song should be the biggest disaster in music history, and hands-down the worst song of the 2017 contest (even with Croatia and San Marino’s offerings considered). But in practice, by some miracle (proudly presented by Paula Seling & Ovi), it works. I feel like it would take a solid six months in a science lab to figure out how, but what Ilinca and Alex are bringing to the table individually is like chocolate mousse and pickled herring – yet the combo is as complementary as peanut butter and jelly. Maybe that’s because the yodeling kicks in almost immediately, so by the time the first chorus is over, the shock has subsided – there’s no minute-long wait for the OMG moment like there was with Norway’s 2-for-1 Icebreaker last year. The fact that there’s little bursts of yodeling in amongst Alex’s catchy and urban verses/chorus – rather than a yodel marathon at any point – has to be helping too. That technique has been used at Eurovision before with varying degrees of success: Austria couldn’t qualify with it in 2005 (in Kyiv…is that a bad omen?) but Belgium finished fourth at Junior Eurovision in 2009 doing the same (though when a kid with flowers in her hair does it, it’s harder to hate). So, especially given how split-down-the-middle Yodel It! has Eurofans, there’s no telling how much better Romania’s ESC will be in 2017 than it was in 2016 – but hey, at least there’ll make it to the host city this time. I personally think it’s so ridiculously fun that the Romanian go-to of 11th-14th place isn’t out of reach…and neither is the top 10 if enough people with point-giving power ‘get’ it. Get it, love it, and yodel it. 8 points.
My mum says… If this is the closest thing to a token comedy duet in this year’s contest then I guess that’s a good thing, but I’m not a fan. Yodeling in general tends to turn me off, and that apparently isn’t affected by pairing it with another style of singing and a less traditional type of music. The whole thing sounds like it would work okay on a kids’ TV show – and I can’t say it’s not unique – but I’ll pass anyway. 3 points.
Romania’s score 5.5
My thoughts Serbia may have shot themselves in the foot by making us wait as far into March as possible (without actually being the last country to present their entry) for Tijana’s In Too Deep. Although that technique does attract attention, it means that if the song in question is anything less than sensational, it will be branded ‘not worth the wait’. Having said that, though I don’t think this one IS sensational, I’m not disappointed by it either. It may be even less “Serbian” (in an ethnic/stereotypical way) than last year’s Goodbye (Shelter), but I’m actually really keen on everything else about it. The music has variety and depth, the lyrics are just on the right side of simple (about a millimetre away from Cliché Central), the chorus is crash-boom-bang powerful, and Tijana has the vocal prowess to handle it all. I’m intrigued by the mix of styles going on here – it’s not as polar-opposite obvious as Romania’s, but there’s electropop/symphonic power ballad/dubstep elements woven together into a tapestry that I’d be happy to hang on my wall. Sure, it’s not daring or challenging or particularly original – and Serbia should thank their lucky Eurovision stars that Nano’s Hold On won’t be in Kyiv – but it’s comfortably safe, not the boring sort of safe. If I were staging In Too Deep, there would be wind machines, a floaty-yet-fierce dress for Tijana that could be blown about by said wind machines like Anggun’s in 2012, an aerial hoop artist or two (maybe Tijana herself could be swinging in a hoop as she is in the music video…) and some cool lighting, and voila – that’d be a well-wrapped package. But I’m not staging it, sadly, so it’s up to Serbia’s IRL stage director to not screw up what should be a simple equation of good song + good singer = good result in the grand final. When I say ‘good result’, I’m thinking 9th-15th, and in the final, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. 8 points.
My mum says… I’d definitely hit repeat on this one! I really like it. It’s not flawless, but the music and lyrics are both high-standard, and together they make a catchy couple. Tijana’s voice is great too. There’s something about the sound of it that reminds me ever-so-slightly of Jamala’s, though it’s not quite in the same league. Neither is the song – it’s a bit hard to follow in 1944’s footsteps, I imagine – but it gets a thumbs up from me. Oh, and 8 points.
Serbia’s score 8.00
My thoughts I was going to flick through ‘Not Being Biased For Dummies’ before reviewing Sweden, but I was too busy practicing Robin’s foot shuffle on my treadmill, and then I had to go to the emergency room and stuff…so I just didn’t get the chance. So, as I’m someone who not only supports Sverige unconditionally every year (they were my adopted country to cheer for before Australia was competing, and TBH I still prioritise them over Australia) but also traveled to Stockholm for the Melodifestivalen final and watched I Can’t Go On win it, you should prepare for a rose-coloured review. Here goes: I LOVE THIS. It wasn’t even my favourite song in the Melfest final (the aforementioned Hold On was) but as I always end up loving at least 75% of the Swedish hopefuls, that’s irrelevant. Co-written by Robin Stjernberg – his stamp is all over this track – it’s three minutes of slick, sexually implicit (as opposed to Montenegro’s sexually explicit song) funk-pop with a Justin Timberlake vibe (only way less fluffy than Can’t Stop The Feeling) and it is everything I expect from a Swedish Eurovision entry. Is it insanely catchy from go to whoa? Yes. Was it perfectly polished and contest-ready from the very beginning? Ja. Is the performer incredibly attractive? Obviously *swoons*. And to top it all off, it comes equipped with staging that will be a talking point from when it opens the first semi final (!) to whenever Sweden next manages to outdo themselves. It’s clear that one year of stripped-back production was all they could put up with. It’s also clear that The Land of Cardamom Buns (how I miss them) hasn’t lost their touch when it comes to conquering the ESC without any effort whatsoever – it just comes naturally. Conquering in a year feat. Occidentali’s Karma is a tough task, though, and I suspect Sweden will find themselves on the podium – 4th or 5th at the lowest – but not number one. Robin finishing second at Eurovision on his second attempt to get there has a nice ring to it, and I think that would be a result gladly accepted by a country hungry to take their six wins to seven, but maybe not this soon after hosting. As for me, I’m unsurprisingly giving I Can’t Go On a freaking beautiful set of DOUZE POINTS!
My mum says… Even I’m biased when it comes to this one, since I was sitting right next to Jaz in Friends Arena when Robin won Melfest. Wiktoria was my personal pick to represent Sweden, so I’ve had to come to terms with I Can’t Go On going on (will jokes like that ever get old?) instead. Still, I can’t fault Robin or his act too much. His voice isn’t the strongest, especially at the start when he’s backstage – maybe waiting in the wings keeps the nerves higher than normal. But who’s going to be thinking about that when he’s dancing with four other handsome men on travelators, while performing such a catchy, hit-material song? It’s not a song of substance, but it isn’t meant to be and I don’t think every song should be. Sometimes you just want to listen to some fun music that makes you want to move (in my case, on solid flooring) and Sweden has given Eurovision 2017 an excellent example of that. I’ll be singing along to ICGO for months in my mind, and I reckon plenty of other people will be too. 8 points.
Sweden’s score 10.00
And just like that, another six songs bite the dust. Here’s today’s overall ranking (with a tie broken by yours truly because MY BLOG, MY RULES!!!):
- Sweden (10.00)
- Bulgaria (10.00)
- Italy (8.5)
- Serbia (8.00)
- France (7.5)
- Romania (5.5)
For once, it actually seems shocking that Sweden’s sitting on top of a Eurovision-related scoreboard, since Italy had the chance to push them out of the way. But Francesco’s topped so many polls and rankings already, he’s probably getting bored. You’re welcome for the change, Mr. Gabbani (and gorilla).
There are still 18 songs left to review here on EBJ, with just a few days until delegations arrive and rehearsals start in Kyiv. I’M SO EXCITED SLASH STRESSED! Next time, the spotlight will be on Armenia, Austria, Finland, Moldova, San Marino and Slovenia. Whether you love or hate what Artsvik, Nathan Trent, Norma John, Sunstroke Project, Valentina & Jimmie and Omar Naber are packing in their suitcases (song-wise, as their respective choices of underwear are another matter entirely) you won’t want to miss it!
Seriously. I’m guessing my mother’s reaction to Spirit of the Night will be priceless.
Hello! Or, if you don’t mind me greeting you in the languages of the countries being reviewed today: zdravo, bonjour, xαίρετε, cześć, buna and Привет!
Don’t worry…I won’t do that every time.
Yes, it’s finally ESC 2016 review time here on EBJ (they’ve arrived just as unfashionably late as I do to all professional and social events). If you haven’t met the jury members who will be joining me on the quest to critique and compile a full ranking of all 43 entries, head to the ‘Välkommen Aboard!’ page above, or click here if you’re too lazy to look for it. You may as well get to know the people about to rip your favourite songs to shreds a little better.
Although all of the jurors will be scoring all of the entries this year, only three of us will actually be reviewing each time (if you’re hopping off the train at Complication Station right now, I apologise). And so…
In this first installment of reviews, Rory, Wolfgang and I will be taking a look at/listen to Croatia, France, Greece, Poland, Romania and Russia – a.k.a. Nina, Amir, Argo, Michał, Ovidiu and Sergey. There are some hyperbolic highs and some low, low lows among the songs of these countries and artists – but which is which, and according to whom? Well, you’ll have to read on to find out.
Let’s get started!
Rory Croatia, you’ve sent some beautiful acts to Eurovision – Doris Dragović and Daniela to name but a couple – but in recent years, you’ve given us some of the most…”interesting” songs around, with a rapping granddad, ‘SALIBRAYYYYY’, and Nina Badrić dressed in an assortment of bin bags! So where have you been hiding potential like this? I am so smitten with Lighthouse, it’s unbelievable. Nina is a proven live singer, what with her experience on The Voice of Croatia, and although her look doesn’t exactly fit the typical Eurovision style, the song is easily going to make up for that. When I listen to the song, I can immediately think of the staging and how it’s going to look, with the cameras and everything. It’s a strong, Balkan song that for once didn’t come from the nostril of Željko Joksimović! This should easily sail through to the final (get it? I’m keeping up with the nautical theme!) and make it into the top 10 – and maybe it’ll give HRT the incentive to make The Voice into a national selection, so they can keep sending individual and adaptable artists to Eurovision.
