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SONG CONTEST SHOWDOWN | The top 10 of 2016 VS the top 10 of 2017 (+ vote for your favourites!)

I’m back…again!!! I’ve had to announce my comeback after an extended blogging break pretty often in the past, so I figured why stop now?

My excuse is the same as always: even though Eurovision is my one true love, the older you get the busier you tend to be, and the more commitments you tend to have that keep you from sitting in bed in your pajamas writing about Europop (sadly). Having said that, I will do my best to be here on EBJ as often as possible in the lead-up to Junior Eurovision, the start of the 2018 NF season, and beyond. I’m like Valentina Monetta – you can’t get rid of me permanently and I’ve only made it to the Eurovision final once.

Since my last post, a lot of stuff has happened on Planet Eurovision: JESC switched venues (!); Eurovision Asia officially became A Thing™ (!!!) and Louis Walsh admitted that he thought Ireland would float – hot air balloon pun intended – straight through to the final in Kyiv (?!?!?). Even so, today I wanted to talk about something else. More specifically, I wanted to engineer a song contest showdown in which particular pairs of ESC entries would go head-to-head until, as Ryan Dolan might say in this situation, only one survives (from each battle). I actually started a similar series ages ago but accidentally forgot to continue it. Oops.

For no reason other than I felt like it, this song battle reboot will pit the top 10 tracks of Stockholm 2016 against their 2017 counterparts – so that means Jamala VS Salvador Sobral, Sergey Lazarev VS Sunstroke Project, and (amusingly) Frans VS Robin Bengtsson (because Sweden is apparently awesome at finishing 5th). I’m going to weigh them up against each other musically, crown my personal champ and then give you guys the chance to vote for your preferred song from each pair. Make sure you read through to the end (a toilet break may be necessary at some point) to vote for the best overall top 10.

Stockholm VS Kyiv – which city’s left-side scoreboard was superior? Let’s get this showdown started and find out!

 

 

Battle #1 | 1944 by Jamala VS Amar Pelos Dois by Salvador Sobral

They’re both brilliant brunette vocalists who made me burst into tears with their emotional performances. I worship the phenomenal woman-power of one and want to give the other one a bone-crushing hug. But which artist had the better winning song? I’m sorry if you wave your pom-poms for Team Salvadorable, because I have to say IT’S YOU JAMALA. This is my opinion, obviously, and you’re welcome to disagree with it. But I was hypnotised by 1944 from first listen, and when it won it was my #1 entry of the year. Amar Pelos Dois took time to tug at my heartstrings, and it’s not something I’ll press play for as often as I did (and still do) with last year’s winner.

Winner 1944

 

Battle #2 | Sound of Silence by Dami Im VS Beautiful Mess by Kristian Kostov

This is more of an apple-to-apple comparison than most of the other head-to-heads on this list, which actually makes it easier to pick a winner. If I were an Australian who’d be on the Olympic podium for patriotism (if that event existed) then this battle would not be in Bulgaria’s favour. But I like to consider myself pretty objective, so – as kick-ass as Dami’s performance was, and as much as I admire the Sia-esque power pop of Sound of Silence – Kristian’s Beautiful Mess is a better song in my brain. It’s just as strong in studio as it is when you see it on stage, whereas Sound of Silence relied a lot on the pizzazz of the performance to push it into top-two territory.

Winner Beautiful Mess

 

 

#3 | You Are The Only One by Sergey Lazarev VS Hey Mamma by Sunstroke Project

There are a lot of differences between the two songs that have taken home the bronze at Eurovision in the last two years. In a way, YATOO was the Italy 2017 of 2016 – a big longstanding favourite that didn’t follow through in the end (though Sergey came closer than Francesco); while Hey Mamma was a massive surprise in terms of propelling Moldova into the top three for the first time. Personally, I loved Hey Mamma immediately and want to weep with joy every time I remember that it came third, whereas YATOO was a track I hated at first (because I thought it was a terrible ESC throwback) but came to love later. I listen to them both on repeat, but my favourite of the two has to be Hey Mamma because it’s a totally 2017 slice of Europop – with a generous dollop of Epic Sax on the side – that never even had to try  to win me over. Sergey fans, don’t be so mad…if you knew me, you wouldn’t be surprised.

