Hello again, and welcome to the space between Eurovision’s second semi and the grand final, when speculation is at an all-time high and so is nervous anxiety (or is that just me now that Australia has climbed to second in the betting odds?). We have ten more qualifiers, and the final line-up is complete right down to the running order. But before I get into that, let’s have a look at the juicy bits from last night’s semi: the performances and the results.
PS – I hope you’re proud of me for producing a short, normal-person introduction for once.
The performances: From WTF to OMG
Once again I’ll run all the way down the list of 18 acts, but in order from my least favourite performance to the one that had me picking up my phone to vote (only to realise that I couldn’t vote in this semi…oops). Let me know how you would rank them in the comments.
Moldova For those of us who remember Ukraine 2011, this was the Walmart to Mika Newton’s Chanel. For those who don’t recall that performance, I’m assuming this still came off as soulless, substandard and at times, downright ridiculous (Kseniya trying to mime the “snow art” at double speed would have fooled no one with functioning eyesight). Anna’s vocals were solid, but her dress screamed 1996 senior prom…and Stay is even more dated than that.
Ireland Well, wasn’t this cute? I’d happily hang out with Sarah and her gal pals at Diner 22, drinking prop milkshakes and lying unhygienically on the counter bemoaning my lost love. Unfortunately it was all a bit amateurish – the high school talent quest act of SF2 that Montenegro provided in SF1. I loved the Roy Lichtenstein-esque pop art backdrops (he happens to be my favourite artist) and I admire Ireland’s commitment to retro, but there was no question about the DNQ Sarah had coming.
Austria I was looking forward to seeing how Limits would come across live: whether it could win me over with its understated beauty, or if I’d be bored by the repetitive chorus that wears me out when I’m listening to the studio version. In the end, Paenda left me somewhere in the middle and somewhat unsatisfied. Her staging was well-executed, but she lost control of her vocals a few times and I found it distracting. This needed to be totally pitch-perfect and she just couldn’t pull it off.
Latvia That Night is another song that makes it hard to stay awake (especially as an Australian watching it performed at 3.30am) and the last minute or so drags beyond belief. That was definitely the case last night, but I have to give credit where it’s due: the staging and setup was lovely, if not engaging or exciting enough. Lead vocalist Sabine was the shining star, glowing like a goddess on camera and delivering silky-smooth vocals. Latvia did the best they could with what they chose.
Armenia Okay…there were some extreme pros and cons here. Positively speaking, Srbuk looked fierce AF and suitably, sang like a woman scorned (scorned but still very much in control of her vocal cords). But the Negative Nancy in me nearly expired when those empty arena shots were spliced in. What was Armenia THINKING? I assumed something had gone wrong and rehearsal footage had been hurriedly inserted to cover for it, when it was a calculated decision all along. WHY?!?
Lithuania There was nothing wrong with Jurij’s performance per se. He looked mighty fine if I may say so, and you’d be hard pressed to nitpick at his vocals. But there was nothing to speak of in the way of staging, and Run With The Lions isn’t an Arcade or a Too Late For Love – a.k.a. a song that can not only survive but thrive with pared-back, lighting-centric staging. The only zing I felt from this was a little one every time Jurij shot one of his alluring looks down the lens. I’m only human!
North Macedonia North Macedonia not stuffing up their staging was proof that miracles can and do happen. Tamara’s vocals weren’t as flawless as I was hoping, but they still had power and passion, and her whole performance was classy and elegant. I’m not one for gigantic faces plastered on backdrops (when will that go out of fashion, FFS?) but I’ll make an exception for the black-and-white photography used here. The pic of Tamara and her daughter at the end was the clincher.
Norway Something was weird about this. It was too dark and not joyful enough, and the stage felt super empty both when KEiiNO were apart at the start and when they joined forces later. Why then, you might ask, don’t I have Norway lower down in my ranking of the 18? The answer is, because I f*%!ing love Spirit In The Sky as a song and it was still enough to satisfy me. I also love the chemistry this trio has, and Alexandra’s overall perfection sight-wise and sound-wise. She’s a queen.
Romania How do you say ‘OTT’ in Romanian? The On A Sunday music video came to life on stage last night and although it was a lot to process, I wasn’t mad about it. And no matter how many kitchen sinks were thrown at this, I couldn’t be distracted from Ester’s crazy-good vocals – she’d never sounded better. She also played her part of the jilted and slightly crazed ex to an Academy Award-winning standard, which may have put some people off but to me was a highlight.
