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BENDY POLES, PORTUGUESE DEATH DROPS AND NOT-SO-PERFECT STORMS | My take on Tel Aviv’s first semi-final!

Just like that, Eurovision 2019’s semi final numero uno is done and dusted and we have our first ten finalists for the year. As always, the show came and went faster than I thought possible, which wasn’t the worst thing since I was keen to get back to bed after a late night and the unfortunate 3am wake-up. The things we do for Eurovision when the time zone isn’t in our favour…

Anyway, I’m guessing you didn’t drop by to hear me complain about something that I actually don’t mind doing because EUROVISION. So instead, I’ll dive straight in to reviewing the semi from start to finish. Splash!

 

First, a few asides about the less attention-grabbing stuff that happened:

Show pros The opening vignette feat. mini Netta (cute) and the Toy reprise from grown-up Netta that followed; the dancetastic postcards (Georgia’s may have been my fave); the overall look of the stage and the lushness of the LEDs. 

Show NOs The hosts (there’s no Anke/Filomena type among the four) and their banter (pretty cringey); some residual dodgy camerawork; a couple of qualifiers I’ll name and shame later.

If only they sounded as good as they looked.

 

Now, let’s talk about the all-important bits and pieces: the performances and the results!

 

 

The performances: From not-so-good to great

I was going to run through the 17 in performance order, but then I thought ‘Why not offend as many people as possible by dragging their favourites and complimenting their most disliked entries excessively?’. Just kidding. But this is my personal scale of SF1 acts from ‘fail’ to ‘nailed it’.

Montenegro Poor D mol. They did what they could with Heaven, and if I was reviewing a high school talent comp or an episode of Glee, they’d rank higher. But it’s the biggest song contest on the planet we’re talking about, and this performance was not up to par. Questionable costumes, messy vocal moments and a song that could have been rejected by S Club 7 circa 2001 = not what it takes to make a Eurovision finalist.

Finland Icon status alone also isn’t enough to guarantee qualification, as Darude discovered last night. Look Away wasn’t statement enough to stand out in a field of 17, even though the superstar DJ and Sebastian managed to deliver a three minutes much, much better than those we saw at UMK. Finland just wasn’t meant to make it to Saturday night this year. Blame it on Sebastian’s mind-boggling jeans if it makes you feel better, Darude.

San Marino I’m going to do exactly what Serhat’s been telling me and say na na na to this massive slice of cheese. With I Didn’t Know being the Creepiest Song Ever™, it was no mean feat for him to outdo the ick factor from 2016 – but he did it. This performance was a step up from San Marino’s last year, but the whole thing gave off ‘desperate wedding singer hired out of guilt because he’s related to the bride and really needs the work’ vibes.

Belgium Eliot is a precious cinnamon roll and gave Wake Up an admirable go for someone so young and relatively inexperienced. He was just missing the very fight that he was singing about. Maybe it was nerves, not that he was visibly vibrating with the shakes á la Alekseev or anything. Another handicap was the song itself, which as we all know never really takes off. It couldn’t keep my attention away from Twitter and on my TV screen, I’m afraid.

Estonia I wanted this to be the same combo of charming and slick that saw Storm…well, storm to victory in Eesti Laul (thanks to the televote). But it was very rough around the edges – not quite a hot mess, but edging into that territory. The camera loves Victor and so do I, but he was barely hitting his high notes, something he acknowledged after the show. The green-screen weather is still one heck of an eye-catching gimmick though. Better luck on Saturday.

Georgia I’d heard there was some fierce staging afoot for Georgia, and I was not disappointed. The backdrops added a heap of intensity and atmosphere to the song, and I must say that Oto’s outfit was a huge upgrade from the hand-me-down disaster he was sporting on Georgian Idol. He sang well and connected with the camera like a pro, but as I suspected, what happened on stage wasn’t enough to make Keep On Going top 10 material.

Cyprus Was Tamta’s Replay a solid opener for the semi? Kind of. I was underwhelmed by Cyprus in general, with Tamta putting on a performance worthy of that time Mariah Carey could barely be arsed to get through one televised song and put about 37% enthusiasm into it. Also, the wet-hair-don’t-care/beyond thigh-high boots/crystallised leotard look was all kinds of wrong from where I was sitting. Maybe not Barbara Dex bad, but in that neighbourhood. The song itself saved this.

Slovenia I was worried about how Zala and Gašper’s closed-off intimacy would work on a much bigger stage than that of EMA. Truth be told, I didn’t think it did. The galactical backdrop was beautiful though, and I love Sebi so unconditionally that I’m willing to convince myself that the lack of down-camera connection was different rather than dysfunctional for Eurovision. The highlight has to be Zala’s vocals, which were as hypnotic and otherworldly as ever last night.

Poland Here’s a classic case of a song I’m not a fan of impressing me when performed live. All my traumatic memories of Lukas Meijer’s 2018 vocal car crash faded away, as Tulia treated us to a studio-perfect rendition of Pali Şie feat. a striking twist on traditional Polish costumes. They weren’t the most engaging artists and their singing style would have turned people off no doubt, but they were aurally flawless and my ears will be eternally thankful.