Wolfgang I’m very happy that Croatia is back in Eurovision again this year, with an outstanding voice and a wonderful song. Nina’s voice is hauntingly brilliant, and the music reminds me of some of the good Irish entries of the 90s. It sounds original, a little Celtic and folky, and it is quite different to a lot of the other female electronic ballads we have this year. In addition to this, Lighthouse gives me the same vibes that some of Enya’s songs give me every time. Plus, it is a contemporary song in the likes of Faded by Alan Walker, which is a huge hit all over Europe this spring. I’m very excited about the staged “lighthouse” that we will hopefully see during her performance. Croatian ladies are the best at Eurovision…well, mostly (Severina not included). Great choice this year, Croatia, and lots of luck from Germany!
Jaz I’ve been through quite the thought process where this comeback track from Croatia is concerned. The first time I heard it, I detected traces of Emmelie de Forest, and that turned me right off (I’m not Only Teardrops’ biggest fan). On my second listen, I suddenly warmed to the Cranberries-meets-Corrs Celtic pop sound, because it’s a nostalgic throwback to the 90s while still feeling contemporary. The third time around, I realised just how much the chorus of Lighthouse mimics the chorus of Swedish superstar Zara Larsson’s Uncover (which I love) and mused to myself, ‘Is THAT what’s making this “now”?’. I won’t go on to tell you how I felt after every single subsequent play of the song, but I will tell you what I think of it at this point (since that’s the whole purpose of these reviews). As much as I’m irritated by the frail, ethereal sound of Nina’s voice, and as much as I detest songs that use lighthouses as metaphors in their lyrics (all the talk about light guiding people safely home and whatnot makes me want to deliberately steer my metaphorical ship into a cliff face so I don’t have to hear it any more), I do like this. The lyrics aren’t as lame as they could be; the pounding beat is hypnotic; the key change is impressive; and Nina does have the kind of vocal chops that suit a song of this genre. So, while Croatia may not be fielding my favourite song of the year (why they’re so high in the betting odds is a mystery to me) I am quite keen on Lighthouse.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 12
- Fraser 4
- James 10
- Jaz 7
- Martin 7
- Nick 4
- Penny 12
- Rory 12
- Wolfgang 10
Croatia’s EBJ Jury score is…8.67
Rory I’ve enjoyed the majority of French songs from the past few years (the exception being Sognu – what was that utter mess?!?) and this year is no different! Unhappy with their constant string of undeservedly low results, France has finally sent something that can actually be seen as radio-friendly! I enjoy the indie tones of J’ai Cherché, and the bilingual aspect of it means it will be a lot easier for the song to make a connection with a wider audience. However, this could end up being a double-edged sword, as the wrong sort of staging could ruin their chances. It’s been done before (Anggun, I’m looking at you…why GYMNASTS, of all things?). I’m not sure how it’s going to be on stage, as previous performances have been very bare and stripped back, but I’m open to being surprised. As long as Amir gives a strong performance, France will definitely be out of the bottom five!
Wolfgang I am a big fan of la France and their musical genre Variété Francaise-loving artists, like Patrick Fiori, Garou and Mickaël Miro. The French Eurovision artist for 2016, a.k.a. Amir, belongs in this category too, and he has got an excellent song in his luggage for Stockholm. J’ai Cherché is very catchy and contemporary, and it could be THE Eurovision summer hit of this year (at least I would love to hear it more often). As with Croatia, I am really happy that France has come again with a great song after four years of suffering over a ‘lowlight’ vocal performance, a horrible alternative song, a crazy fun entry and a boring lame lady ballad last year. But this year, France is back in the game, and it could become their Eurovision year. No other city in Europe can use such a big event like the ESC than Paris at the moment. Hopefully they go all the way with Amir – that would make me happy. Douze points d’Allemagne!
Jaz If there’s a Team ‘France Has Totally Been Robbed of Higher Rankings in Recent Eurovision Years’, then I’m on it. L’Amour Á La Française, Divine, Allez Ola Olé and Moustache all should have had more success than they did in my opinion (although in some cases, I get why they didn’t). I don’t want that same fate to befall J’ai Cherché, because I truly believe that if it doesn’t hit the heights of the top 10 in Stockholm, there will officially be something very wrong with the world (or some possible irregularities in the jury and/or televoting figures). Amir’s ESC effort is everything I appreciate about French pop wrapped up securely in a three-minute package, without being stereotypical (though that doesn’t give him the space to appear onstage sporting a Breton t-shirt and beret). It’s folk-inspired, but not stale like an old baguette; it’s fun, but takes itself seriously at the same time; it blends French and English seamlessly, making it the poster song for bilingual success at this year’s contest; and it’s irresistibly catchy (karaoke, anyone?). And then there’s Amir’s rugged French handsomeness, which is far removed from my beloved Måns Zelmerlöw’s clean-cut and beautifully buff exterior, but is somehow (almost) equally appealing. Basically, what hasn’t this entry got going for it? C’est magnifique, Mesdames et Messieurs…just don’t eff up the staging, France.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 10
- Fraser 10
- James 8
- Jaz 12
- Martin 10
- Nick 8
- Penny 10
- Rory 10
- Wolfgang 12
France’s EBJ Jury score is…10
Rory Believe it or not, this is first Greek Eurovision entry since Secret Combination that I’ve actually enjoyed *braces for the onslaught of ‘WHY DIDN’T YOU LIKE OPA?!’ comments*. Of course, I’m definitely partial to a bit of ethnicity, but if there’s a lack of authenticity, then you’re just as well to be Rodolfo Chikilicuatre! Argo has created a song that on first listen is quite…odd, but as it goes on, you start to get drawn into it, and by the end, you do feel yourself swaying with the off-beat rhythms. When I listen to Utopian Land, I get echoes of Björk’s Náttúra, which in itself is four minutes of off-beat rhythms and headbanging. I love the ethnicity of this song, and I think it’s a perfect way of describing Greek traditional-pop music. However, with the negative reception the song has received, I feel like people might not get on board with it, and Argo’s Utopian Land may become a DYStopia! I really hope not though.
Wolfgang Now we come to the “Land of Utopia” a.k.a. this year’s Greek entry. I am really biased about this song. On the one hand, I like the instruments used, and the sound is quite catchy, ethnic and original. But on the other hand, I don’t like the rap/spoken parts in the verses much, and the chorus is too repetitive for my ears. The next thing that strikes me is the terrible English the entry is sung in. Why don’t the artists sing in Greek instead of bad English? I’m absolutely not sure if Greece is able to qualify this year in their semi, since the quality of the songs is generally much higher compared to Vienna. I still like Argo’s artful video clip that reminds me a bit of Run, Boy, Run by Woodkid, which is amazing. And the song’s obviously better than the Dion-esque LLB from last year!
Jaz The last time Greece sent a group to Eurovision, everything about it was epic (and that’s if we’re talking about Koza Mostra, OR if you’d define Freaky Fortune feat. Riskykidd as a group). But the standard of their songs and their success on the scoreboard have both taken a hit lately, and I have to admit, I’m very ‘hmm…’ about Utopian Land. As with a whole bunch of 2016 songs, there are things I like and dislike about this one. I don’t mind the rap, since it tends to sound particularly badass in Greek; the chorus is somewhat catchy; and the ethnicity Argo is bringing to the table is appealing, given how little national identity can be heard among their fellow competitors. But overall, it’s a non-dynamic, non-event kind of entry, with lame English lyrics and far too much repetition. So I’m leaning towards a thumbs-down more than a thumbs-up, and I really think Greece will struggle to qualify with it (i.e. they’ll probably squeeze through in 10th place). You never know – it could be staged in such a way that it stuns us all into silence (and then we’d hear that sound that Dami Im’s on about). But I don’t think Greece can afford the amount of trampolines, confetti cannons and state-of-the-art projections required to make THAT happen.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 6
- Fraser 3
- James 3
- Jaz 5
- Martin 7
- Nick 8
- Penny 5
- Rory 10
- Wolfgang 4
Greece’s EBJ Jury score is…5.67
Rory SHOCK HORROR! MARGARET’S NOT GOING TO EUROVISION! It came as a shock to most Eurovision fans that Conchita’s Polish second-cousin-twice-removed Michał Szpak managed to triumph over Margaret – and Edyta Górniak – to win Krajowe Eliminacje. I have to say, I was expecting Margaret to win as she CLEARLY had the best song of the nine. But with Michał going instead, I’m not as disappointed as I thought I would be. His live vocals have shown that he can actually sing, and his look will easily make him stand out from the crowd. My one problem is that Color of Your Life is a ballad. A ballad in the first half of a semi that’s filled with other ballads. If it was more like Cool Me Down, it would help him be more individual and outstanding. I feel like this will bomb on the night, because it’ll get lost. If it does end up qualifying, we’ll probably see it in the same realms as Monika the year before. Poland, you should have sent Margaret.
Wolfgang To be honest, I wanted Poland’s greatest living singer – Edyta Górniak – for Eurovision 2016, and Margaret was my number two from the Polish national final. And it looked like there was a fight between those two female artists. But in the end, Michał Szpak won the ticket to Stockholm, to my surprise I must admit! But after just a few listens I am now totally won over by this song. It is a beautiful and timeless classic entry that easily could have been in any other ESC in the past. Every time I listen to Color of Your Life it grows on me and gives me goosebumps. The only thing I would change is Michał’s jacket – he looks like a circus ringmaster in it. He needs something cooler for his stage performance, but everything else is awesome, including his HAIR! I love it! I hope Poland will qualify. BTW, the “color(s) of my life” are midnight blue and orange. Man, I feel so Dutch this year.