Russia I don’t really know how to feel about this. Sergey is a great guy with superstar stage presence, and he can SING (imagine how fantastic Scream would have sounded if he’d sung it in Russian). But this staging left me cold. I felt like I was supposed to be impressed, but the wow factor of You Are The Only One was nowhere to be found. It’s a strong package, but not a winning one the way I see it. Showering on stage fully clothed can only get you so far.
Denmark Some call this creepy, some call it cute…I call it both at the same time. There was a slight twist on the DMGP performance at play (and either the chair had shrunk a bit or just looked like it had) but mostly it was a carbon copy, including the top-notch vocals and unblinking stare of death from Leonora. I can’t fault this on a small scale, let alone a massive one. Denmark looked extra sweet and light after Romania, and it seemed that worked in their favour.
Croatia Melodramatic, flamboyant and just the kind of thing media outlets will pick up on so they can say ‘That’s SO Eurovision!’, Croatia put on a serious show (that couldn’t be taken too seriously). The story they told was loud and clear, and when the sexy golden angels awarded Roko his wings, I felt the strongest rush of guilty pleasure a person could possibly feel. And I know I’ve banged on about vocals a lot so far, but damn – Roko is a talented teenager. He owned his three minutes.
Albania Personally, I’d have factored more lights, shadows and fire into Albania’s performance. But that aside, HOLY HECK. Jonida is an incredible woman with a powerful, haunting voice that could cut through cement, and a striking sense of style that was on show via that glorious back and gold (or was it blue and white?) dress. I could not love her more, and she poured Jamala-level emotion into Ktheju Tokës. Kudos to her kick-ass backing singers too.
Switzerland To keep talking like the staging expert I am not, I envisioned something different for She Got Me. I was also a little disappointed in the dance break, which wasn’t half as dynamic or energetic as Luca’s dance moves throughout the rest of the song. But whatever – this remains one of my favourites in the contest, and it’s only partly to do with Luca’s biceps. Hearing the audience respond to the choruses made me so excited for Switzerland. Man Fuego is more than fine by me.
The Netherlands The big favourite did not (totally) disappoint. I have reservations about the staging, in particular the piano – and the fact that it takes ages for a close-up shot of Duncan to appear and allow him to connect with us down the camera. But Arcade is a stunning song, and Duncan’s vocals (here she goes again with the vocals!) were gorgeous. I’m not sold on this as a winner – I don’t get The Vibes – but since I said that about Israel this time last year, bring on Amsterdam 2020.
Malta This little island has done big things in Tel Aviv. Chameleon is such a cool song, and the youthful, colourful staging did it justice. Michela didn’t quite exude the confidence of fellow teen Roko before her, but she sang well and looked more and more comfortable as the song went on. While I expected to be impressed by Russia and wasn’t, I didn’t have huge expectations of Malta only to be blown away. Great stuff.
Azerbaijan Sure, Chingiz could have stood on the stage and flossed his teeth for three minutes and I’d still have swooned. But he did much more than that. This was a slick, high-tech performance, elevated by the ethnic bridge and dragged down by that tacky gimmick towards the end. Then again, was it any tackier than supersized CGI Cesár Sampson? Austria didn’t suffer for that, so I suspect Chingiz ascending in a blaze of bargain basement fire won’t impact Azerbaijan’s success.
Sweden If you’re shocked by Sweden’s performance being my fave of the night, you must be new around here. Was it absolutely perfect? I’m going to say no, mainly based on us not getting a good view of The Mamas’ strobe-lighting reveal. But was it joyful and uplifting and expertly-engineered nonetheless? Oh yeah. I just need John to give even more oomph and sparkle in the final, where he rightfully deserves to do very well for himself.
After all that, we were treated to another awesome mash-up of ESC entries; a performance from Shalva Band that warmed even my cold, cynical heart; and previews of Germany, Italy and the UK on the Expo stage (which didn’t change my mind about Germany). Then it was time to find out who would be staying in Tel Aviv for the weekend, and who…well, wouldn’t.
The results: As expected…for the most part
Despite being the more competitive semi, this was the easier of the two shows to predict – for me, anyway. Correct me if I’m wrong! Ultimately North Macedonia, The Netherlands, Albania, Sweden, Russia, Azerbaijan, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and Malta made it through. The unlucky eight were Armenia, Ireland, Moldova, Latvia, Romania, Austria, Croatia and Lithuania.