Hungary I’M NOT GOING TO CRY, I’M NOT GOING TO CRY, I’M NOT GOING TO CRY. I won’t mention why I’m holding back tears yet, like you don’t know. Wonderful, wonderful Joci gave me everything I wanted from Az Én Apám, sinister floating man-faces and misplaced fire curtain aside. This song hits me right in the heart and with Joci’s signature performance style (emotional, authentic and quietly powerful) that was always going to be the way when I saw it in this semi.

Belarus Cyprus better be grateful that Belarus drew a different final half, because ZENA – at age sixteen – somehow managed to out-Tamta Tamta. Her vocals were so-so at times, but when the staging is so fun, the choreography is killer and the performer’s personality is bigger than us (heh) who really cares? Not me. I enjoyed everything about this, and hoped it might have done enough to qualify once ZENA had done her Spice Girl kick at the end. Spoiler alert: it did!

Greece This was not the perfect package I was praying for, but I may just be feeling extra critical today after the semi did not turn out how I’d hoped. Thumbs down to the condom-shaped prop and overly-busy staging; thumbs up to the feminine florals and colour palette, and of course to Katerine’s drop-dead gorgeous vocals. Was this the semi winner? Not quite, IMO. But Greece put the kind of effort into Better Love’s presentation that they should have put into Oniro Mou.

Serbia Speaking of gorgeous vocals…Nevena unsurprisingly nailed every single one of Kruna’s notes, big, small and in-between. Her voice is amazing, she is stunning and the whirlpool graphics gave the performance more life and emphasised how high-def this year’s LED screens are (unless they just seem to be super high-quality in the wake of no LEDs in Lisbon). Our girl has sure come a long way, especially in the fashion department, since 2013.

Iceland If you were able to push through the feeling of having all your senses assaulted by Hatari, then you would have loved this as much as I did. It was the national final performance tweaked and refined, with better vocals from Matthias and Klemens, and that was all these guys needed to bring to Tel Aviv. I couldn’t help laughing at the contrast between Iceland in last year’s first semi and Iceland this time around. This is proof that it pays to be adventurous (unless you’re Portugal).

Czech Republic It was party time from the second Lake Malawi’s Albert said ‘Can you hear it?’ and flashed his exceedingly pearly whites right at me. That’s what it felt like, anyway. I have no complaints about this fun, colourful (in a Belgian sort of way) and confident performance. Great camera effects and crystal-clear money notes too. This was like a rejuvenating vitamin B shot, which we all needed after sitting through a block of anti-party songs.

Portugal Before I even talk about last night’s results, I feel compelled to say that PORTUGAL WAS ROBBED. I could have watched Conan and his death-dropping sidekick do their thing all evening, and I really felt like it was on the right side of weird – the lack of cutlery glued to Conan’s face probably helped. Excellent colour scheme, lighting and vocals and an overall feeling of artiness that wasn’t too arty…WTF went wrong? This was dope!

Australia Yes, my favourite performance of the night was from my own country. Bloody oath, mate. You can call it bias, but Kate had me feeling prouder than I’ve ever felt before – and very nervous – as she swung to and fro five metres in the air, living out the ultimate fairy princess fantasy while delivering on-point operatic vocals. Zero Gravity has undergone a glow-up and a half since Australia Decides, and it’s now in contention for a great result this weekend *happy-cries in Australian*.

 

 

That was all of the performances, which as I said flew by in what felt like five minutes. I have a few awards to hand out to the star performers and standout visuals of the night:

Best vocals Poland

Best staging Australia

Best costume Australia

Best personality Belarus

Best overall performance Australia

Sorry/not sorry for the Aussie overload. What can I say? I’m feeling phenomenally patriotic. Let me know which performances were your personal favourites (and least favourites…go on, spill some tea!) in the comments.

 

 

The results: A lot of predictability plus a few surprises

After the recaps, previews of Israel, Spain and France, more awkward host banter and an inexplicable Bruno Mars cover by Dana International (I would pay to NOT have to hear that again), it was time for us to get some answers. Just who would make it out of this less competitive but still curiously unpredictable semi? In announcement order – which is totally random and not at all engineered to make us sweat – it was Greece, Belarus, Serbia, Cyprus, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Australia, Iceland, San Marino and Slovenia. Belgium, Finland, Georgia, Hungary, Montenegro, Poland and Portugal were sent packing.

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first: no Hungary, and no Portugal. Those were the two eventual DNQ countries that I’d been desperate to see in the final, Hungary in particular. I can understand why Joci’s performance might have been too uneventful for some, but the fact that he’s Hungary’s only non-qualifier since 2009 – after giving them such a great result in 2017 – breaks my  heart. I adore him, and Az Én Apám will be sorely missed by me on Saturday night. Portugal, on the other hand, proved too bizarre to make the cut and that makes me mad. Especially when San Marino managed to qualify, which has none of Portugal’s creativity, originality and artistic merit. I try to take the results as they come, but that is a hard pill to swallow.

On the plus side, Australia and the Czech Republic went through – and I’m thinking we may have won this semi. It’s got to be between Kate and Hatari, with Katerine hovering on the edge. Estonia’s qualification had me sighing with relief, and I’m hoping Victor can brush up his vocals for the final and prove he belongs there (it’s all very Isaiah at this point). Belarus and Slovenia were my happy shocks of the night, though ZENA’s reaction was the kind I like to see. Zala and Gašper looked like they’d been given a voucher for a free Subway sandwich or something, not a ticket to the final of the world’s most-watched song contest.