Winner Hey Mamma

 

#4 | If Love Was A Crime by Poli Genova VS City Lights by Blanche

They both wore black and sang (mostly) in English, but that’s where the similarities between Poli and Blanche come to a screeching stop. I guess you could also say that both ILWAC and City Lights were examples of so-cutting-edge-you-might-need-a-BandAid pop music, but the songs have totally different vibes. For the most part, I’m more likely to lean towards an upbeat song that I can awkwardly dance to (my take on Poli’s choreography is unfortunately reminiscent of the Chicken Dance), so even though I do think City Lights is a brilliant song – and I’m so happy Blanche got over her nerves to deliver a performance worthy of the top 5 – ILWAC is too irresistible for me to…well, resist. Summer hit > melancholy electro-bop. Just.

Winner If Love Was A Crime

 

#5 | If I Were Sorry by Frans VS I Can’t Go On by Robin Bengtsson

DAMN YOU, SWEDEN, FOR FORCING ME INTO THIS DECISION BY FINISHING FIFTH TWICE IN A ROW!!! Even if this is your first visit to EBJ, you can probably sense the Swedophile status that makes comparing something Swedish to something else Swedish and deciding which one’s superior a heart-palpitating task for me. There’s never been a Eurovision song from Sweden that I haven’t at least liked (2009’s La Voix is just noise, not a song, so it doesn’t count) and my relationship with their entries from 2016 and 2017 is more than platonic. But…giving in again to my penchant for a danceable piece of pop, I’m declaring I Can’t Go On the winner by one of Robin Bengtsson’s perfectly-groomed chin hairs. That’s because the second I hear it start, I perk up and prepare to sing loudly over the top of him, and If I Were Sorry doesn’t have that power (sorry!).

Winner I Can’t Go On

 

#6 | J’ai Cherché by Amir VS Occidentali’s Karma by Francesco Gabbani

Now THIS might be a controversial battle – either because you guys will be split down the middle, or because it’s actually an easy one for me but that might have some people plotting my death. I like Occidentali’s Karma a lot, and always have (‘always’ = since February when we first heard it), even if I suspected for the longest time that Eurovision 2018 wouldn’t be popping up in Italy. It’s fun, it’s catchy, it makes astute observations AND it has its own dance á la the Macarena…what’s not to like? Nothing. But you know what? I like it rivers, and I love J’ai Cherché oceans. Amir is just adorable (it’s not his fault that his name doesn’t illustrate just how precious he is, unless it’s not too late for ‘Amir-acle’ to catch on) and J’ai Cherché is a masterclass in sunny, uplifting – but not cheesy – folk-pop. It’s one of the few songs you can clap to without feeling like an overly-enthusiastic dad at his kid’s soccer game. C’est magnifique.

Winner J’ai Cherché

 

#7 | LoveWave by Iveta Mukuchyan VS Yodel It! by Ilinca & Alex Florea

This fistfight is a no-brainer for me to call champion on, so I won’t keep you in suspense. Simply put, LoveWave has aged better over the past year-and-a-bit than Yodel It! has in a matter of months – for me, anyway. I have to be in the right mood to listen to Alex and Ilinca doing their yodel-rap duties these days, and if I have even a hint of a headache, forget it. Iveta, while not one of my favourites from last year’s contest, left a more sophisticated and less irritating legacy behind (and she really put the ‘leg’ into legacy).