Jaz Honestly, I’m more upset that Poland didn’t bring us My Słowianie the sequel for 2016 than upset that Margaret didn’t win their national final. Michał and his majestic mane can’t be compared to Cleo and Donatan (well, mainly just Cleo), but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Instead of butter-churning and heaving bosoms, he’s wearing his heart on his sleeve by offering us the sentimental (but not sickly-sweet), sing-along friendly semi-power ballad that is Color of Your Life. I’d say the same thing about this song’s lyrics as I did about Greece’s – they’re cringingly cliché at times (‘…ask your heart who you really are’…seriously? No originality points for you, Mr. Szpak). But that’s where I stop complaining on this one. I actually like it a lot, when I’m listening to it (when I’m not, I forget how much I enjoy it). There’s something about the chorus that speaks to me, saying ‘DAYUM, girl, that melody is super-smooth!’. And I take those words on board. I am concerned that Michał only gives us two choices when it comes to informing him what color/colour our lives are (neither of which are technically colours anyway), but I guess going through every hue in the Pantone range would have taken far longer than three minutes. So, will he bomb or be THE bomb in Stockholm? Fail or succeed, black or white? Given that I assumed Poland wouldn’t qualify last year, I’ll wait for the ESC version of his live performance prior to predicting that. But I’d happily see the country make their third consecutive final with this.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 8
- Fraser 7
- James 3
- Jaz 7
- Martin 8
- Nick 2
- Penny 6
- Rory 5
- Wolfgang 10
Poland’s EBJ Jury score is…6.22
Rory And so, from the songs I love/don’t mind to one I loathe. I didn’t really pay attention to the Romanian national selection, but what I gathered from it was two things: that Mihai will never do Eurovision again, and that Ovidiu Anton won…and I have to say, why this? It’s rock for starters, which is something I don’t listen to in the first place. Secondly, in the chorus, when he shouts ‘take a moment of SIIIILEEENCE’, he goes so off-key that dogs could probably hear his screams! I’m sorry Romania, but in the last few years you’ve given me no joy whatsoever in the songs you’ve picked. It’s just…..bleugh, for me. I’m sure it’ll qualify, just because it’s Romania and they have that 100% qualification record, but it’s gonna be like Miracle and finish nowhere near where people expect it to. Sorry! Maybe you should have a Moment of Silence for the places that Romania will never reach with this.
Wolfgang To get straight to the point with Romania in one word: HORRIBLE! Just horrible! I hate everything about the song and its stage performance. And I’m still not over Florena or Mihai not winning the Romanian national final. There was such a great line-up in Selecția Națională. I liked 6 of the 12 entries from their semi final much, and two others were quite good. But Romania took the decision out of the remaining entries I did not like. To me, that was the ‘supergau’ of this year’s national final season, even worse than Denmark. The song sounds completely dated to me like something that Belarus, Georgia or Russia would have sent in the early 2000s. And that theatrical performance à la ‘Lord of the Rings’ joined by a “Lord of the Dance” is so awful, I did not enjoy watching it. And why did they call it Moment of Silence? It’s so loud, there won’t be a single moment of silence for the whole three minutes (unless you push the mute button). To me, it looks and sounds like a formulaic Meat Loaf tribute. Normally I like Romanian entries at Eurovision much, but this year they belong to my bottom five songs, and I instantly hope they won’t qualify with this terrible song. For me, it’s one of the clear non-qualifiers of 2016 and a BIG ZERO from me. That’s absolutely not what I want to see on Eurovision stage.
Jaz The minute I discovered Moment of Silence was representing Romania, I asked myself ‘Would I like this if it was the closing song of the first act of a Phantom of the Opera-type musical with a residency on the West End?’. The answer is no, but at least it would belong in that environment. As a Eurovision entry, I like it even less. Pompous, melodramatic and dated dirge performed by a gaggle of Game of Thrones extras is not the kind of thing I wave a flag for. I adored De La Capăt, so this is a real step south for Romania as far as I’m concerned. I’d even rather have Paula and Ovi (plus cameo from computer-generated Paula) back for a third try than sit through Ovidiu’s “moment of silence” (as Wolfgang pointed out, that’s hardly am accurate description of the song). In spite of all of the above, I’m a generous judge and I wouldn’t give Romania nothing, points-wise. But if we were handing out fruit baskets or gift vouchers, it’d be a different story.
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 5
- Fraser 2
- James 0
- Jaz 2
- Martin 7
- Nick 3
- Penny 7
- Rory 3
- Wolfgang 0
Romania’s EBJ Jury score is…3.22
Rory *BRACE YOURSELVES FOR A RANT!!* And so we come to the worst one of the lot for me (though not in the whole group of songs – that’s reserved for Rykka and Serhat!). I feel incredibly let down by Sergey Lazarev’s Eurovision effort. In the teaser he published a couple of days before the public release of You Are The Only One, I was impressed by the video production, the high-tech studio, and most of all, the intro to the song, which hinted at it being an alternative, emphatic, atmospheric song (which is right up my alley). Then the song was released…and it was schlager. SCHLAGER. WHY SCHLAGER!?!?! I was left cringing for three minutes, and at the end, I was like ‘Ehh…just eh…I don’t…WHAT!?”. I loathe this sort of 90s Eurodance beat; it’s so outdated, and though people can hate me for all eternity, I’m going to agree with Christer Björkman and say that schlager should be left in the 90s/00s where it belongs. Music has changed, Russia. So should you. And yes, Sergey is very good-looking, but that doesn’t make up for the song, OKAY?! *sigh…rant over*.
Wolfgang I can’t say that I’m disappointed with the Russian entry this year, because Russia meets my expectations exactly with Sergey Lazarev, sending one of their biggest national stars again. Of course, it all smells like the (formulaic) ‘Dima Bilan’ winning package from 2008. The ingredients here are almost the same: you take a big national star, some internationally-recognised songwriters and producers, a hit-like song that sounds so Swedish (more than any song from Melodifestivalen this year) and a performance that almost looks like a Måns Production (but isn’t!). And ready is the Eurovision soup! Let’s face it: Russia are trying very hard this year. They want to win again, under all circumstances and no matter what the cost. But do I want them to win? The answer is ‘No’! The good thing about Russia’s entry this year is that they don’t annoy me again with another ‘love, peace and understanding’ message song (lesson learned?) and Sergey’s video clip is really stunning to watch. If he manages to stage only about 30% of what we see in his video with his acting and live singing abilities, then it can easily be the winning performance of the grand final. On the other hand, the song lacks any kind of emotion for me. It’s formulaic, radio-friendly, sterile and very stereotypical, and it does not touch me at all. Obviously it will be a clear qualifier and yet another top five placement, but here I would go for 3rd or 4th place and hopefully not the no. 1! And another last thing that strikes me: the running gag in Germany about the Russian entry is that the performance will be “sehr gay” this year, and I would add “faux gay” to it. Well, that is what Russians are probably known for at the Eurovision, but it always means a lack of authenticity, and that’s not win-worthy in my opinion.
Jaz If you’d asked me to review You Are The Only One right after my first listen, I would have let rip (kind of like Rory did). After all, I had been expecting something that sounded as cutting-edge as Sergey’s video clip looks, rather than a stale throwback to Eurovision circa 2006 (and let me remind you that a man with a mullet, also from Russia, managed to come second that year). Meanwhile, everyone else was drooling over the song and/or Sergey’s various shirtless shots, which made me wonder whether there was something wrong with me, or with them. The solution? Taking another listen to the song – a.k.a. giving it an andra chansen. And, well…I suddenly saw the light. Or at least, why the bookies universally had and still have Russia in their top spot. I’m not denying that YATOO is dated, and that the songwriters could have written it more into 2016 if they wanted to keep up with the Latvias of the contest. But damn, did they know what they were doing anyway. This is precisely thought-out, clinical and slickly-produced schlager dance, and it is dangerous. If Sergey’s vocals are shipshape, and his staging is as eye-catching as that video (and we know that Russia always have their staging under control), he will certainly be the ‘only one’ to beat. There’s a power in the unrelenting energy and instant chorus of the song that makes it memorable, even in studio – and when paired with visuals that give it a perfectly-packaged kind of feel (á la Heroes) it becomes one step of a winning recipe. Oh, and thank the Lordi it’s not another preachy peace ballad!
The EBJ Jury says…
- Ali 7
- Fraser 12
- James 6
- Jaz 10
- Martin 8
- Nick 6
- Penny 7
- Rory 4
- Wolfgang 7
Russia’s EBJ Jury score is…7.44
And just like that – after several hours of feverish reading on your part – we’re done for the day. And, with all of the above said and done, the leaderboard currently looks like this:
- France (10)
- Croatia (8.67)
- Russia (7.44)
- Poland (6.22)
- Greece (5.67)
- Romania (3.22)
That makes France the très convincing champion of this round…but it’s early days. Can Amir hold on to the top spot? Only time, plus 37 more reviews, will tell!
What do you think of the Part 1 reviews and rankings? Who took the words right out of your mouth, and who should wash theirs out with soap for daring to defile an amazing song? Which of today’s six countries deserves douze points in your opinion? Let us know below.
In the next episode of EBJ Jury judgments, a trio of Aussies (#accident) – including none other than my mother – will have their say on Belarus, Cyprus, Georgia, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland. It’s going to be interesting, to say the least! Come together and join us because we are one?
Being all about that bass is so passé. Right now, at least within the Eurovision sphere, it’s all about those Eurovision 2015 reviews. That’s why I barely let you finish reading one installment before I publish another. Case in point: this is Part 4. Yep, we’re halfway through already!
Under the musical microscope today are Sweden, the UK, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Romania; and on the EBJ Jury today are an Australian, another Australian, and me – also an Australian. Pay careful attention to how our points stack up, because that might give you an insight into where the Aussie points will go come May 19th, 21st and 23rd. Or not. Actually, that’s very unlikely. Forget I said anything, okay?