In terms of my predictions – which you’ll be able to find all week on my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram @EurovisionByJaz – I managed to embarrass myself yet again by predicting 7/10 before the show…and 6/10 after I’d seen the performances. Here’s hoping I can redeem myself when it comes to SF2. How did you do?

 

 

That’s a wrap on my semi final one review, guys. If there’s anything you want to say about what went down last night, slide into my DMs comment box and get it off your chest. Were you happy with the results? What were your personal highs and lows? Do you think we saw the 2019 winner in this semi? Like John Lundvik, I wanna know.

I’ll see you on the other side of the second semi, for another post-show discussion. In the meantime, enjoy your Eurovision week as it continues, and as we get one step closer to crowning our next contest champion!

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

Until then,

 

 

 

 

An NYE Top 10 Countdown: Saying hej då to 2016 with my highlights of the Eurovision year that was!

Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone! Speaking as someone who wasn’t ready for Christmas (although I still managed to get all of my shopping done on time), I’m sure as heck not ready for 2016 to become 2017. But it’s happening, so I’m going to use the last few hours of the year to have a massive Throwback Thursday extravaganza…on a Saturday. I like to live dangerously.

As always, the past twelve months have been very exciting ones, full of ups and downs, for us Eurovision freaks (no offence intended by that terminology. I say let your freak flag fly!). But unless you want to drown your sorrows and wake up tomorrow morning with a huge hangover and feeling the remorse than Frans Jeppsson-Wall does not, I suggest focusing on the highlights rather than the lowlights. That’s what I’m doing here and now for my last post of the year: counting down a few of my favourite things from the 2015/2016 NF season, Eurovision 2016, and Junior Eurovision 2016. These were the songs/artists/results/events et cetera that had me hollering ‘Say yay yay yay!’ instead of a Michele Perniola-style ‘No’. Check out my picks and then let me know which moments made you a happy fan in 2016.

 

Let’s make like Hannah Mancini + love by diving straight in!

 

#10 | Better late than never: The Czech Republic finally makes it to an ESC final

The Czech Republic hasn’t had the driest of dry spells when it comes to Eurovision. It’s true that  they hadn’t qualified from a semi until this year, but they did only compete five times between 2007 and 2016 (ten tries with zero qualifications would be a far more depressing statistic). Still, it was nothing less than a fist-pump moment when the country clawed their way out of Stockholm’s first semi final – for me, at least, because I love a good Cinderella story. I Stand isn’t one of my favourite entries from this year, and in Jaz’s Argo-inspired utopian land, Estonia’s Play would have replaced it in the semi’s top 10 (despite the creep factor). However, I do think that it deserved a spot in the final more than any of the Czech entries that came before it, so…go Gabriela! You’ve broken the drought.

 

#9 | The real fan favourites of Eurovision 2016: Zoë, the contest princess + Serhat, the cult superstar

It’s never just the songs of an ESC that get fans frothing at the mouth (and sometimes down south, if I may be so saucy). Often, it’s the personalities performing them who get tongues wagging and cause social media follows to flood in. In that respect, the real winners of Eurovision 2016 were Austria’s Zoë and San Marino’s/Turkey’s Serhat. Zoë earned an army of fans thanks to her general gorgeousness, being bubblier than a bottle of champagne and being the closest thing to a Disney princess we’ve ever seen at the contest. Serhat had people on the ground in Sweden stalking him for photos on a Sergey Lazarev level because I Didn’t Know was so bad it was *almost* good – and though we didn’t know whether he knew that or not, we did know that he was bringing his own brand of swag to the proceedings. Both artists brought a bit of old-timey ESC to 2016, and owned the shiz out of it. As such, I’m hopping off the train at Admiration Station here.

 

#8 | If it’s good enough for Christer, it must be pretty damn good: Belarus brings out the big guns for JESC + wins over Björkman

This is random, but sometimes it’s the little things that make you jump for joy, or at least do a tiny hop for happiness. Belarus brought their signature youthful spunk to Junior Eurovision this year, which has won them the contest twice before and nabbed them a handful of great results. An extra ingredient for 2016 was the humble household hoverboard, a fleet of which were navigated effortlessly by Alexander Minyonok and his dancers in Valletta. The gimmick was there, the choreography was slick, the vocals were on point…overall, this was a polished and entertaining package that harked back to the more childlike JESCs of the mid-2000s. And you know who acknowledged that? Mr. Christer Björkman. He was the only expert juror to award Belarus one of his top scores, and his precious douze at that, rewarding an entry that put the Junior into Junior Eurovision. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy seeing a formidable force in the ESC-verse hand his highest points to Belarus.

 

#7 | A tiny island changes their tune for the better: Malta swaps Chameleon for Walk On Water

I’m not too keen on national finals that stipulate a change in song is (not perfect, but) a-ok after a particular artist/song combo has already won. It feels a bit like cheating on the public and/or juries that chose the original song as The One (and also, WTH is the point of holding an NF? Just opt for an internal selection if that’s how you want to play it). However…Malta’s move from the MESC-winning Chameleon – performed by inevitable singer Ira Losco – to the Swedish penned and produced Walk On Water was an excellent action to take. Chameleon, while catchy, was suffering from an identity crisis, and wasn’t exactly cutting-edge pop music. Walk On Water knew exactly what it was – powerful soul-pop peppered with gospel and electronic sounds that allowed Malta to hold their own against the likes of Russia and Australia. Still not sold? Well, if it wasn’t for the switch, we wouldn’t have experienced the sheer joy of a liquid-filled USB stick with #WOW stamped on it *mic drop*.