New name, new stroke of luck? That might hold true for North Macedonia, who find themselves facing their first final since 2012 on Saturday. I can’t say I’m too surprised, even though Proud isn’t one of my preferred picks of the year and I wouldn’t have voted for it had I been able to vote. Albania was the one I didn’t see coming, but I’m stoked to see them qualify again with a song they didn’t feel compelled to switch into English.
The rest of the top 10 were more or less expected to progress, though Denmark and even Norway were borderline – but Finland aside, we now have a full Nordic house for the final. I had a mini heart attack waiting for Switzerland to be announced, which was no doubt the intention of whoever decided on the “random order” this time round. But my pounding chest would have been nothing compared to what Malta’s Michela was feeling, as she sat through nine countries’ namedrops hoping and praying for her own to be spoken. It was borderline psychopathic making her wait so long, but worth it for what is now an all-time favourite reaction of mine.
Who won this semi? It has to be The Netherlands, though I’m not so sure Duncan would have won both the jury and televote (and I don’t think he’ll do that in the final either). The other end of the spectrum includes Armenia, who have now missed out two years running; Moldova, whose run of fun-driven fortune has screeched to a halt; Romania, also missing out again after their first ever DNQ in Lisbon; and Austria, who will be absent from the final for the first time since 2013. It really was a raw deal sacrificing eight songs in this semi, but those are the rules of the game…and if you’re not good enough, you’ve got to go.
Now for a quick word on the running order for the final, which was released pretty rapidly after last night’s qualifiers drew their halves. Opening was realistically between the Czech Republic and Malta (Björkman wouldn’t put Sweden first on a Saturday, nor would he want a replay of Replay being first on stage) and we’re really getting the party started with Chameleon. Albania scores the cursed second slot – a lucky escape for Germany. Russia won’t be thrilled with fifth position, and it looks like we can count them out for the victory they were desperate for. Sweden gets a decent, relatively late first-half spot between North Macedonia and Slovenia, while winner-in-waiting The Netherlands sits pretty in 12th – though that Cyprus/Netherlands/Greece run is intense.
Israel, as we already knew, will kick off the stacked second half which includes Norway, Iceland, Azerbaijan, France, Italy, Switzerland and Australia. My flying fairy queen Kate performs in 25th, the penultimate position previously occupied by Kristian Kostov and Eleni Foureira. And finally, we’ll end the show as we started it: in party mode, this time thanks to Spain.
With all that to contend with, plus about fifty interval acts (Madonna is the tip of the iceberg), it’s going to be a long night – or morning, for me and my fellow Aussies. But it looks like it will be a final worth getting next to no sleep for. The winner may be expected, but 2nd through 25th places (because you know who I think will come last) are up for grabs, and there’s sure to be some shocks when all is said and done.
That’s all I have to say for now, as we count down the hours to Eurovision 2019’s night of nights. You’ll be able to find my predictions for the show on all of my socials @EurovisionByJaz – so please follow and/or like if you don’t want to miss them (links are in the sidebar).
If you do want to miss them, fair enough. I’m keen to hear yours though, so leave me a comment here, there or anywhere and tell me where you think we’ll be going in 2020. Is Amsterdam inevitable, or is Milan still a possibility? Could Australia be choosing a European country to host on our behalf, or will be back in Sweden next year? Maybe I’m way off the mark and Berlin will be our next destination. Whatever you’re thinking, let me know below.
Merry Eurovision weekend!
Sorry to start off a post with profanity, but SHIT JUST GOT REAL, GUYS. The Eurovision 2019 rehearsals have started! Somebody pinch me. But not too hard, I have a low pain threshold.
Cyprus was the first country to take to the stage on Saturday, and as I type this we’re well into the third day of run-throughs. You may or may not know that I never watch rehearsals (I like the element of surprise) but I do read and listen to rehearsal reviews so I have some idea what’s happening (total surprise is overrated). Even so, you won’t find any rehearsal commentary here on EBJ – my favourites for that are Eurovision Ireland’s live blogs and ESC Insight’s podcasts. What I do have for you today is the penultimate round of my Tel Aviv reviews, feat. Azerbaijan, Finland, Ireland, Slovenia and Sweden, most of whom have already hit the stage in Israel.
You know what to do: keep reading for my thoughts on Chingiz, Darude & Sebastian, Sarah, Zala & Gašper and John’s songs for the contest so close we can taste it – then let me know in the comments who scores what in your opinion. I’ll be waiting!