TODAY’S EBJ JURY
Mrs. Jaz: She’s back! Louisa Baileche lookalike and mother of me, Mrs. Jaz refused to stop her review count at five. Hang on a second…no, that was me. I refused to let her stop at five. Anyway, she’s joining the EBJ Jury for the second and final time today to offer opinions from a non-fan, outside-of-the-bubble perspective. How she rates the entries from Sweden etc could be a gauge as to how they’ll fare in the final (if they make it that far) when all of the casual viewers drop by and vote for the songs that make the best first impressions.
Fraser McEachern: “Hello Europe, this is Fraser from Adelaide calling! As one half of the the record-breaking escTMI Eurovision review show (well, in our minds anyway) I have loved the Eurovision Song Contest since I first laid eyes on it back in 1998. I recall turning the TV channel over to see Dana International performing Diva, and from that moment, I was hooked – and I haven’t missed a contest since! My love for Eurovision culminated in Loreen’s 2012 win, which led escTMI to attend the show in Malmö in 2013. We loved it so much that this year, we’re heading to Vienna to join in the fun all over again. My favourite Eurovision songs of all time tend to be the same ones, just in different positions. At the moment, #1 is Invincible by Carola, #2 is Quedate Conmigo by Pastora Soler, #3 is Je N’ai Que Mon Âme by Natasha St-Pier, #4 is Je T’adore by Kate Ryan, and #5 is Rise Like A Phoenix by Conchita Wurst. As I said, these change regularly. However, there have been many brilliant songs (and remixes) over the years that I have become addicted to!”
Jasmin Bear: “Yes, it’s me again. Just face it, I’m not going anywhere! I’m also not going to tell you a Fascinating Eurovision-Related Story Masquerading As A Regular Bio today, as I’m still trying to figure out which one I should publish next: a) a tale of all the times I thought I heard a Eurovision song playing in a shop but it turned out to be something else, and the ensuing disappointment; or b) a three-hundred-word mini essay weighing up the pros and cons of Dana International’s Gaultier fixation. They’re both so very scintillating, I can’t choose between them.”
We’re a fabulous trio, as far as I’m concerned (in fact, I think we should form an Alcazar-esque pop threesome and represent Australia at Eurovision next year, should the opportunity arise). I’m sure you’ll let us know if you agree or disagree with that once you’ve checked out our views on Måns, Electro Velvet, Loïc, Marta & Václav and Voltaj (and their songs, obviously). Let’s get started!
Heroes by Måns Zelmerlöw
Mrs. Jaz: The first thing I thought when this song twanged into gear was ‘Have Mumford & Sons defected to Sweden for some reason?’. The folky/country intro reminds me very strongly of their kind of music. Then, things swiftly took a poppier turn and became anthemic and uplifting. This song boasts great choruses with a slick production sound and simple but effective lyrics that had me singing along by the second run-through. The remaining lyrics aren’t the world’s greatest, but that hardly matters when every other aspect is much more than mediocre. The staging visuals take the package up a notch, and I have to admit, the visual of Måns (he has a great voice and everything, but LEATHER PANTS!) helps too…7 points.
Fraser: I had big expectations of Måns in the lead-up to his performance in Melodifestivalen, and for the first few seconds of Heroes, I thought ‘Crap! What has he done? It’s a country song!’. Moments later, I realised he was just channeling the Avicii-esque sound that is big across the world at the moment, and that it’s a hook to get us into the fabulous pop song that follows. ‘We are the heroes of our time’ speaks volumes to a bit of a trend in Eurovision songs of late focusing on positive messages (think Rise Like A Phoenix and this year’s Beauty Never Lies) which I think will help it resonate with the voting public. If it doesn’t, Måns’ leather pants and background animations surely will! I love this song and I have a feeling it will do exceptionally well in the contest. DOUZE POINTS!!!
Jaz: BACK OFF, MUM. I SAW HIM FIRST. Ahem. Forget me being biased about Australia – it’s when I start talking about Sweden that my impartiality goes flying out the window with the greatest of ease. Despite my lack of Swedish roots, I feel particularly attached to the home of Melodifestivalen, and cannot help supporting them no matter what they send to Eurovision. Fortunately, for the past five years running Sweden has chosen my favourite Melfest entry to represent them in the ESC – so my fervent flag-waving has been out of genuine appreciation for their song. And lo and behold, they’ve just done it for the sixth time in a row. Just when I thought Sanna Nielsen’s 7th-time-lucky win couldn’t be equaled in terms of how much it excited me, Måns Zelmerlöw goes and triumphs on his third Melfest attempt. I’ve been a Måns fan since the Cara Mia days, but I always felt like that song, and its follow-up Hope and Glory, were a bit too schlager to succeed in a contest that was outgrowing that style. Not to mention the fact that they required dance moves that came at the expense of Måns’ vocals. Heroes is different. It’s more dynamic, more accessible (i.e. not overstuffed with schlager) and more of an anthem. Plus, the intriguing countrified intro is not only trendy, but gives Måns a chance to focus on his vocals (with a little attention reserved for the cartoon man). And his vocals absolutely soar on this infectious track that is ideally suited to raising the roof off an arena. His entry has everything going for it, even with the controversy over the graphics (which the delegation seems to be taking as a chance to make the staging even better) and Eurovision 2015 is Sweden’s to lose as a result. DOUZE POINTS!!!
EBJ Jury Score: 10.33
Still In Love With You by Electro Velvet
Mrs. Jaz: Aaaand straight to the 1920s we go, with a song that would definitely be on the soundtrack of a movie entitled Flappers Go Mental. To quote Kath and Kim (hoping that someone outside of Australia will get the reference) this is different, it’s unusual! I won’t say it’s noice too, although the love story is cute, if a little too sweet and mushy at times. I like how unashamedly retro the song is, and the fact that it’s been infused with some contemporary sounds. But even so, that cosmic-sounding bit caught me off guard – it’s a weird inclusion. As a duet, Bianca and Alex work well together as they Charleston and scat their way through some amusing lyrics. This entry isn’t perfect, but it’s endearing and energetic, and the UK expat in me is giving it 6 points.
Fraser: Unlike with Sweden, my expectations for the UK are always low. They are so erratic with the quality of the songs they send, it’s just plain confusing. Enter Electro Velvet – wow! I had my toes tapping and my spirit fingers shaking (I’m not scatting for anyone). The video is rich and fun, and I have enjoyed the unique sound each time I have listened to it. Today, however, I’ve found the recorded version on Spotify, and it sounds like they have slowed it down by a third. I can only hope this is not what they will perform in Vienna [UPDATE: Fortunately, it isn’t]. I’ll give them some points for trying, but it’s all a guess until we get to see it performed live. 6 points.
Jaz: The first time I heard this song, I literally facepalmed. I thought the 1920s theme was cringey, the scatting was awful, and that no song that makes mention of ‘nasty diseases’ should ever have the chance to take to the Eurovision stage. All in all, I was pretty close to grabbing the UK by the shoulders and shaking them violently, while politely enquiring at the top of my lungs as to what the bloody hell they were thinking, voluntarily choosing to have this nightmare represent them on an international stage. But then I listened to it again, and don’t ask me how or why, but I found myself digging the ridiculous trip back in time. It is bonkers, but it definitely livens up a contest full of songs on the opposite end of the spectrum – i.e. down-tempo and vanilla. Alex and Bianca look and sound great together (I’m choosing to ignore the reports of lacking chemistry from those who’ve watched the pair’s live performances) and I love the parts they play that correspond with the lyrics. Competing against angsty, moody duos such as Stig & Elina and Mørland & Debrah Scarlett, Electro Velvet’s effervescence will be welcomed. Having said that, I do like the Estonian and Norwegian entries more than Still In Love With You, and I suspect both of those countries will leave Vienna with a better placing than the UK’s. But first impressions never last, and as I really like this song now, I hope it gets somewhere on the scoreboard. 8 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 6.67
Rhythm Inside by Loïc Nottet
Mrs. Jaz: I’ve been informed that I’m the 987426th person to say that this is very Lorde – but there’s nothing wrong with that! There is so much to enjoy where this entry’s concerned. The music and lyrics are really good, and the overall ‘sound’ really draws you in and takes you on an interesting journey. I wanted to keep listening (not the case with some of the others I’ve heard) and I would be happy to listen to it again. It’s my favourite of all the songs Jaz has forced me chosen for me to review! 10 points.
Fraser: Wow, wow and wow! I can completely understand why Loïc did so well on The Voice in Belgium. This song is not normally my sort of thing, but I really like it. He has soul and sauciness in his voice, and teamed with this song, I think he will be able to deliver some really good points for his country. Even if he doesn’t, we will keep watching the video – it’s hot! 10 points.
Jaz: Belgium is one of those countries that fail to impress year after year, making the majority of us think ‘Why bother?’ (or, in last year’s case ‘Why Mother?). Then, seemingly out of nowhere, they strike gold and send something epic. They most recently did so in 2013, putting their faith in teenage The Voice winner Roberto Bellarosa, who was duly rewarded with a place in the final, then a result that was one of the best Belgium had seen in a long time. In 2015, they’ve selected…well, a teenage alum of The Voice. And Loïc Nottet, as the alum is known, is peddling a freaking fantastic song, just like Roberto – only Rhythm Inside is superior to Love Kills. This is one of a bunch of this year’s songs that wouldn’t be out of place on the radio right now, and not just on mainstream stations. It’s a little alternative, but it still possesses so much of what attracts me to a pop song – infectiousness, pared-back verses that contrast with big choruses, lyrics that may make little sense but are in no way lame or cheesy…it’s all there. And, like Fraser, I am left with no questions as to why Loïc had such a great run on The Voice. His pipes are as unique and enjoyable to listen to as his song. He may be just nineteen years old, but so was Lena when she won Eurovision in 2010 (and do I even have to mention Sandra Kim?). I’m not saying Belgium’s going to win the contest. That would be a huge ask, even if Loïc locked Måns in the Stadthalle basement on final night. All I’m saying is that I reckon their song is the bomb, and so is their artist – and that’s a recipe for success. I desperately want this to make the final, and as the overall package is stronger than the one Belgium put forward in Malmö (and with this being a weaker year than 2013) if they do qualify, a top 10 finish is within their reach. That, for Belgium, is more or less a win anyway. 10 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 10.00
Hope Never Dies by Marta Jandová & Václav Noid Bárta
Mrs. Jaz: Well, this is all terribly, terribly dramatic, isn’t it? What a trés tragique, OTT ballad it is. In spite of all that drama, it didn’t really do anything for me – I spent most of the three minutes waiting for the END of the three minutes, which I’m guessing isn’t a promising sign in terms of potential Eurovision success. Just thinking about it makes me want to yawn, actually. I know they’re trying to tell us that hope never dies, but mine definitely did! I hope someone’s in the wings come contest time, ready to drag this pair off stage with one of those giant hooks reserved for drunk, off-key karaoke singers. 3 points.