 

#6 | All out of luck: Bosnia & Herzegovina + Greece lose their 100% qualification records

Before you start hurling abuse at me, let me explain why the 2016 non-qualifications of Bosnia & Herzegovina and Greece were a highlight of my year. I have nothing against either of these countries, and I was actually quite disappointed to see the unique Utopian Land left behind in its semi final. But because it was, alongside Ljubav Je, countries who advance to the final every year can now no longer assume their safety. That, I think, is a good thing. It proves that bloc/diaspora voting can’t be relied upon (despite what some people outside the ESC bubble believe); and that if your entry is worse than ten others you’re competing against, you’re out, no matter who you are. So, from big hitters like Russia to residents of Struggle Town like San Marino, everybody needs to bring something delicious to the Eurovision buffet table, or they’ll be tossed straight into the trash. And anything that keeps the level of musical quality sky-high in the contest gets a thumbs-up from me.

 

#5 | The comeback king (and queen) who kicked butt: The triumphant artist returns of the 2016 adult contest

These days, every Eurovision seems to bring with it a crop of artists that we’ve seen before. They end their second/third/fifteenth attempts at gaining ESC glory in different ways, and this year was no different in that sense. But it’s the success stories that I like to focus on rather than the fails (Deen, Greta Salomé and Kaliopi – sorry, but I’m “skinning you out”). The abovementioned Ira Losco may have gotten Malta back in the final, but she couldn’t come close to equaling or topping her 2002 second place (I think it was the lack of glitter-blowing). So it was up to Poli Genova and Donny Montell to fly the ‘We outdid ourselves!’ flag for Bulgaria and Lithuania respectively…and boy, did they ever. Donny’s goal was to beat Love Is Blind’s 14th place from 2012, and he did so by finishing 9th and giving his country their best result since 2006. Poli went from a DNQ in 2011 to achieving Bulgaria’s first qualification in nearly a decade, followed by their best result ever. Bravo, you two!

 

#4 | Never mind the colour of your life – let’s talk the colour of success: Poland picks Michał Szpak over Margaret, regrets nothing

One of the most shocking happenings of the 2015/2016 selection season was Margaret and her monster hit Cool Me Down NOT being Poland’s entry of choice for Stockholm. Even those of us who were immune to Margaret’s charms (i.e. me) figured she was a shoo-in to win Krajowe Eliminacje – and if she had an off night, surely Edyta Górniak would step in? Um, no. Jaws dropped globally as Michał Szpak and his majestic mane won the NF with ease (nearly 36% of the public vote, to be precise). Surfing on a sea of haters and doubters shouting ‘IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN MARGARET!’, he went on to qualify to the Eurovision final….and then came the voting sequence to end all voting sequences. Your moment of the night might have been when Russia tried but failed to push past Australia and Ukraine at the last second to win, but mine? Poland’s ultimate leapfrog over TWENTY countries into 6th place – thanks to the televoters – which led to an eventual 8th-place finish. Now that’s #WOW.

 

#3 | Edward af Sillén’s way with words: The entire Eurovision 2016 script

As a writer, I always find myself paying more attention than most to the scripting of Eurovision. I rarely find the hosts’ dialogue to be above average, excluding the perfection that was 2007 (Jaana and Mikko are my all-time favourite host duo) and 2013. The common ground between 2013 and 2016, besides Petra Mede? Screenwriter and genius Edward af Sillén. The man behind the words of Oslo 2010 and Malmö 2013 outdid both of his previous ESC gigs this year with a hilarious host script. Not only was it packed with banter that highlighted the chemistry between Petra and Måns, it also used humour to push the limits of what flies during a family entertainment program – which I love. Then there was ‘That’s Eurovision!’ – one of the best semi openers in history – and the now iconic ‘Love Love Peace Peace’, which we’ll still be singing when the next Swedish-hosted ESC takes place (probably in 2018). Basically, anything we heard in Stockholm that af Sillén had put down on paper was smart, sassy, and memorable. It played a big part in what I believe to be one of the best contests ever.

 

#2 | Beating Europe at their own game: Australia wins the jury vote and finishes second in Stockholm

If you thought this Australian was going to list her personal highlights of the Euro-year and NOT mention Dami Im, you were sadly mistaken. Until it actually happened, I had no idea that she was capable of giving us such an incredible result in our second year of contest participation. Guy Sebastian’s 5th place last year was awesome enough, but Dami almost winning the comp when Australia is still a newbie being made to feel quite unwelcome by some (which is understandable, but we’re here to stay so PLS STAHP) topped it by a mile. For a year, I was crushed that I couldn’t be in Vienna to see us compete for the first time. But then I made it to Stockholm to watch Dami nail her final performance, and I felt the support from a crowd of countless nationalities. After that, I got to witness her top the jury vote and wondered if I was about to see an unprecedented Aussie win of the whole contest. I didn’t, which as a Jamala devotee didn’t bother me too much. But I was there when we proved how seriously we take Eurovision, and when we scored ourselves such an amazing spot on the scoreboard. In hindsight, I wouldn’t change a thing.