Winner LoveWave

 

#8 | Color of Your Life by Michał Szpak VS Origo by Joci Pápai

For those of you who’ve forgotten about the epic scoreboard leap Poland made in Stockholm, here’s your reminder (I don’t have room to insert the GIF, so just pretend I did). I don’t begrudge Michał his awesome last-minute result, but in this battle he was bound to lose. Even if he’d turned up at my front door with pleading eyes and a million-dollar bribe (which shockingly, he didn’t), the love I have for Origo would have seen me slam the door in his face – while being careful not to maim any of his majestic man-hairs, of course. Joci Pápai’s ethno-dance dream was and still is my douze pointer of Kyiv’s 42, so nothing short of my all-time favourite ESC entry (Lane Moje by Željko Joksimović, FYI) would have a shot at changing my allegiance.

Winner Origo  

 

#9 | I’ve Been Waiting For This Night by Donny Montell VS Don’t Come Easy by Isaiah

Donny definitely wins the showdown when it comes to song title length, but does victory come easier to Isaiah (HA HA) in terms of song quality? And another question: will I be deported if I say no? Let’s find out. I don’t think many Eurofans would argue that Donny himself and his second Eurovision song have more of an x-factor than Isaiah and his song – ironic given that Isaiah won The X Factor. It’s probably down to Donny’s more extensive stage experience and showier personality, plus an entry that just happens to be more exciting and have more mass appeal. That appeal does extend to me, although I am fond of Don’t Come Easy. But *packs suitcase* I just *heads to port from which I’ll be shipped off to a faraway land for being un-Australian* prefer Donny’s package. No dirty thoughts, please…you know what I mean.

Winner I’ve Been Waiting For This Night  

 

#10 | What’s The Pressure by Laura Tesoro VS Grab The Moment by JOWST

Squeezing into the top 10 in 2016 and 2017 were two great tracks from Belgium and Norway. For the former, it was their second consecutive year on the left side of the scoreboard, while the latter country was clawing their way back up after a DNQ on Swedish soil. But who did 10th place better? I’m pretty torn, to be honest. Laura’s grand final opener put the fun into funk and proved yet again that saxophones are as effective at Eurovision as they are in George Michael’s Careless Whisper (a.k.a. VERY). JOWST, on the other hand, brought something uniquely 2017 to the contest stage with lyrics that I previously crowned my faves of the year. As much as I want to be loyal to Laura, I think I have to go with Grab The Moment because it’s a little cleverer and a lot more original.

Winner Grab The Moment

 

 

Okay…we’ve finally made it through the entire top 10 of both Stockholm ‘16 and Kyiv ’17. Now the main part of the show(down) is over, in true ESC style it’s time for some overall results.

2016 = 5

2017 = 5

DAMMIT. It’s a tie – practically Eurovision 1969 all over again (but on a much, much smaller scale and minus booms + bang-a-bangs). I am going to break this tie though, looking at the entire top 10 of each year and deciding which one was stronger – for me. BRB.

*several hours later*

Okay, I’ve got it. The winner is…

 

 

Maybe I’m a bit biased since I was there (#subtlebrag) but I do think the overall kick-assery of the 2016 top 10 is slightly more forceful – there was practically a residual shoeprint – than the 2017 top 10. Do you agree? If you voted in the polls above, then I’m guessing you won’t mind voting in this one to let me know.

 

You can give me the lowdown on all the super-important choices you made above in the comments. Not gonna lie, I kind of want someone to start a fight with me over “the clear superiority of Sergey in comparison to Sunstroke Project Vol. II”. Just remember, if we all liked the exact same songs to the exact same degree, Eurovision would be extremely predictable and pretty boring.

But obviously, I’d still be obsessed with it.

 

 

 

The 2016 EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards: Part 1 (The Artists, The Songs and The Singing!)

Good evening Europe, and everywhere else that’s relevant!

You’ve just made the excellent decision to tune in to the super-delayed first episode of the 2016 EBJEEs: that is, the EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards. There’s no time like way after the official, Justin Timberlake-less Eurovision DVD has been released to do something like this, right? Not when this is the earliest I’ve been able to get around to it. Better late than never, that’s my motto.