Fraser: This is stating the obvious, but it’s very musical theatre. I love musicals, but I don’t really like this one. I don’t think their voices work well together – his is so deep and manly, hers is less so. Not for me, sorry. Czech Republic, you won’t be troubled in 2016. 4 points.
Jaz: The Phantom of the Opera is heeeeeeeere…competing in Eurovision 2015, apparently. He’s buffed up, gotten some ink and no longer requires his white mask, but based on the melancholy, theatrical sound of Hope Never Dies, it’s him, alright. Now, don’t get me wrong: I too love musicals, and the actual Phantom of the Opera soundtrack is as good as they come (thanks to Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber). But this song is so painfully ESC circa 2005, and so over-dramatic, that it doesn’t compare favourably. I do like it more at this point than I did after my first listen, but there’s no aspect that really grabs me. Nothing makes me love it. The Czech Republic hasn’t returned to Eurovision with the bang I was hoping for, so I think they’ll remain one of the weakest-performing participants when the 60th contest has concluded. It’s a shame, as it may dissuade them from trying again next year. Still, I won’t be sorry to see them left behind in their semi-final. 4 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 3.67
De La Capăt (All Over Again) by Voltaj
Mrs. Jaz: Nice…very nice. This makes for a soothing listen, and I got a lot of emotion from it without having a clue what the subject matter was. I was curious about the topic at hand though, so I was pleasantly surprised by the language switch. The English part may not communicate the intended meaning explicitly (I’ve been schooled on that meaning by a certain someone) but it gave me a better understanding, and I think it will help the non-Romanian speakers of Europe connect with the song too. 8 points.
Fraser: I don’t mind this one. It’s a nice, mid-tempo song that will do something around the middle of the field in the contest. It doesn’t really go anywhere as a song, but it’s nice enough to hum along to. I am happy that they appear to be singing mostly in Romanian in the competition, then the end in English with that hint of ESL in his voice! 8 points.
Jaz: I’ll get straight to the point (which is something I rarely do): I’m in love with this. As soon as I heard Voltaj were the favourites to win the Romanian final, with a song that had already been a domestic hit, I had to give it a listen. After all, that was the case when Mandinga won the same NF in 2012, and Zaleilah was amazing. I had high hopes for what was then known as De La Capăt, and they were exceeded. This song is beautiful. You definitely don’t need to speak Romanian to know that there’s a message here; or to enjoy how nicely the song’s been constructed, with a lovely minimalism to the verses. You wouldn’t think Romania would go for minimalism of any kind based on the ostentatious entries they’ve been selecting recently – Miracle, It’s My Life, and even Zaleilah – but it’s great to see them opt for a change of pace. I’m very glad Voltaj are taking a bilingual version of their song to the ESC, rather than the fully-English one. Both versions are surprisingly good, but Romanian is so well-suited to music (and native tongues are so sparing in this year’s contest) that I think they made a good choice. With Romania’s 100% qualification record, I’d have no worries about Voltaj making it out of their semi if it wasn’t for one thing – lead singer Călin’s vocals, specifically during the national final. Considering how long his band has been around, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was having an off night. If so, and the staging is simplistic enough to allow the song to shine, Romania should find themselves in the final. Unfortunately, though, I’ll be surprised if De La Capăt (All Over Again) outdoes last year’s tacky, try-hard Miracle. 10 points.
EBJ Jury Score: 8.67
Well, that’s another round of highs and lows taken care of. But just how high were the highs, and how low were the lows? Here’s a recap in case you’ve got an incredibly short memory, and/or you’re too lazy to scroll back up and check.
- Sweden (10.33)
- Belgium (10.00)
- Romania (8.67)
- United Kingdom (6.67)
- Czech Republic (3.67)
Congratulations and jubilations go to Sweden, sitting pretty (so very pretty, ifyaknowwhatimean) on top of this party of five. Commiserations go to the Czech Republic, whose 5th place here will probably be hailed as a raging success after they’ve finished 16th in their semi final (having beaten nobody but San Marino).
Drop by again in a few days’ time as Matt – Fraser’s escTMI co-host – and Rory from ESC Views return to review Malta, Georgia, Lithuania, Albania and Spain. If you’re lucky, I might throw in that mini essay I mentioned earlier too.
In the meantime, why not revisit the first three installments of the Viennese Verdicts?
- Part 1 feat. Russia, Austria, France, Ireland and Serbia
- Part 2 feat. The Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Iceland and Switzerland
- Part 3 feat. Cyprus, Poland, Italy, Montenegro and Armenia
And don’t forget to let the EBJ Jury know how you’d rank today’s scrutinised songs. Sweden may be on top with us, and in the betting odds – but who’s your favourite of the five?
We all know Eurovision is a song contest, right?
Well, partly, anyway. I’m sorry for using such aggressive capitals to inform you of this, but if Eurovision was just a song contest, it would be a radio-only affair. Either that or every audience member and viewer at home would be required by law to wear a Donny Montell blindfold for the entire show.
That’s right – it’s a show. There are visuals. There are performances. There are vocals, costumes, props and pyrotechnics (good, bad and badder) that we all love to dissect over social media. Eurovision is both a song and a performance contest, particularly in this day and age. Do you think Ukraine would have come 4th in 2011 had it not been for Lady Dracula, the renowned sand artist? If people weren’t voting for the sand, it may well have been the sand that made them remember Mika Newton and Angel. Even I, as an Angel lover, can vouch for that. If a song is a bit weak, there are few of us who haven’t noted that it will need something special onstage to qualify. The performance matters, people!
So in honour of that, I’ve compiled a list of my favourites from recent history – the performances where clever props were used, vocals were faultless, choreography was mind-blowing, costumes were bang-on and/or the charisma of the artist was second to none. These entries weren’t all success stories, but they floated my boat. Prepare for a sickening amount of gushing as you read through.
Fairytale – Alexander Rybak (Norway 2009)
Kicking off my list (quite literally) is the runaway, record-breaking winner of Year Moscow and his amazing trio of dancers (that’s where the literal kicking comes in). Not to mention his two stellar backing vocalists, dapper waistcoat and supreme violin-miming abilities. I have to admit, I didn’t see Norway as an obvious winner at the time, what with a generally high standard of performances all round and particularly stiff competition from the likes of Iceland, Turkey and even *gasp* the UK. But looking back, I can see how they managed to destroy the other 41 entries. The choreography of both the dancers and backing singers, plus Alex’s boyish charm, polished up their three minutes so much so they simply outshined everyone else.
Taken By A Stranger – Lena (Germany 2011)
What I loved most about Lena’s title-defending appearance was how much of a contrast it was to her winning one a year earlier. Back then, she’d been an unknown, inexperienced 19-year-old who had a mighty fine pop song, and the gift of dancing so awkwardly that it was somehow endearing, up her LBS (little black sleeve). That Lena was cute and ditsy. The 2011 version was nothing of the sort. She strutted out on to that stage looking like a sexpot (whatever that is) and owned a dark and mysterious performance perfectly suited to her second Eurovision song. From the costume, to the dancers (again with the dancers!) to the moody lighting and that onscreen glass-shatter, this was a sophisticated show that proved Miss Meyer-Landrut had grown up.
Eastern European Funk – InCulto (Lithuania 2010)
Now for something I wouldn’t dream of calling ‘sophisticated’, but would call ‘extremely well-executed fun’. Say what you will about InCulto, you can’t deny they sounded brilliant live, especially when they were making music with their mouths one minute and harmonising like champions the next. That was the credibility factor taken care of. The fun comes in the form of the catchy song, instruments made out of secondhand gym mats, and the sight of five grown men ripping off their trousers to reveal sequined short-shorts. You couldn’t ask for a much better opening for a semi-final, and I think it’s a shame this didn’t squeeze into the final.
Lejla – Hari Mata Hari (Bosnia & Herzegovina 2006)
A performance doesn’t have to be OTT to get attention. And so it was that no amount of pyrotechnics, costume changes or Svetlana Loboda brand Hell Machines could have made this one from our dearly departed B & H any more magical. It was subtle body movements instead of dance, and that stunning starlit background, that made me feel like I’d just witnessed something special – something that maybe I’d end up writing about on The Greatest ESC Blog In The World one day. Well, I was half right. I’m sure the fact that Lejla is one of my all-time favourite entries makes me a little biased here, but I honestly think this performance was perfection.
Let Me Try – Luminita Anghel & Sistem (Romania 2005)
This is another song I’m mad about (and so was Romania evidently, since they sent it again in 2006) but it’s possible that I love the ‘industrial chic’ staging a bit more. Luminita’s killer vocal and general bad-ass commandment of the stage was the foundation – the batter, if you will – of a successful recipe, but the icing on the cake was most definitely all the banging and grinding that went on. My favourite part is when Luminita gets in on the action, but that ever-present element of danger was pretty exciting too. If I remember correctly, a few of Kiev’s bigwigs got their knickers in a knot over the flying sparks…but apparently relaxed enough to allow Ruslana to open the final with a gigantic blowtorch. Go figure.