 

#1 | Yasligima toyalmadim, men bu yerde yasalmadim: Jamala, 1944 and the ESC

Now we’ve arrived at my number one “thing” (song, artist, event…whatever), and fittingly, the only thing that could beat Dami’s epic Eurovision effort is the story of the entry that actually beat her in the competition. I wasn’t thrilled when I found out that Jamala was trying to represent Ukraine again, five years on from the 2011 Mika-Zlata-Jamala Incident. That’s because Smile made me do the opposite. Still, I cued up 1944 the first chance I got, not expecting to like what could have been a carbon copy of Smile. Three minutes later, my mind had been blown. I felt connected to the haunting, experimental beauty of 1944 immediately, drawn to its combination of vulnerability and strength, and the pain unleashed by Jamala as she told her grandmother’s story through song. It was magic, and I felt that from first listen through to the, ahem, *interesting* Ukrainian NF, then on to Eurovision. Every time she performed, it was as heartfelt as ever, and never has a vocal possessed such emotion and sincerity while still knocking our socks off with its sheer power. The overall impact of 1944 won Ukraine their second ESC trophy – and it was a victory not of gimmicks or of a personality, but of a song that meant something. Even now I can’t hear those first few bars without tearing up…which is why I never listen to it in public. Thank you for the music, Jamala. I’ll get some tissues ready for your reprise in Kyiv.

 

 

Congratulations, you made it to the end of this marathon countdown! If it’s past midnight wherever you are, then Happy New Year – I’m sorry you spent it trying not to fall asleep while I rambled my little heart out. If it’s still pre-midnight, then you have time to salvage the evening, so I’ll wrap things up by wishing you all the best for the start of 2017 (and the middle and end, obviously). Whether you’re celebrating by partying it up Russian granny style, tuning in to the ESC 250, or lying on the floor in the foetal position weeping because you failed to keep your New Year’s resolutions (which one am I? I’ll never tell), enjoy yourself.

I’ll see you next year for another January-December filled with Eurovision. In the meantime, don’t forget to fill me in on your NF/ESC/JESC highlights of 2016. I definitely didn’t keep my resolution to be less nosy, so I want to know everything.

 

Skål!

 

2015sig

 

 

REVIEWS | The EBJ Jury Judges Eurovision 2016 (Part 3)

It’s creeping ever closer, people! If you don’t know what I mean by ‘it’, then I have to question why you’re reading this blog. For those who do know, you’ll also be aware that the Eurovision 2016 stage is taking shape inside the Globe Arena, and that means more reviewing must be done before it resembles the diagrams we oohed and aahed over a little while ago. It’s still mostly scaffolding at this point – but there’s no time to waste! Let’s say hej to today’s judges, and to the countries they’ll be discussing in this third installment of reviews.

 

 TODAY’S EBJ JURORS
jmj

By now, you guys should know where to meet and greet the EBJ Jury, so I won’t tell you again (well, maybe just one more time. Hint: scroll up!). James, Martin and myself are about to complement and criticise the life out of Albania, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and San Marino – or, as I like to call them (because we’re all best buddies), Eneda, Jüri, Jamie-Lee, Donny, Douwe Bob and Serhat. Who’ll be our favourite, and will any country other than the predictable one be our LEAST favourite? Settle down with some popcorn and find out now!

 

 

Albania

James Okay, I feel like I’m going to be in the minority here when I say I actually think the revamp has improved Albania’s song this year…instrumentally, at least. Fairytale 2.0 sounds a lot more professional than Përrallë did – the only issue I have is that Eneda’s new vocal somehow sounds like she recorded it right after waking up from a three-hour nap, and quite fancied getting straight back to bed as soon as she was done. I’m hoping she really attacks it live because even with its lucky running order position, it’s gonna need a LOT of extra energy if it’s to stand ANY chance of making it to Saturday night. The English lyrics aren’t brilliant, I must admit, but that’s never been an issue in the past *cough, undo my sad, cough*. As a song though, I do enjoy listening to Fairytale, and the hook does stick with me. I’d be happy to see Albania in the final with this.

Martin Swapping from Albanian to English, along with losing forty-five seconds of the FiK version of Fairytale, is going to lead to yet another non-qualification for Albania – much in the same way as it did for Hersi in 2014. What was a powerful and passionate emotional rollercoaster with lots of interesting nuances in Tirana has now lost it all and become a repetitive low-key ballad that no longer holds my attention.

Jaz Albania seem to have forgotten fast that a fully-Albanian language entry gave them their best-ever Eurovision result. Obviously, it’s well within their rights to sing in whatever language they like – but I can’t help feeling that ANY language other than English would have helped Eneda’s Fairytale retain the mystery and intrigue that it initially had (and in doing so, you might say, made it a Fairytale with a happy ending). Like Martin, I can’t say that this song, in its English incarnation, is anything special – whereas it was when it was known as Përrallë. Language gripes aside, I still rate the gritty, rocky sound (and how it contrasts with Eneda’s/Kate Winslet’s ladylike styling), and the melody and construction of the choruses is still interesting (we’re rarely on the receiving end of cookie-cutter stuff from Albania). But, without the air of ‘Ooh, what’s this all about then?’ that the original version of the song created, I cannot see this qualifying. Not unless a handful of other countries stumble and fall flat on their faces, that is.