So, if you’re ready for the ceremony to begin, great. If not, too bad – it’s (finally) happening. Today/tonight, I’m presenting second-rate statuettes in the categories of The Artists, The Songs and The Singing, including many of the People’s Choice Awards voted on by you fabulous people last week. Get excited!

Please???

*Academy Award-worthy intro music plays* Välkommen till…

 
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THE ARTISTS

 

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Winner Freddie Honourable Mention/s Amir, Douwe Bob

It’s award number one (my number oooonnne) and the EBJ Express has already arrived at Objectification Station – and I’m not sorry, no. There was an array of dashing dudes on display at this year’s contest, and as I was actually there (!) I can attest to the true, in-the-flesh attractiveness of each and every one. So, to those of you who thought Serhat was SerHOT, I say this: not even he could compare to the heartthrob ex-basketball player from Hungary. I mean, even in a one-on-one battle between Freddie and Måns Zelmerlöw, Hungary would quite possibly have the edge over Sweden. They’d definitely have a height advantage.

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Winner Samra Honourable Mention/s Iveta Mukuchyan

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, rather than the ear – which is how Samra came to be awarded this trophy by yours truly. She may have suffered from some vocal issues in Stockholm (several of her rehearsals would have had Jemini reaching for earplugs) but she is a stunner, and the cameras would have had zero complaints about focusing on her for three minutes…except that perhaps, three minutes wasn’t long enough to have her in their sights. If I sound lecherous here, it’s because I have a girl crush on Samra the size of Siberia, with symptoms that include a slack jaw and plans to write a dissertation on how someone can look that incredible in a skintight metallic onesie.

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Winner Amir Honourable Mention/s Sergey Lazarev

Well, you guys are off to a good start with your picks. I couldn’t have voted better myself! He may not have won Eurovision (although 6th is a win by recent French standards) but Amir absolutely won our hearts – cheesy, but true – with his general adorableness and charm, on and off stage. If there’s one act from ESC history that would be ideal to take home to meet the parents, it’s this guy. My parents are available, Mr. Haddad, if you’re interested…

 

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Winner Poli Genova Honourable Mention/s Zoë, Laura Tesoro, Sanja Vučić

Not unpredictably, Poli out-polled a force-field of girl power to take home the Miss Congeniality trophy. Anyone who wouldn’t jump at the chance to hang out with her, and help her search for any dress of hers that might be missing at the time (Junior Eurovision in-joke alert) is not a person I’d like to associate with. That may sound harsh, but COME ON!!! Poli’s personality and pizzazz is so strong, I’m pretty sure it was responsible for powering her light-up ILWAC costume. Isn’t that what everyone looks for in an amigo?

 

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Winner Laura Tesoro Honourable Mention/s Poli Genova

This award goes to the artist whose onstage charisma and energy eclipsed that of their competition, and who should never give up their career in showbiz because that would be an absolute waste. Belgium’s Laura may still be a teenager, but she performs like a pro from way back. She lit up the Globen stage every time she stepped on it (seriously, I don’t even think the tech guys had anything plugged in during her performances, á la Poli), and was so effervescent I would have blamed it on an illicit substance if she wasn’t so darn innocent. This girl was THE one to watch this year, and she’ll be one to watch for a long time to come.

 

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Winner Ira Losco Honourable Mention/s Dami Im

A Eurovision runner-up returning to the contest will always be a talking point – especially when that runner-up remains the rightful winner in the minds of many fans. But add in the rehearsal week revelation that Ira Losco had a kanelbulle in her oven – and a costume change that, among other things, elegantly emphasised that – and you have a walking water-cooler moment on your hands (and a Walk On Water moment). This was a case of Conchita-itis, in which a country’s artist is a more prominent part of their package than their song.

 

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Winner Laura Tesoro/Zoë Honourable Mention/s Frans

It’s a tie! A tie I could have broken if I’d been bothered. But I think both Laura and Zoë – practically senior citizens compared to runner-up Frans – deserve this award for dealing with the media, performance and competition aspects of the contest like pros. Zoë, in particular, should receive a high five for managing to sing in tune at all times when she probably couldn’t even hear herself over the screaming that followed her wherever she went.