If there’s one thing about Eurovision 2019 we can be surer of than Montenegro making it no further than Tuesday night, it’s that Azerbaijan will be wanting back in the final after losing their qualification record in Lisbon. It’s practically seeping out of their pores – not that Chingiz has visible pores or any other obvious imperfections. And Azerbaijan isn’t messing around musically: they’ve turned to Bulgarian, Swedish and US songwriters with strong ESC pedigrees this year. Truth was written by, among others, Borislav Milanov (husband of Tamara Gachechiladze and co-writer of If Love Was A Crime, Beautiful Mess, Bones and Malta’s Chameleon); Joacim Persson (also co-writer of Bulgaria’s recent contest contenders plus Chameleon, and Mikolas Josef’s Me Gusta); and Trey Campbell (member of Equinox and co-writer of Bones). Name-dropping of that calibre alone doesn’t ensure a successful trip to Tel Aviv. After all, some of these songwriters were also responsible for Dance Alone and In Too Deep. But it turns out Truth is a banger, with all the equipment to qualify and do reasonably if not incredibly well for Azerbaijan.
I’d summarise it like this: it’s a faster, sci-fi-free version of Bones and a big step up from the competent but cookie-cutter X My Heart. I don’t know about you, but I can definitely hear the bones of Bones in this and would have guessed the same writers were behind it even if I hadn’t known. Truth is actually a little more enjoyable than Bones for me, purely because it’s more uplifting and infectious. The production is cutting-edge contemporary; the lyrics are sparse and simple which makes for great singalong material (like you haven’t already screamed ‘SHUT UP ABOUT IT!’ at the top of your lungs at least once); and as usual, a hint of ethnicity has been stuffed into the package to remind us that this is the Azerbaijani entry. I don’t know how they get away with that, but they do – mugham etc can seemingly be shoehorned into any genre, and in this case it makes what would have been a standard pop song above average. All in all I’m excited about this entry, and I swear that has more to do with the song than with Chingiz being ridiculously attractive.
Interestingly, in 2018 Aisel was a jazz singer trying her hand at dance music, and it didn’t seem to fit. Yet Chingiz, whose area of expertise is flamenco fusion, has taken to dance pop like a well-groomed, gym-toned duck to water. So what could possibly prevent Azerbaijan from returning to their old stomping ground of the top 5? Well, funnily enough I see Truth doing similar things to Bones rather than climbing that high. As much as I do like the song, it’s missing a certain extra something that would make it a cert for a top 10 finish, let alone top 5. But that’s my thinking based on the song alone, and Azerbaijan have always been good game-players when it comes to staging. Truth is a better song than X My Heart without a doubt, so if it’s staged even half as well as that it will be an unstoppable qualifier. From that point, if it is presented in an attention-grabbing way (using some of the excess fluoro body paint from the video perhaps) who knows where it could go. On the other hand, if they ruin it live and disaster strikes, I am ready and waiting to console you, Chingiz.
In a line A well-produced banger with bite that gives us an excuse to yell ‘SHUT UP!’ 2018 VS 2019 2019, and that’s the Truth Predicted result SF 5th-7th, GF 11th-14th My score 10 points
Finland’s national final UMK was another one-act, three-song affair this year. But instead of the delightful Saara Aalto we got notorious 90s DJ Darude plus singer/actor Sebastian – and people were EXCITED. About Darude, anyway (no offence, Sebastian). I can’t say I was over the moon personally, but that’s because Robin Packalen said thanks but no thanks to YLE before they approached Darude. How do you say ‘devastated’ in Finnish? Mr. Sandstorm was a prize pick on face value though, I’ll admit. And as someone who has enjoyed Eurovision’s recent DJ/vocalist combos, I was looking forward to what Finland would present us with.
Unfortunately that turned out to be three versions of the same song, and that song was straight out of the decade when Darude had his biggest hit. I’m all for a throwback, but in this case it was a contemporary dance track I wanted…not something that could have been released as a single straight after Sandstorm in 1999. Look Away was the best option out of UMK despite the trio of songs being pretty damn interchangeable, and believe it or not I do actually like it. I don’t think it’s a good song for a contest in the final year of the 2010s, but I would dance my ass off to it in the Euroclub were I going to Eurovision this year (if you are, please bust a move on my behalf). I don’t even know why I like it when it’s so monotonous and depressing, but I guess the melody works for me – that pre-chorus is especially catchy. Plus there’s an intense atmosphere to the song in general that gives it a je ne sais quoi. But even I have to acknowledge the issues with this. It is dated, it is forgettable, and the lyrics leave a lot to be desired. ‘How can we go to sleep at night, and lay there in our beds, when we know what’s going on with the world today’ is passable in a Boggie-style ballad, but in a dance track it just sounds wrong (not to mention cheesy). I’m sure a lot of time and effort went into producing this song and into writing the lyrics, but it all seems a bit basic.