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

Albania’s EBJ Jury score is…5.33

 

 

Estonia 

James Aagh, Estonia. I genuinely still don’t know what I think of Play yet. It’s definitely one of the most original songs in this year’s line-up, and it’s fresh and relevant whilst oozing the kind of timeless classiness that Estonia are so good at of late. The thing I’m not so sure about is Jüri’s voice – if the song had been written a couple of semitones higher, it would be in a much more comfortable place for him. This is something I’m all too familiar with from trying to record covers myself – literally, if someone from his team could just whack the karaoke version into Audacity and change the pitch up a bit, everything would be fine! He still sings it perfectly well, of course, but there’s not a single point in the song where he has the chance to break out of that sludgy lower register and show off the full extent of his vocal capabilities, and the overall effect is far too dark, in my opinion. Yes, I know it’s MEANT to be like that, but I don’t think it really works. Especially live – the melody is so low that it blends in with the track and obscures a lot of the meaning, which is a shame since the lyrics are one of the song’s highlights. I still think it’s got a pretty good shot at qualifying, though, and it’s definitely going to stand out, one way or another.

Martin With a passing nod to the vocal style of Neil Hannon and The Divine Comedy, Jüri brings chic and coolness to Eurovision with a very laid-back and confident performance, together with a song that builds nicely and has a memorable chorus. Play just lacks a ‘wow’ moment that would definitely confirm a final place, and a possible top half finish for Estonia. Because of that, this could be one of the ‘better’ casualties of this year’s semi finals.

Jaz Estonia has pulled a Latvia this year, selecting a song written by their 2015 representative to fly their flag (I’ll be swapping the countries around and saying the same thing about Latvia when the time comes). While I’d put Love Injected on par with Heartbeat in the ‘How freaking awesome is this?’ department, I’d actually rank Goodbye To Yesterday a little lower than Jüri’s Play. That’s not because I hate GTY (I don’t, although it never topped my rankings) but because I LOVE Play. Jüri + this song = a performance by a more well-groomed and more intense version of Hozier, and it is soaked with smoky retro sophistication. This kid (I can call him that since he’s younger than me and my mental age is akin to that of a teenager) might look angelic, but when he’s on stage, those of us watching him aren’t sure whether he wants to skin us alive or if he’s just really, really in the zone. I like the fact that he’s so ‘in character’ as he works his way through a song that literally hits all the notes that Bond-inspired vintage-vibe pop should. Of all the throwback songs that will be showing up in Stockholm this year (‘all’ meaning, like, three or four) this is the most well-executed IMO, and it almost serves as a prequel – or sequel, depending on how the listener writes the story – to GTY, as an added bonus. Though I doubt Jüri will squeeze out a single tear á la Elina Born at Eurovision, I don’t doubt his ability to take Stig’s song to the final…and perhaps secure Estonia another top 10 result as well.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 12
  • Fraser 6
  • James 5
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 7
  • Nick 4
  • Penny 8
  • Rory 6
  • Wolfgang 5

Estonia’s EBJ Jury score is…7

 

 

Germany

James I should absolutely adore this. It’s got that modern synth-pop sound with a waif-like female lead vocal, which I usually really dig…but something about Ghost just doesn’t click with me. Don’t get me wrong, it has its moments – I like the bridge, for example, and the chords in the ‘lonely in a crowded room together’ line. But on the whole, that chorus is such an anti-climax, isn’t it (please say somebody agrees with me?). It’s still a decent enough song, but I guess I just feel a bit miffed every time I hear it because I feel like it could have been soooooo much better! I hope it grows on me, and it probably will when I get the CD and actually let myself play all the songs to within an inch of their lives…but until then, it’s mid-table at best for me. Sorry, Germany.

Martin Melancholic lyrics, an atmospheric score and hauntingly powerful vocals were all at odds with the visual package of an 18-year-old girl obsessed with manga outfits! ‘The Voice of Germany’ was totally the focus of the national final performance of Ghost and rightly so. Jamie-Lee’s simple but sublime delivery of this entry could be the sleeper hit this year in Stockholm. One of my favourites – it’s my number 4 at this stage.

Jaz I don’t want to get overly-attached to Jamie-Lee and her Ghost, given what happened in the wake of me latching on to Ann Sophie’s Black Smoke (I’m beginning to think I’m a bad luck charm). But…this song is brilliant! Hashtag fail on the ‘keep your distance’ thing! I’m no musical expert – which you may find hard to believe – but I think that technically-speaking, this is one of the best songs competing in this year’s contest. The background music is almost church hymn-like, which adds a pleading but accepting tone to the words pouring out of Jamie’s mouth; while the steady beat makes the whole thing hypnotic. As a package, the music and lyrics are fresh and edgy, and Eurovision needs those adjectives. However, what we see rather than hear is where Germany has gone wrong. I know Jamie-Lee loves her K-pop and her Harajuku-inspired outfits (in other words, Gwen Stefani would adore her) – but not only does her choice of costume detract from a song it just isn’t suitable for, it also makes for a jarring combination of a mature, emotionally-charged song being performed by someone who looks distinctly Junior Eurovision, and therefore far too young to have an understanding of what she’s singing about. Jamie, sans stuffed-toy-covered wardrobe, does have the maturity required to pull this off despite her young age, and her vocal talents are undeniable. But dressing the way she does, she’d be better off joining Dolly Style when one of their current members inevitably departs, or performing a song that is as fun, cute and playful as she looks. To people not named Jaz, the contrast between Ghost and Jamie’s sartorial selections might make her stand out positively from her 25 fellow finalists – but I think, as much as I admire her passion for and loyalty to her look, keeping it for Eurovision is a big risk. I do love the song though…