 

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Winner Belgium Honourable Mention/s Bulgaria

Belgium snapped up this award last year too – and yet, white outfits aside, Loïc’s backing brigade couldn’t have been more different from Laura’s. The latter helped elevate the energy of What’s The Pressure in a live context, meaning that what would still have been a brilliant show if Laura had been by herself on stage became THA BOMB, DOT COM. Interacting with her and with the audience, they sang and danced their way straight into the #squadgoals hall of fame.

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 THE SONGS AND THE SINGING

 

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Winner If I Were Sorry Honourable Mention/s Alter Ego

Songs that sound the same as other songs have not (necessarily) been plagiarized. I’m a firm believer in a grey area existing where musical resemblances are concerned. As such, I’m not saying that Sweden’s 2016 ESC entry was partly stolen from some other random song I never knew existed until someone decided IIWS was a rip-off of it. But there is some aural twinning going on here, and I don’t think that can be denied. Here’s proof.

 

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Winner Hear Them Calling Honourable Mention/s Loin D’ici, Say Yay!

Everyone’s definition of a ‘fanwank’ is probably different – which explains why my decision not to include Italy as a nominee here was met with a little criticism. I do agree with this winner though, on the basis of a fanwank being a song that is drooled over and put up on a pedestal by the Eurovision community, only to crash and burn once it emerges from the pre-show bubble and enters the competition. Austria may have had a happy ending, but Iceland? Not so much.

 

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Winner Sound of Silence Honourable Mention/s Ghost, Play

2016 was a strong year for lyrics that weren’t…well, crap. For lyrics that could actually be enjoyed by a former English major who adores symbolism and detests clichés. The best set of words put to song in my opinion was Australia’s. And no, I’m not letting nationality overtake objectivity right now. There was something simple yet so inventive about the Sound of Silence lyrics, particularly in the verses. My favourite line of the lot would have to be ‘Tidal waves of tears are crashing, no one here to save me drowning.’ The imagery! The metaphors! The non-cheesy rhyme! SO MUCH YES. And, okay…maybe a little bit of bias.

 

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Winner I Didn’t Know Honourable Mention/s Soldiers of Love

Now we travel from the good to the gouda – by which I mean check out the cheese! Not to mention the inconsistencies in tense and a distinct lack of sanity. San Marino/Turkey, what were you thinking allowing lines like ‘I got to be inside your mind and hide into your arms’ (ouch) to represent you on a global platform, in 2016?

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Winner If Love Was A Crime Honourable Mention/s What’s The Pressure

Poli’s performance of ILWAC at the Euroclub on Opening Party night (though technically, it was the morning after Opening Party night) was one of my ESC trip highlights, so I’m thrilled to be able to metaphorically present her with this award on behalf of all of y’all. I can confirm that the dancefloor couldn’t have been fuller during her three minutes that evening/morning – though I probably don’t have to, because even if you were in Antarctica at the time, you’d have heard the chants of ‘Oh, day mi lyubovta!’. Epic times. Prepare yourself, future fiancé, because the DJ will be playing this on repeat at our wedding.

 

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Winner Loin D’ici Honourable Mention/s Color of Your Life

In terms of the songs that grew on me ‘more and more each day’ as Serhat would croak from the window of his favourite hangout Sleaze Palace: The Disco, Austria made the most impressive transition. The throwback to a time long gone by that is Loin D’ici irritated the strudel out of me initially, especially when I compared it to the contemporary offerings from Armenia, Latvia and Ukraine. But I was won over by a) its charm as an homage to twee French pop, b) Zoë’s general loveliness, and c) the reaction both she and the song received in the Euroclub and in Globen (it was too cute to resist).