Show Me Your Love – Tina Karol (Ukraine 2006)
The Ukrainians know how Eurovision should be done. I’m just saying that to prepare you for the multiple Ukrainian acts you’re yet to encounter on this list. The first is the lovely Tina Karol, who wore the most magnificent pair of boots I had ever laid eyes on in Athens, and who had an attractive and well-dressed posse on hand to dance around her a) with tambourines, b) without tambourines, c) with detachable skirts, and d) without detachable skirts. Oh, and e) with skipping ropes. This performance had it all! Tina was partly responsible for that, looking so hot and singing her guts out.
Suus – Rona Nishliu (Albania 2012)
Here’s a woman who was almost entirely responsible for making her country’s performance great. Rona of the Gravity-Defying Dreadlocks found some way of nailing the emotion required by Suus every single time, complete with an expression of intense anguish throughout and that clincher of a sob at the end. As a result, I couldn’t tear my eyes away from her (although that could have been something to do with that infamous outfit). I would also like to congratulate the well-timed lighting person for coordinating the dramatic red glow with the music. A virtual high five from me to you.
Shady Lady – Ani Lorak (Ukraine 2008)
And so begins the Ukrainian domination. Ani Lorak’s performance was another in which absolutely every element was on point. Allow me to demonstrate (kinda): she looked uh-maaaayzing; her vocals were excellent, and would be even for someone standing still; the choreography was in total sync with the lyrics and music of Shady Lady; there was that nifty light box that was useful for silhouettes, posing in front of and climbing on top of, and even though it was a big prop it wasn’t too flashy; and, Ani gave it 110% of her energy. I am one of the party who believe Ukraine should have taken out the contest in Belgrade, which says a lot because I am also one of the party who LOVE Dima Bilan.
Sweet People – Alyosha (Ukraine 2010)
Knock, knock! Who’s there? Oh, it’s Ukraine again. This time, it’s their jaw-dropper of 2010, a relatively pared-back performance (by Ukrainian standards, anyway) that made a massive impact. I don’t think many people were enthused by Sweet People when it was internally selected, especially after two songs had come and gone before it. I certainly wasn’t. But this was a song that thrived on being performed live, and the way it was presented changed everything. Alyosha appeared on that big stage all by herself, dressed in a fabulously weird getup, and proceeded to belt out her song like nobody had ever belted one before, accompanied only by flashing lights and the deft application of a wind machine. Nothing else was required to make this incredible.
Wild Dances – Ruslana (Ukraine 2004)
She won the contest in ’04, and now she tops my list of the greatest Eurovision performances in recent history. The staging of Ruslana’s Wild Dances has become something of a model for the perfect balance of…well…IT ALL. For me, it was at a level that made all of the other performances look a little dodgy (except for Lane Moje, of course). From the opening horns to the discarding of fur capes; from the fierce Xena costumes to Ruslana getting down with her backup dancers; from the whip-cracking to that final pose, it couldn’t have been done any better. This was one of the most deserved victories ever, and I’m yet to come across anyone who thinks another song should have won.
Do you think these performances deserve a belated round of applause? If not, which ones would make your list?
PS – UPDATE! The results of last week’s Big 6 poll are in, and here they are.
Have your votes predicted what will happen to the auto-finalists in Malmö? In a mere eight weeks time, we’ll find out…
At last, a Junior contest I can look back on knowing I was watching the year it took place!
Yes, 2006 was the year I discovered Eurovision, and I haven’t looked back since (which kind of contradicts what I just said about looking back, but you get my drift).
Being my first, I’ve always thought of this JESC as one of the best. The quality was high, the talent was impressive, and the theme music kicked butt.
Welcome to a Bucharest recap, put together by somebody who’s probably a little biased…
When: 2nd December, 2006
Where: Sala Polivalentă, Bucharest, Romania
Motto: ‘Let the music play’
Hosts: Andreea Marin Bănică & Ioana Ivan
Debutants: 3 – Portugal, Serbia, Ukraine
Returnees: 1 – Cyprus
Withdrawals: 5 – Denmark, Latvia, Norway, Serbia & Montenegro, United Kingdom
Interval acts: Ksenia Sitnik and a song and dance medley
First place: Russia
Last place: Macedonia
Most douze points: 7 – Russia
Portugal/ Deixa-Me Sentir by Pedro Madeira
Cyprus/ Agoria Koritsia by Luis Panagiotou & Christina Christofi
Netherlands/ Goed by Kimberley
Romania/ Povestea Mea by New Star Music
Ukraine/ Khlopchyk Rock ‘n’ Roll by Nazar Slyusarchuk
Spain/ Te Doy Mi Voz by Dani
Serbia/ Učimo Strane Jezike by Neustrašivi Učitelji Stranih Jezika
Malta/ Extra Cute by Sophie Debattista
Macedonia/ Vljubena by Zana Aliu
Sweden/ Det Finaste Någon Kan Få by Molly Sandén
Greece/ Den Peirazei by Chloe Boleti
Belarus/ Noviy Den by Andrey Kunets
Belgium/ Een Tocht Door Het Donker by Thor!
Croatia/ Lea by Mateo Đido
Russia/ Vesinniy Jazz by Tolmachevy Twins
- Russia – 154
- Belarus – 129
- Sweden – 116
- Spain – 91
- Serbia – 81
- Romania – 80
- Belgium – 71
- Cyprus – 58
- Ukraine – 58
- Croatia – 50
- Malta – 48
- Netherlands – 44
- Greece – 35
- Portugal – 22
- Macedonia – 14
My top 5…
Sweden – this country hasn’t put a foot wrong in JESC for a while (in terms of my taste, if not in results) and it all started with Molly. Her ballad is one of my all-time favourite Junior entries.
Serbia – with all the counting and gratuitous language-switching, this reminds me of when I watched Sesame Street last week…er, I mean, when I was a kid. And I love it! Bouncy, catchy fun.
Romania – one of my strongest memories of ’06 is what I used to think of as ‘The Harry Potter/Spiderman Song’. That does sum it up quite well, methinks.
Spain – as far as I’m concerned, Spain had the magic touch when it came to JESC. Their string of one amazing songs sadly ended with Dani’s in Bucharest, but at least they finished on a high.
Netherlands – I usually like the retro ballad-type songs the Netherlands send almost every year, and this was no exception. It’s one of those you don’t expect to do well, but you can’t help having a fondness for. By ‘you’, I mean ‘I’.
Sweden – I wish I could say Molly was talentless, since she’s already got looks and personality going for her. But she’s as vocally wunderbar now as she was in 2006, damn it.
Russia – FYI Jedward, these twins could have sung the pants off you when they were barely out of nappies.
Netherlands – Kimberley is like a younger, less powerful version of Edsilia Rombley. That’s a good thing, by the way. I think Edsilia-level growling on the JESC stage could have been intimidating for the young ‘uns in the audience.
Greece – I’m not a huge fan of the song, but I do think Chloe’s a strong vocalist.
Ukraine – commendable, apart from a few brief moments where Nazar was touched by the Curse of Puberty now known as the Dorijan Dlaka Effect.
Macedonia – it kind of looked like Picasso’s crepe paper interpretation of the Lithuanian flag, but Zana’s dress was certainly eye-catching. There’s nothing wrong with wearable art, IMO.
Russia – cute! I can’t help being reminded of the apple skirt Laka’s sister wore for Bosnia in Belgrade.
Romania – with a song like this, you’ve got to be literal with your costumes. You know, just in case someone misses the constant references to Harry Potter and co.
Sweden – simple and pretty. Bonus points for not plumping for yards of floaty, transparent chiffon.
Netherlands – Kimberley rocked neutrals while her backing dancers tossed their skirts around like nobody’s business.
My bottom 5…
Malta – please note, this is the only one I actually hate with a passion. Extra cute? More like extra, EXTRA irritating.
Greece – not bad, just boring.
Croatia – as a Junior rock song, Lea could be a lot worse. But it comes across a little lame when compared to Croatia’s first few entries.
Cyprus – this is catchy, but it feels too ‘big Eurovision circa 1995’.
Ukraine – guilty pleasure alert!
It was too hard to bag five acts for underperforming vocally. All I could come up with was…
Belarus – like Ksenia Sitnik before him, Andrey was squeakier than a rubber duck.
Macedonia – let’s just say if you leave a can of Coke open for too long, it’ll lose its fizz.*
* I mean she was a bit flat.
Ukraine – Elvis may have left the building, but it seems his wardrobe did not.
Croatia – double denim can be done well (see Spain’s Dani for evidence) but not like this.
Belarus – did Andrey actually wear the same costume as Mateo? Give or take a few iron-on motifs? Well, sharing is caring.
How did you rate Bucharest? What were your favourite/least favourite moments?
Where: Riga, Latvia
What: Don’t Break My Heart by Nicola
If you ask a fan, a hater, and someone who thinks Eurovision is a not-for-profit charity organisation what a typical contest song is like, you’ll get very different answers. But among all the gushing, expletives and/or quizzical looks, you’ll probably hear one adjective more than once (ironically) and that’s ‘repetitive’. Yes, even we obsessives can acknowledge that more often than not, the entries consist of the same minute-and-a-half run through twice – and there’s nothing wrong with that, thank you very much.
Why am I making this point? Well, it’s because I’ve chosen possibly THE most repetitive song in ESC history for today’s time-warp.
In 2003, the Romanian broadcaster realised that 90 seconds multiplied by two was so Tallinn, and subsequently sent someone to Riga who had no problem with performing the same 20 or so seconds over, and over, and over (and over) again. That someone was Nicola, who, if I may point out, also had no problem with wearing a too-big red suit, a la Santa Claus. Together with her posse of backup DJs/dancers/mimers, she took us on a musical journey akin to taking the bus from your house to your neighbour’s, walking back to your house, and then doing the whole thing again…about eight times.