Another problem is that the whole ‘DJ at desk accompanied by solo male singer in leather jacket and/or hat’ schtick is, at Eurovision, clearly declining in quality. Norway nailed it in 2017; Poland had a good song last year but massacred the live performance; and now we have Finland failing to tick boxes in the song and performance departments. God knows how horrendous the 2020 attempt will be, because in 2019 it’s uninspiring to listen to and to look at. Sebastian’s vocals are far from polished, and that ‘Let’s all slow-clap with our hands in the air like we’re at a music festival!’ move is painful to watch. I didn’t mind the LED box the guys had on stage with them at UMK (complete with dancer) but it wasn’t enough to elevate Look Away. I really think Finland will struggle to qualify with this, which is a shame when the Darude name-drop was so well received. It’s just that there are easily ten more memorable, more enjoyable entries in the first semi. In my opinion, this one doesn’t have the fight to get to final night.
In a line Dated dance music with a message and not much hope 2018 VS 2019 2018 Predicted result SF 12th-16th My score 7 points
Poor Ireland. They’ve been desperately clinging on to ‘We’ve won Eurovision seven times!’ since 1996, which makes me wish Sweden would get a move on and win at least once more to shut them up. Yet they’ve never got a proper grip on what makes the ESC tick in the televoting era. There have been glimmers of hope in the form of Jedward, Ryan Dolan (before he finished dead last in the 2013 final), and Ryan O’Shaughnessy. But there’s been no streak of success, no formula found and no left-hand side of the scoreboard for the Emerald Isle since 2011. Now, in 2019, could 22 possibly be the magic number that takes them back to their glory days of not being able to stop winning?
To be blunt, no. Sarah McTernan’s song is too problematic for that. But first, some positives, because I do like this song. There’s something really charming about the retro Hairspray vibe it gives off, and it gets stuck in my head a lot because it’s so easy to sing and hum along to. The lyrics are simple and cute, and they aren’t annoying despite rhyming to an excessive extent (I think every possible rhyme for ’22’ was deployed apart from the childish and inappropriate one I know you’re thinking of right now too). The song is pretty simple in general, but that also makes it accessible – and stops it from being an assault on the senses like a bunch of other attention-demanding 2019 entries. It is funny that, like Finland, the music and tempo here doesn’t seem to match the subject matter. Sarah’s missing her ex even though she tries to move on with other people, but she’s telling us that over a sunny, boppy and poppy style of music and melody. Somehow, it works better for Sarah than it does for Darude and Sebastian. Maybe that’s because she’s more personable and believable, and can sell this song as well as anybody could. She sings it capably too. I’m a fan of her voice.
There isn’t anything else like this competing in Tel Aviv, so Ireland does stand out. There’s a passing resemblance to Serbia’s 2011 entry Čaroban too that might explain my attraction to it…though 22 is obviously Čaroban’s less energetic, more introverted and very distant cousin. And it’s time to get realistic about its chances, because as sweet as it is and as much as I wish it had the legs to leap into the final, I don’t think it’s meant to be. When I said 22 was problematic, I meant mainly in terms of it not being “extra” enough. It’s one of those songs that’s enjoyable while it’s playing, but it doesn’t leave a lasting impression. Basically, it’s a non-event, at least in the context of a highly competitive song contest. I doubt many people will find it impactful enough, 16 performances later when the voting opens, to remember – let alone vote for. And on top of that, in the land of conspiracy theories, Ireland is the EBU’s SF2 sacrificial lamb: a.k.a. they’ve been positioned second in the running order, like Montenegro in SF1. After Armenia’s power and passion, this entry will seem flatter than a soda with the lid left off. It’s safe to say Irish win no. 8 isn’t en route yet.
In a line Retro-flavoured, romance-themed pop with loads of charm but no oomph 2018 VS 2019 2018, a song that deserved better Predicted result SF 13th-16th My score 7 points
There’s always one country that takes you by surprise during national final season, and Slovenia managed to surprise me not once, not twice, but three times this year. First I was shocked when Raiven didn’t win EMA; then I was thrown by the actual winner being a song I didn’t remember hearing when I previewed the Slovenian snippets (having had no time to listen to them all in full); THEN I was totally taken aback when I watched Zala and Gašper’s performance of Sebi without knowing what to expect. To be honest, any expectations I did have weren’t high based on Slovenia’s unsteady quality levels at Eurovision lately. Maybe that’s why I was absolutely blown away by this entry from my very first encounter with it.