 

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Winner Made of Stars Honourable Mention/s What’s The Pressure

As much as Eurovision these days is about presenting audiences with a live music video rather than a live, concert-style performance (if you want to succeed, that is), there are some songs that feed off a flesh-and-blood crowd and come to life as a result. Made of Stars is one of them. There is a passion in the delivery of the song via Hovi that is lacking when you listen to the studio version, or when you watch the official, drone-dominated video. Those are my thoughts, anyhow. Perhaps it’s the theatricality of song and artist that needs to be seen and heard outside of a box to be appreciated.

 

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Winner Ghost Honourable Mention/s The Last of Our Kind

 And then, there’s the other end of the Swarovski-encrusted microphone stand. I personally believe that Germany’s Ghost was one of the best songs in the competition this year, but the mismatched live performance destroyed and detracted from it. Listening to it in studio, without the distraction of Jamie-Lee’s Halloween costume test-run (I think she was supposed to be a cocktail umbrella) is a totally different experience – for the better.

 

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Winner No Degree of Separation Honourable Mention/s You Are The Only One

What is the significance of Francesca’s music video happenings? Who knows. Does anyone care? Nope. It’s beautifully shot and interesting to watch, and there was actual effort put into the making of it. Much better than a budget video or *gasp* no video bar a national final performance. Not that I’m demanding or anything…

 

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Winner Bulgaria Honourable Mention/s Australia, Norway

If I had a gripe about anything to do with Eurovision 2016, it’s the postcards – not because they sucked (they didn’t), but because they just weren’t very memorable. They were beautifully shot, but none of the artists were handcrafting their country’s flag out of foodstuffs, or participating in risky extra-curricular activities in the host city. I’m bestowing the trophy for best of the bunch to Bulgaria though, because watching Poli Genova go about her daily business (albeit a glossy version that includes getting ink done) could never fail to be fascinating.

 

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Winner Michał Szpak Honourable Mention/s Hovi Star, Sergey Lazarev

What do you get when you cross Captain Hook with someone who can carry a song single-handedly without the support of any detectable backing vocalists? Michał Szpak, that’s who. Hovi Star had the emotion and Sergey Lazarev had the singing/dancing combo down pat, but Michał powered through each of his performances of Color of Your Life with ease – and, as I said, without any contribution (as far as I could hear and see) from another singer who’d been stuffed in the wings. The Jedward syndrome-suffering Azerbaijani delegation must have been very jealous indeed.

 

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Winner Dami Im Honourable Mention/s Jamala

There were two ladies who stood head and shoulders above the rest when it came to singing the pants off their respective songs (though not the pants off themselves. That would have been unfortunate for Jamala). Honestly, my vote would have headed in a Ukrainian direction, but Australia topping this poll is obviously reason for a happy dance from me. You can’t argue that Dami is an incredible vocalist, and she managed to give her all for the entire Eurovision fortnight without dropping a single note. You keep doing you, Dami, ‘cause it’s awesome to witness.

 

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Winner Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz

Honourable Mention/s Joe & Jake, Minus One

This one’s a bit of a surprise to me, even though there were no Il Volos to speak of in 2016 and so the bar was set a little lower. Don’t get me wrong – I’m totally pro-Georgia, and Nika and his Lolitaz sounded more or less studio-perfect during their performances. I’m just shocked that the majority of you guys thought so too.

 

 

And now, some good news for those of you with numb bums: this evening’s (if it isn’t night time where you are, just pretend) ceremony has reached its conclusion! The EBJEEs will continue in a few days as I present my personal – as well as the remaining People’s Choice – awards in the categories of The Performances, The Costumes and The Results. So don’t return those fancy outfits you undoubtedly hired for the occasion just yet. There’s still a whole lot of Eurovision 2016 left to talk about!

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Let’s get started!

 

 Croatia

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

Croatia’s EBJ Jury score is…8.67

 

 France

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

France’s EBJ Jury score is…10

 

Greece

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

Greece’s EBJ Jury score is…5.67

 

Poland

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

Poland’s EBJ Jury score is…6.22

 

Romania

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

Romania’s EBJ Jury score is…3.22

 

Russia

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

Russia’s EBJ Jury score is…7.44

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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