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 8
  • Fraser 5
  • James 5
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 10
  • Nick 12
  • Penny 6
  • Rory 4
  • Wolfgang 10

Germany’s EBJ Jury score is…7.78

 

 

Lithuania

James Okay, yes, this has ‘Melfest Reject’ written all over it, but you know what? I don’t mind at all. One thing I really look for in Eurovision now is relevance. As I’m hosting a Eurovision party for all my non-fan friends, I get really excited when there are songs that sound like they’d fit right into the UK charts or radio playlists right now, because then I can point at the screen and go ‘SEE? EUROVISION’S NOT SHIT!’ and smile smugly as all my friends listen and can’t help but agree, because songs like Lithuania’s match their own tastes and would do so well if released by someone more well-known over here. So yeah, well done Lithuania! Ever since Attention, which I ADORED, they’ve really upped their game at Eurovision, and I’m enjoying their commitment to giving Europe the very best that their country can offer! Another thing though – have you heard any of Donny’s more recent music? Because damn, boy, he’s so much better now than when he sang that god-awful thing at the ESC in 2012! He’s got a really slick Troye Sivan/The Weeknd kind of vibe going on (think Aminata/Loïc Nottet if you want a contest reference) and it really suits his voice and style. I sort of wish he’d entered something more like that for Eurovision, but meh – I’ve Been Waiting… is more than good enough as it is!

Martin Donny gives this entry everything – it’s definitely memorable, it’s a standout high-tempo pop song that is performed superbly well, and it makes full use of his onstage charisma and good looks. Is the song’s title also a good omen for Lithuania? Donny could well be singing ‘I’ve been waiting for this night’ over the credits of the Eurovision final as his country’s first winner.

Jaz How does a pasty, preppy dude whose hobbies include strumming an imaginary guitar and wearing comical bejeweled blindfolds transform into a buff, bronzed and blonde (for the most part) crowd-captivator? Why not ask Donny Montell? He’s done just that between 2012 and 2016. Don’t get me wrong – Love Is Blind was the bomb, and Donny has always been a showman and a half, who can dance and sing simultaneously to a degree that probably makes Eric Saade very depressed indeed. But it’s great to see that Donny has evolved as an artist, and that he didn’t try to make an ESC comeback by repeating his approach of four years ago. I’ve Been Waiting For This Night is a bog-standard dance anthem, but the catchy chorus coupled with Donny’s charisma elevate it to above-average. Not since Kurt Calleja’s This Is The Night have we witnessed an entry that sets the tone for the show so perfectly (although Tonight Again did a darn good job of that in Vienna, I must say). Needless to say, the Globen audience (which will include me!), plus everyone watching on TV will be partying it up-up-up-up-up-uuup Loreen-style thanks to Lithuania. I am expecting them to qualify, and I will be complaining very loudly if they don’t. Oh, and I’ll also be starting a petition to get Donny to drop the Anglicised stage name and revert back to his much cooler birth name. ‘Donny’ worked with Love Is Blind. ‘Donatas’ is the artist IBWFTN deserves.

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

Lithuania’s EBJ Jury score is…6.55

 

 Netherlands 

James Anyone who knows me will know that I absolutely love Calm After The Storm. So I guess when we worked out that by sending Douwe Bob, The Netherlands were going to be trying country music again, I was cautiously optimistic. And then I heard the song. Yeah, no. It’s the kind of thing that would only feel at home around the track 12 mark on disc two of some cheap ‘Driving Anthems’ compilation: the kind my Dad would play on long car journeys circa 2004. As a result, Slow Down just makes me think of those car journeys as a kid and I get a weird second-hand travel-sickness from it and…yeah, I just really don’t like it. The chord pattern, the instrumentation, the tone of the whole thing – it’s supposed to make you feel happy, but by the third line I just want to Sellotape Bob’s smug little mouth shut so he ‘can’t go on’ (see what I did there? Eh, eh?). Can I just stop listening to this and go listen to Calm After The Storm again instead please? That was such a special song. This is not.

Martin Country & western returns to Eurovision courtesy of the Netherlands yet again – it’s always about the lyrics, as this genre can sound like every other C & W track you’ve ever heard. Slow Down is well sung, and Douwe Bob is personable and handsome…but the steady pace and sound of the song won’t stand out in Stockholm. Another possible ‘good’ non-qualifier for me.

Jaz I have to agree with both James and Martin on this one, in terms of the fact that Douwe Bob’s Slow Down is achingly average – and it certainly doesn’t recapture the magic of Calm After The Storm (though you can’t blame the Netherlands for trying to in the wake of the Trijntje incident). The song’s not bad (we’ll come to one that is almost undeniably so in a minute). But, as much as I enjoy the cruisy pace and general jauntiness of it, plus Bob’s insistence that we chillax bro – and his vocal, which is super-smooth with a rough retro edge that I find strangely attractive – the entry as a whole just doesn’t ‘do’ much for me. Therefore, I have no choice but to file it away with the likes of Finland and the Czech Republic. I can’t imagine that the staging for this will be epic enough to make Douwe Bob the second coming of the Common Linnets, because even on its own, their song had the x-factor. Still, he should serve us up a nice, clap-friendly three minutes on stage (and if he lets that rose tattoo poke out of his shirt, you may hear me wolf-whistling amidst the applause). That should at least ensure that he won’t be bottom of his semi. Qualification isn’t out of his reach, but it’s definitely not in the bag.