This song is stunning. Gobsmackingly gorgeous, with a backdrop of romance far more realistic than that of 2018’s ESC ‘it’ couple Amaia and Alfred (who broke up shortly after the contest, ICYMI). Zala and Gašper are coupled-up creatives immersed in their own world on stage, performing to each other rather than to the camera or the crowd – which could be a disadvantage, but I’ll discuss that when I’ve listed the many pros of this track and duo. It takes them two seconds to build up an intimate atmosphere, but I don’t feel like I’m interrupting something because I’m too busy a) appreciating the uncommon performance style, and b) being distracted by the otherworldly beauty of Sebi. This song takes me to another place, almost putting me in a trance. It’s dreamy and ethereal and should really be backing a montage of fantastical landscapes filmed by a drone. There’s a coldness to it that isn’t the clinical, off-putting kind, and it draws me in. I’m also drawn to the monotonous, hypnotic sound, and find that it’s the lyrical structure – sparse in the verses and steady in the chorus – that gives the song life in the absence of key changes and big notes. Everything about this is authentic to the artists, in keeping with Sebi (the title line of the chorus translates to ‘stay true to yourself’). The song is in the mould of the music Zala and Gašper usually make – it’s not like they wrote it in the quest to create the ideal Eurovision song. For that, I am grateful.
In a world that’s just, Slovenia would outrank the likes of Russia (the ultimate tryhard song of the year) and I’d love to see it rewarded for its originality and all of its other goodness. But I have a horrible feeling Sebi might be my Qami of 2018: an amazing song dragged down by a performance too many people think is dull. The fact that Zala and Gašper perform to each other exclusively is unusual, and while I think that is part of what makes them unique, I also think it could be their undoing. That, plus the subdued nature of the song and the lack of explosive moments that attract televotes. My fingers are crossed that the juries, at least, see the musical merit and integrity in this. I know I’m not the only one who thinks Slovenia is sending something magical to Tel Aviv and deserves to be in the final again. If you do too and you can vote in the first semi, make sure you support Slovenia so we can both see them on the Saturday night (and don’t end our Tuesday night in tears).
In a line Three minutes of otherworldly, goosebump-inducing gorgeousness 2018 VS 2019 2019, 2019, 2019!!! Predicted result SF 7th-12th, GF 12th-18th My score 12 points
It has been PAINFUL waiting so long to review this song. If you’re wondering why, then you obviously don’t know about the massive country crush I’ve had on Sweden since I became a Eurovision fan. I support them unconditionally at the contest (2009 being the exception) and two out of my three ESC/NF experiences have been in Stockholm. I also have a lot of affection for John Lundvik, the third male soloist in a row to win Melodifestivalen after making the final the previous year. So if you were hoping for a review that stuffed, basted and roasted this year’s Swedish entry, I apologise (without much sincerity). On the other hand, if you want someone to sing Sweden’s praises with heavy-handed bias, I’m your gal.
Too Late For Love was the song John was meant to win Melfest with. Not My Turn last year, and not Bigger Than Us which was his initial choice for the comp. This was The One, and if his history-making jury scores in March weren’t proof of that then I don’t know what is. This entry is three minutes of glorious, gospel-powered joy, whether you’re listening to it in studio or watching John and his amazing group of backing vocalists bring it to life on stage. I love (because it’s definitely not too late for it) how the song ebbs and flows. It quickly builds onto the simplistic first verse with the pre-chorus/chorus, before winding things back abruptly for the second verse, which some people think takes the wind out of its sails but I think makes you pay attention. Then it’s all up from there with the bold backing vocals and John’s big money note, before that awesome ending that asks ‘Is it?’ (a rhetorical question that we’re under no obligation to answer). There are so many moments in the song and performance that beg for votes, and not in desperate way: that aforementioned whopper of a note, the lighting used to bathe John in gold just as he starts singing about the sun etc, the simple but effective “backing singer reveal”…the list goes on. The whole thing is full of life, spirit and happiness, making those sun/light/spark metaphors fit right in. And it’s much warmer and more likeable than Dance You Off, as hard as that is for me to admit (I still think that televote score was a travesty). I do feel like Sweden learned something from last year’s stumble.