Oui, this is repetitive. But like I said before, there’s nothing wrong with a little déjà vu. I like this entry, even with its dodgy choreography and random undressing. How about you?
How about you?
How about you?
How about you…
The good stuff: When your favourite song in a national final wins that national final against all the odds (well, several odds) you’re not going to complain. By ‘you’ and ‘your’, I of course mean ‘me’ and ‘my’, because that’s what happened to yours truly with Norsk MGP 2012. I absolutely adore Tooji and his song, and no amount of ‘Hello, Eric Saade 2.0!’ jibes from you lot will change that. Stay has it all – it’s current, it’s catchy (so very catchy…), it’s dance friendly, it’s ethnic, it’s just repetitive enough AND it has one of those brilliant breaks before the last chorus where we all get to pump our fists in the air and shout ‘yah!’ To top it all off, Tooji can sing (above Eric Saade-level), dance, and be good-looking all at the same time. Plus, in his spare time he’s a child protection consultant (AWW!). What more could a girl want? In a Eurovision act, I mean.
Everything else: As suggested by the above gush-fest, I have nothing bad to say about Norwaythis year. They are in the tough second semi, but they’ve got a decent draw and I think they’ll make the final.
Winner, loser or grower: Winner – douze points!
Vida Minha/ Filipa Sousa
The good stuff: Another year, another drama-filled Portuguese ballad…only applies if we forget Homens da Luta ever existed (I’m sure many people would like to). The man responsible for Portugal’s 2008 entry, Senhora Do Mar – as well as a bunch of entries for other countries – Andrej Babić, is back with a song that actually reminds me of that one a bit. It’s not one of his best efforts, but it’s not bad. As mentioned, it’s more dramatic than an episode of Days of Our Lives, which opens up all sorts of exciting possibilities for staging (hopefully including interpretive dance and a dress with a massive skirt that Filipa can toss around like a bullfighter’s red rag. Oh, and a wind machine dialed up to Level Rip-Your-Hair-Out-By-The-Roots). Filipa herself is a very capable vocalist, so she should turn out a good performance.
Everything else: If I didn’t have the Senhora comparison to jog my memory, I would not be able to recall how the heck this song goes. For some reason, every time I listen to it I immediately forget the entire three minutes. There’s proof on the WWW that I am not the only one to have experienced this phenomenon, and that does not bode well for Portugal’s chances of success. Although, let’s face it, Portugal’s chances for success are never that high.
Winner, loser or grower: Grower – 5 points.
The good stuff: After last year’s boring-after-three-listens entry Change, it gives me great pleasure to say that Romania is back to their Eurovision best. Mandinga is made up of a bunch of happy-go-lucky musical men and one super-hot, scantily clad frontwoman, so it’s like they’ve taken InCulto and Ani Lorak and smooshed them together to form an unstoppable act – and that’s before we even get to their song. Zaleilah is a part Spanish, part English bundle of summer-hit fun that should raise the roof on semi night. The construction workers who slaved away on the Crystal Hall for months won’t be too pleased about that, but everyone else will be when Romania sails through to the final.
Everything else: Again, there are uncertainties over lead singer Elena’s live vocal abilities. Apparently, at Eurovision in Concert this song was mimed (tut tut!) and I’m not sure, but I think the national final performance was too. Unfortunately, Zaleilah is not a song in which weak vocals can be disguised. If the leading lady isn’t up to scratch in that department, this could sound dreadful, army of backing singers or no army of backing singers. For now, I’m going to assume that she is so amazing live she didn’t want to make any of the other artists feel inferior pre-Eurovision, so she decided to lip-sync all the way down the road to Baku.
Winner, loser or grower: Winner – douze points!
Party for Everybody/ Buranovskiye Babushki
The good stuff: It’s good that the grannies will be able to build themselves a church in their hometown as a result of their representing Russia. It’s also good that Engelbert Humperdinck now has ladies to flirt with at the after-parties who won’t think he’s a creepy old man (in fact, they’ll probably think he’s a dashing young whippet). It’s also, also good that we get to hear a new language at the contest in Udmurt.
Everything else: I’m sorry, but I just don’t get this song. No, it’s not because I desperately wanted Dima Bilan to win the Russian final (even though I did). I just don’t like it. It wouldn’t be out of place on the soundtrack of a film about a murderous clown who rides around on a miniature bicycle and hacks innocent people to death with a knife he conceals in his giant shoe – and anything that fits that particular bill does not make for an enjoyable listen IMO. However, I’m not going to label it a loser, because being 100% mean to the grannies would be like slapping my own grandmother across the face.
Winner, loser or grower: Grower – 4 points.
The Social Network Song/ Valentina Monetta
The good stuff: Please don’t throw anything at your screen pretending it’s me when I say this…but I actually like this song. I’m not sure why, and I know it’s wrong, but I do – kind of like the enjoyment one gets from squeezing a particularly horrendous pimple. If I block out the horror that is the video clip and ignore the shocking lyrics, I find it listenable, and even – brace yourselves – catchy (I cannot use that word often enough). That’s the thing with Ralph Siegel, Germany’s ESC addict. Some of his songs are awesome (Reise Nach Jerusalem, for example) and some are dripping in cheese (Let’s Get Happy) but all of them, without fail, get stuck in your head to the max.
Everything else: When this song was called out on its blatant product placement and we knew it would undergo a rewrite, I hoped that rewrite would make it better. Unfortunately, replacing ‘Facebook’ with ‘social network’ did the impossible and made it worse. The lyrics are so cringe-worthy they make those from Switzerland’s 2004 semi-final loser Celebrate sound like prize-winning poetry. In addition, there’s that frightening video clip I mentioned earlier. If you haven’t seen it, don’t. It’s three nightmarish minutes of ill-fitting t-shirts and teeth and creepy old men who want to have cybersex, that you will never get back. Gross.
Winner, loser or grower: Because I can’t get past the lyrics, loser – 3 points.
Nije Ljubav Stvar/ Željko Joksimović
The good stuff: The day ZJ was announced as Serbia’s 2012 representative is up there with the greatest in my life to date, no exaggeration. Okay, maybe a slight exaggeration. Anyway, that’s not surprising to those who know my all-time favourite ESC entry is Lane Moje, closely followed by Lejla, which ZJ composed. His fans expected big things from him musically, but does Nije Ljubav Stvar deliver? In a word, OBVIOUSLY! This man can do no wrong in my eyes (save for getting together with Jovana Janković instead of me) and he’s taking another epic, ethnic Balkan ballad to the contest after four years away. I love how the song starts off so quietly before building into a final minute that knocks your socks off, even if you’re not wearing any. It’s got light and shade and ZJ written all over it.
Everything else: My only complaint is that I want it to go on for longer than the allowed three minutes. A song like this deserves at least five. Regardless, it should be a magical opener for the second semi final (as opposed to tragic-al, as it will be in semi 1).
Winner, loser or grower: Winner – douze points!
NEXT TIME: I review Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey and Ukraine in the penultimate episode of the Baku Reviews!
As Kurt Calleja keeps telling us, this is the night; the night of four finals, two of which hold particular significance to the avid fan. There’s no time to waste! Here’s a wrap-up of the week’s results, plus all that’s ahead as we continue to fill up the blank spaces on the list of 2012 entries.
In with the old AND the new, say Russia and Slovakia
Q: Whose recent snapping up of a ticket to Baku could possibly make Engelbert Humperdinck, one of the oldest Eurovision contestants of all time, feel like a veritable spring chicken?
A: The Russian grannies, of course! Buranovskiye Babushki managed to do what has only been done once before (by a posse of latex-encased Finns in giant shoes) and beat Dima Bilan at something Eurovision related.
This time, it was the Russian national final on Wednesday evening. Party for Everybody is the song the as yet unconfirmed number of nanas (I don’t want to cruel, but some of them are in danger of kicking the bucket prior to May) will be performing in the hope that they’ll raise enough cash to build a church in their home town. AWWWWWWW!!! Despite my pre-NF prayers that Dima would win – which he may have had it not been for Yulia, whose vocal abilities have not undergone much work since the days of Tatu, unlike her face – I can’t be mad at a bunch of sweet old ladies who just want to build a place of worship to, well, worship in. That could well be The Story of 2012, the background tale that clinches their qualification as an untimely death did forIceland last year.
Speaking of qualifying, will Slovakia’s rock number get them to the final for the first time? I have already mentioned this, but last week they announced that the artist they picked months ago but then un-picked (they love to mess around, our Slovakia), Miro Šmajda, will in fact be representing them, only under the name of Max Jason Mai. Luckily, he’s just as…well, flaming hot, particularly in the torso region, as he was when he was Miro. Not that a spectacular six-pack will win him any prizes at Eurovision. What could is his song Don’t Close Your Eyes. Some say it’s the country’s best chance yet, but I say that was Horehronie. Still, middling-to-fair rock has qualified before, even when sung by more unfortunate-looking folks.
Portugal, Romania, Serbia and Sweden: the Saturday forecast
So tonight is THE night of the selection season, thanks to Serbia and Sweden. I am definitely someone who’s been waiting for Željko Joksimović to present his fourth song for Europe, as well as following Melodifestivalen so closely it’s about to take a restraining order out on me. But don’t get me wrong – I’m just as curious to see what Portugal and Romania have in store for Baku. I’m hoping both can improve on their songs and in turn results of Düsseldorf.
Let’s get back to Serbia (I can’t help myself). Željko is practically Eurovision royalty, having notched up a 2nd, 3rd and 6th place as a performer and/or composer as well as hosting the show in 2008. Two of his three previous entries are up there with my favourite ESC songs ever, and the other isn’t far behind. Naturally, we have big expectations, and the issue with those is they are so easily unmet. It’s good to have such faith in an artist, though. Željko’s proved thrice times over he’s worth it, so I say let’s keep our expectations up here (I’m pointing to my ceiling, by the way). Don’t start making up “SERBIA 2013” t-shirts or anything yet…okay, maybe a mug, or a key-ring.