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

The Netherlands’ EBJ Jury score is…5.55

 

 

San Marino

James Okay…is this a joke? Like, genuinely, I hope this is a joke, because if not, it’s just plain embarrassing. I cannot comprehend how one country can send so many palpably half-arsed entries in such a short space of time. I completely understand that San Marino are strapped for cash, and since Ralph Siegel has stopped bankrolling their entire Eurovision operation (hallelujah!) they’ve adopted the approach of nominating artists who can pay their own participation fee. So that essentially means they’ve got the pick of, oh, I don’t know, EVERY SLIGHTLY RICH ARTIST IN THE ENTIRE CONTINENT – hey, actually no, THE ENTIRE WORLD…and they’ve sent THIS. Was this really the best they could do? The original was dire, but by trying to squash Serhat’s badly-written, cringey, lopsided spoken words (that is not singing. I’m sorry, but no) into a DISCO TRACK, they’ve somehow managed to make it even worse. The beat itself, well, erm, Baccara called and they want that back ASAP. But dear lord, Serhat’s voice is the most grating thing in the entire Stockholm line-up! My dog has a bigger vocal range than he does. I’d literally rather spend three minutes listening to her barking right in my ear for her daily Dentastick, and deal with the copious amount of drool that accompanies such a request, than listen to any track with Serhat’s voice on it. Look at his face and then Google the troll face, and tell me they’re not distant cousins at the very least. This HAS to be a pisstake, right? It goes without saying that they haven’t got a hope in hell of qualifying, and if they do – ESPECIALLY if they take the place of someone like Gabriela from the Czech Republic – then there is something very, very wrong with this contest. Come on, San Marino. Sort yourselves out for next year, I beg you!

Martin The Turkish Leonard Cohen meets Studio 54! What would have been a very creepy monotone delivery of a set of ‘obsessive’ lyrics by Serhat is now tempered by some decent female backing, and the light and breezy disco beat that somehow makes this work. I Didn’t Know isn’t great (that’s an understatement!) but at least it’s now bearable to listen to. And, it’s no longer my worst entry this year (just).

Jaz I’ll be honest, and I think many of you will agree with me on this: I’ve never had particularly high expectations of San Marino’s Eurovision entries. Whether they’ve been armed with Siegel’s stash of cash or not, I’ve never been on the edge of my seat waiting for them to produce something on par with an Italian effort (I’m not a Valentina Monetta fan either, which doesn’t help). Even so, the sheer awfulness of I Didn’t Know has sent my jaw straight to the floor countless times since it was unveiled in its original, non-disco form. Like James, I was sure San Marino were trolling us when they presented the song to the public – how else could you explain the so-stale-it-was-growing-stuff track that sounded more like a recording of an audio book gone wrong than a song, or the laughable accompanying video clip that could have been lifted from an SNL sketch? But sadly, it wasn’t a joke. Then, just when we thought things couldn’t get any worse, I Didn’t Know was given the Donna Summer treatment, and OH DEAR GOD. This is what media outlets and non-fans will latch on to when they want to make a mockery of the contest. They won’t ignore it in favour of discussing Latvia or France – they’ll zone directly in on Serhat and his Seventies nightmare (thanks a lot, San Marino/Turkey). Based superficially on his appearance, I had hoped for a trumpet-backed, updated version of Mambo No. 5 from this guy, which would have been a bit of fun. But what we got instead more closely resembles something you’d step in by mistake at the local dog park. In the words of His Majesty Michele Perniola (whose 2015 entry is suddenly sounding like musical genius by comparison), NO. 

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 8
  • Fraser 5
  • James 0
  • Jaz 1
  • Martin 4
  • Nick 1
  • Penny 2
  • Rory 1
  • Wolfgang 0

San Marino’s EBJ Jury score is…2.44

 

 

Duh duh duh…another six bite the dust! This third round of reviews has produced the lowest-scoring set of songs so far – but it did include San Marino, so we should have anticipated that. Here’s today’s top six: 

  1. Germany (7.78)
  2. Estonia (7)
  3. Lithuania (6.55)
  4. The Netherlands (5.55)
  5. Albania (5.33)
  6. San Marino (2.44)

I tip my hat (the hat I’m not actually wearing) to Jamie-Lee Kriewitz for taking out the top spot on this occasion. You go, girlfriend. Where will she finish in the grand scheme of the EBJ Jury’s Top 43? We’ll all find out in a few weeks’ time.

Coming up, two Eurofans from the US of A will join me to pass judgment on Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Hungary, Denmark, Montenegro and Spain. There’s bound to be some hits and misses among them, so make sure you drop by to witness the humorous differences of opinion (it’s always amusing when someone rips a song to shreds and someone else takes offence and they have an argument which results in the destruction of a longtime friendship, don’t you think?).

Sense the sarcasm, guys.

While you’re waiting for me to hit publish on that post, let the EBJ Jury know what you think of today’s tracks. Does Germany’s Ghost get you going, or will it just get you going to the kitchen to put the kettle on? Is San Marino’s sixth place deserved or totally uncalled for? Comment and score these songs for yourself down below – we’d all love to hear from you!

 

Until next time,

 

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