Ja, I have a blind spot where Sweden is concerned, but my vision isn’t totally obscured. I’m not trying to say Too Late For Love is the greatest song ever written or that it’s performed more genuinely than anything else in the 2019 contest. That’s not true. But I believe Sweden has a fantastic package deal for us. They have a song that’s engaging, uplifting and catchy; an artist who’s ridiculously attractive, charismatic and vocally flawless; and staging (if their promised changes for the ESC aren’t too dramatic) that’s all about O’G3NE-approved lights and shadows rather than props or gimmicks. It’s definitely the most “honest” entry they’ve had since 2016, which should help them score some televotes. It still has all the boxes ticked when it comes to jury criteria, though – and I’d say it’s one of only a few entries that should rank highly with both the public and the professionals. Or is that my bias talking? I don’t know. What is certain is that John is competing against himself, since there’s no question Sweden will qualify and be up against the UK in the final. I’d bet on Swedish John outscoring UK John. Not to first place, but he hopefully won’t be too far behind.
In a line Sweden doing what Sweden does best, but on a more relatable level 2018 VS 2019 This is not a choice I’m prepared to make unless my life depends on it Predicted result SF 3rd-5th, GF 4th-8th My score 12 points
That’s all, folks. I mean, that’s all of the semi-finalists for 2019 reviewed. Holy Hatari! I have no memory of doing all 35, but apparently it’s true. I literally have it in writing.
Here’s a look at today’s leaderboard:
- Sweden (12)
- Slovenia (12)
- Azerbaijan (10)
- Ireland (7)
- Finland (7)
And here’s the usual update on my full ranking, for the one person who cares (it may or may not be me):
- Sweden (12)
- Hungary (12)
- Switzerland (12)
- Slovenia (12)
- The Netherlands (12)
- Greece (12)
- Estonia (10)
- Azerbaijan (10)
- Portugal (10)
- Norway (10)
- Cyprus (10)
- Malta (10)
- Czech Republic (10)
- Belarus (10)
- Russia (8)
- Romania (8)
- Belgium (8)
- Armenia (8)
- Iceland (8)
- Serbia (8)
- Albania (8)
- Denmark (7)
- Ireland (7)
- Lithuania (7)
- Finland (7)
- Croatia (7)
- Australia (7)
- Austria (7)
- San Marino (7)
- Moldova (6)
- Montenegro (5)
- Latvia (5)
- Poland (5)
- North Macedonia (4)
- Georgia (4)
Well, after weeks of Hungary sitting on top I have a new and unsurprising winner. Grattis Sverige! Stay tuned for the final round of reviews to find out whether France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Spain or the UK can take that top spot for themselves. I promise the verdicts will be posted by the end of this week – definitely before Eurovision Week (the greatest week of the year and the highlight of all our calendars) begins.
In the meantime, enjoy watching and/or hearing about the rehearsals as they continue, and as we get that much closer to crowning the next king/s or queen/s of Eurovision.
PS – Don’t forget to rank Azerbaijan, Finland, Ireland, Slovenia and Sweden in the comments so we can have a catfight over who has taste and who clearly doesn’t…
Knock knock, who’s there? It’s Saturday again, duh!
When you’re living for the weekends like I do during national final season, it’s a blessing for this day of the week to come around so quickly. And boy, does it have a lot to love on this occasion. Here’s everything happening tonight:
- Croatia Dora, final
- Estonia Eesti Laul, final
- Hungary A Dal, semi final 2
- Iceland Söngvakeppnin, semi final 2
- Latvia Supernova, final
- Lithuania Eurovizijos Atranka, semi final 2
- Portugal Festival da Canção, semi final 1
- Slovenia EMA, final
- Sweden Melodifestivalen, semi final 3
- Ukraine Vidbir, semi final 2
I know what you’re thinking: ‘Is that all?’. But don’t worry, tomorrow night we also have:
- Romania Selecția Națională, final
Do the math on this list of NFs, and you’ll find that Saturday + Sunday = FIVE more songs for Tel Aviv. And isn’t it about time? We’ve waited long enough to get into double digits.
I’m not about to preview/predict all of the above NF action, since I don’t want to send you (or myself) to sleep. I will make a quick wishlist for the countries I won’t be covering though, so listen up universe: Croatia can give me Brutalero or Redemption, Estonia Storm, Latvia Somebody’s Got My Lover or Fire, and Slovenia Kaos. Oh, and if Portugal could send Calema through as well as Conan (so I can figure out what the heck I actually think of Telemóveis) that’d be awesome.
Now, if you want to chat in-depth about Hungary, Sweden and Romania, you came to the right place.