Now let’s talk Sweden ↓
Melodifestivalen, Episode VI
The MF final is always an occasion of both great sadness (‘cause it’s nearly over) and happiness (I don’t need to explain that). In 2012 it’s also a face-off between the single-named soloists, Loreen and Danny. If the bookies and fans are correct, it’s going to be one of them carrying the weight of Sweden on their padded shoulders. There are actually other acts/songs competing – hard to believe, I know – and here they are:
- Shout It Out by David Lindgren
- Jag Reser Mig Igen by Thorsten Flinck & Revolutionsorkestern
- Mystery by Dead by April
- Why Start A Fire by Lisa Miskovsky
- Baby Doll by Top Cats
- Euphoria by Loreen
- Soldiers by Ulrik Munther
- Mirakel by Bjorn Ranelid feat. Sara Li
- Why Am I Crying? by Molly Sandén
- Amazing by Danny
My favourites: Dead by April, Lisa, Loreen, Ulrik, Molly and Danny.
My picks (the potential winners): Mystery, Euphoria and Amazing.
It’s a strange concept: death growl meets Eurovision. But if there’s any act that can possibly give Loreen/Danny the heave-ho, I reckon it’ll be Dead by April. I don’t really think they’ll win, but I’m just saying, if Loranny (as I am now calling the pair because I’m sick of typing both their names) happen to get abducted by a criminal syndicate hired by Ulrik or Molly (they may look innocent but trust me, they’re harboring psychotic tendencies), I think DBA will end up on top.
Loreen should have been in the final last year, but she’s getting a do over now and you can bet your bottom she wants the top prize. She’s a phenomenal vocalist, and her performance in the semi was the perfect amount of simplicity and show – plus, she’s going in as the favourite and had been #1 on Swedish iTunes for weeks. All she needs is to impress the international juries, and it’s hello Azerbaijan.
Danny too, has a heap going for him. He was 2011’s runner-up (as was Eric Saade who came back a year later and won), he’s nabbed the coveted last spot in the running order (as did Saade), he’s a great performer with a striking stage show and a good song, AND he’s also done well in the digital charts. Should he find favour with the juries, it may finally be his time.
My prediction: In my heart it’s Danny, but in my head it’s Loreen, and when it comes to placing a bet you have to use your head. In the fight for 2nd place, I’m thinking Danny, DBA and Ulrik. Molly should improve on the last place from her previous Globen outing. As for this year’s wooden spooner, I’m thinking Top Cats. If they do come last, they may have to change their band name…
Because there is life after Melodifestivalen, no matter how bleak it may seem.
The entry deadline is looming, so the next week will be a busy one. Here’s the schedule, not including the BBC’s vague “next few days” song presentation announcement for the UK:
Sunday the 11th – Moldova
Monday the 12th – Greece
Wednesday the 14th – Montenegro (song presentation), San Marino (artist announcement)
Thursday the 15th – Bosnia & Herzegovina (song presentation)
Friday the 16th – San Marino (song presentation)
Saturday the 17th – Azerbaijan, Belgium (song presentations x 2)
So we should have a 42-strong list of entries by next Sunday, but whether we will…that’s another matter. There always seems to be one country that waits until the very last minute to make everything official. Tut tut.
Don’t forget to join me on the regular social networking sites (@EurovisionByJaz) tomorrow for an in-depth gossip about What Happened Last Night (which for most people is various drunken activities that need to be slowly pieced together, but for ESC fans is various mini song contests that need to be rapidly and bitchily dissected).
Artist: Vlatko Ilievski
Result: 16th in semi final
Reminds me of: Cipela by Marko Kon & Milaan
The best bits: I think I would marry this song if I could. In my adoring eyes, it has everything: one of the catchiest choruses of 2011; ethnic and modern influences; the right balance of fun and seriousness; the ability to work well live and on disc; AND it incorporates the use of a megaphone – something I often look for in a Eurovision song but rarely find.
The other bits: I can’t help feeling that one of Vlatko’s pre-performance rituals is to down a gravel milkshake, if his slighty rough vocals are anything to go by. We’re talking stone-shredding material here! It does suit the song style, however.
I give the song: 10
I give the vocals: 7
I give the performance: 9
Points for Macedonia: 10
Song: One Life
Artist: Glen Vella
Reminds me of: Glamorous by Fergie
The best bits: Glen’s definitely got the ‘aww’ factor going on – he is so ADORABLE! Or is that just me? Anyway, he’s one of my favourite personalities of Düsseldorf because of his enthusiasm and sense of fun, qualities which really showed through in the performance. Malta may not always send the most contemporary songs to the contest, but they always come prepared to give 110%.
The other bits: The song is stuck pretty much back in the Age of Padded Shoulders (the 1980s) and that just doesn’t cut it in modern Eurovision, as proven by Dana’s similar failure to qualify – though Glen was actually only oooonnnnne point away from making it.
I give the song: 6
I give the vocals: 8
I give the performance: 9
Points for Malta: 8
Song: So Lucky
Artist: Zdob şi Zdub
My favourite lyric: “You pull me in your private side show”
The best bits: The boys who joined forces with the drum-beating nanna six years ago brought a similarly quirky-fun entry to Eurovision on their second go. It took me a while to warm to this, but once I did, I thought it equally as good as their 2005 song. I particularly like its clever lyrics and variety.
The other bits: I’m still nonplussed as to the relevance of the monocle. I mean, if this was called So Lucky To Own A Monocle, I’d understand. But it’s not…still, it did serve to increase the forget-me-not level for Moldova.
I give the song: 9
I give the vocals: 9
I give the performance: 9
Points for Moldova: 10
Song: Never Alone
Result: 19th in semi final
My favourite lyric: “And we’ll find the freedom you left behind”
The best bits: The best entry from the Netherlands since about 2004 didn’t manage to qualify, but it certainly advanced its way into my heart (sorry). Sure, it’s not the most exciting song in the world, but sometime you fancy vanilla ice-cream even more than peanut butter crunch. It builds really nicely into a chorus you can both sing along, and wave your arms in the air to.
The other bits: This song suffered in the transition from Dutch to English. The rewrite fits nicely, but I can’t get past the crowd of clichés and weather analogies.
I give the song: 8
I give the vocals: 9
I give the performance: 6
Points for the Netherlands: 8
Song: Haba Haba
Artist: Stella Mwangi
Result: 17th in semi final
Gimmick: Swahili in the ESC
The best bits: Norway can officially join Macedonia in the exclusive Catchy Chorus Club, although I think they may be the president rather than the secretary. What I love most about this entry is how happy it is. I’d like to see someone listen to it without breaking into song and/or dance, Glee style! Personally, I can’t resist doing the little arm-arm-hair flick-elbow along with the effervescent Stella.
The other bits: Repeat after me: this is repetitive!
I give the song: 10
I give the vocals: 7
I give the performance: 9
Points for Norway: 10
Artist: Magdalena Tul
Result: 19th in semi final
Reminds me of: It’s All About You by Juliana Pasha
The best bits: On a scale of 1 to 10, I’d rate Poland’s song of 2010 at about 2. This, on the other hand, is off the scale in comparison! It’s a cracking song, whether you take into account its failure to qualify or not. I feel sorry for the country – they made a real effort here with the song and performance, but they just can’t get the votes! Or perhaps the right draw…still, Jestem was a lovely opener for the first semi.
The other bits: I still think modeling the stage show after the video clip (costumes included) would have served Poland better, giving them more of a sultry Slovenia vibe rather than a demure Swiss one, which didn’t seem to fit the song.
I give the song: 8
I give the vocals: 6
I give the performance: 7
Points for Poland: 7
Song: A Luta é Alegria
Artist: Homens da Luta
Result: 18th in semi final
Gimmick: A comedy troupe troops to Eurovision
The best bits: Guilty pleasure alert! I don’t know how I can enjoy listening to a relatively tuneless, extremely repetitive protest song, but gosh darn it, I do. Like Cyprus and a few other countries, Portugal saved the 56th contest from being completely lacking in national musical identity. And like Macedonia, saved it from being a megaphone-free contest!
The other bits: Perhaps they could have taken that one step further and dressed in some sort of national costume, rather than their parents’ 70s throwbacks.
I give the song: 8
I give the vocals: 6
I give the performance: 5
Points for Portugal: 6
Artist: Hotel FM
Reminds me of: Love Song by Sara Bareilles
The best bits: It’s a nice, smiley, life-affirming song with an interlude for us all to clap in, and some very fetching pinstriped pants. The man wearing said pants isn’t too bad to look at, either.
The other bits: I think this is one of Romania’s blandest entries. They don’t seem to be capable of producing a bad one, but at least a bad one gives us fans something to talk about. Despite the key change, Change doesn’t change that much from start to end.
I give the song: 7
I give the vocals: 9
I give the performance: 8
Points for Romania: 8
Song: Get You
Artist: Alexey Vorobyov
Gimmick: From the man who brought us Gaga, RedOne
The best bits:Russia threw pretty much everything at this – backflips, light-up leather jackets, podiums, choreography…I reckon I also saw a kitchen sink in there somewhere. And why shouldn’t they? I thoroughly enjoyed their performance, although my favourite part is found in the song itself, when the tacked-on dramatic Russian opening gives way to thumping, characteristically RedOne beats.
The other bits: In the semi final, the Australian commentators pointed out that Alexey, or Alex, or Clothilde (whatever name he’s going by these days) totes failed at his backflip. What I want to know is, did he really? Because if nothing had been said, I’d never have noticed. I mean, I thought when you did a backflip you were supposed to dislocate your collarbone.
I give the song: 8
I give the vocals: 9
I give the performance: 10
Points for Russia: 10
COMING UP: The final RR’s for 2011 – S to Z (technically, S to U…just the last ones, okay?)