It’s the second last Saturday of A Dal decision-making, after last week’s first semi final saw Acoustic Planet, Bence Vavra, The Middletonz (WOOHOO!) and Petruska (smaller woohoo!) make the final cut. Obviously there’s another hurdle for them to jump over in the final itself – making the all-important top four from which 100% televote will determine the winner – but qualifying to next weekend’s showdown is what everyone wants to do, and those guys have done it. Now there’s just four spots left for the taking, and nine acts after them. Let the (probably heartbreaking) battle begin!
- Kedves Világ! Timi Antal feat. Gergő Demko
- Kulcs Fatal Error
- Egyszer Mocsok 1 Kölykök
- A Remény Hídjai Nomad
- Hozzád Bújnék Gergő Oláh
- Az Én Apám Joci Pápai
- Holnap Bogi Nagy
- Forró Ruby Harlem
- Madár, Repülj! Gergő Szekér
You guys know how obsessed I am with A Dal this year, and though I’ve lost some favourites along the way (JUSTICE FOR VILÁGÍTÓTORONY!) a few more are still in the running and competing in this semi. On the other hand, some of my least favourites are here too, and I’m hoping they’ll be among the sacrificial songs of the night.
Let’s start with the good stuff and work our way through to what will actually happen in Hungary this week, IMO.
My top four In random order, Hozzád Bújnék, Az Én Apám, Holnap and Madár, Repülj! Gergő Oláh is a perennial top pick of mine, and although Hozzád Bújnék is no Győz a Jó, it is a ballistic missile of a ballad that he – pardon my French in advance – sings the shit out of. My beloved Joci is back with a bang (well, more of a gentle tap on the door, but it’s beautiful and impactful nonetheless) and all the raw emotion required to sell such a unique ethno-ballad. Bogi is also armed with a gentle ballad, and the crystal-clear fragility of her voice takes it to another level (though the melody is worth mentioning too). As for Gergő No. 2, which is nothing like Mambo No. 5…well, I wasn’t sure how I felt about Madár, Repülj! at first, but I LOVE it now. It’s distinctive and dramatic without being throwback or an ultra cutting-edge track, and that makes it interesting.
My prediction Given that we know the results of all the heats and semis so far – an A Dal tradition that I enjoy and dislike at the same time – it makes guessing tonight’s final four qualifiers easier. There are five heat winners in this semi alone, however, with some acts having tied FTW. And in the case of Joci and Bogi, who finished equal 1st in the third heat, you cannot separate them – they both scored the same from the jury and from the public. I’m going to give Joci the edge based on his previous history though (and I better not be jinxing him by doing so). Fatal Error stormed to victory in their heat (somehow) so I’d say they were safe finalists…not that they’ve had to compete against any of tonight’s other acts until now. I’m also thinking that Gergő Oláh and Gergő Szekér have a good chance of advancing, since they also tied for the win in their heat. If there’s a wildcard who makes it out of this semi, I think it will be Bogi in place of Gergő Oláh (heaven forbid) or Joci (heaven forbid even more). But I’m locking in my final four as follows: Fatal Error, Gergő Oláh, Gergő Szekér and Joci Pápai. There’s a whole lot of testosterone there and I am not mad about it.
Who would you put money on to make it through to the A Dal final?
How can we be onto the THIRD Melfest semi already? Granted, the second one was a blur for me since I was busy attending Australia Decides at the time (check out my Aussie NF diary here if you haven’t yet) but I’m still shocked. Maybe it’s because – and I hate to say this – the 2019 comp has been a bit of a non-event, at least in terms of the entries (the hosts/interval acts have been fantastisk). Nothing has jumped out at me so far and screamed ‘Winner!’ of Melfest, let alone of Eurovision. Will that change this week with these seven songs?
- Somebody Wants Lovers of Valdaro
- Habibi Dolly Style
- Låt Skiten Brinna Martin Stenmarck
- Victorious Lina Hedlund
- Om Om Och Om Igen Omar
- Who I Am Rebecka Karlsson
- Norrsken Jon Henrik Fjällgren
Based on snippets, no, that’s not going to change. I’m not saying I hate everything on offer here, but there’s a thread of ‘good but not great’ running through the entire line-up that worries me. And yes, I’m even referring to the much-anticipated Norrsken when I say that. But I’ll give this not-quite-magnificent seven the chance to win me over with cracking live performances.
My top four Somebody Wants, Habibi, Om Om Och Om Igen and Who I Am. The Lovers of Valdaro (feat. the guy who wore the heels in Moldova’s Eurovision 2018 performance) are the wildcards from Svensktoppen Nästa, and though I doubt they’ll outdo SMILO’s record of 5th place in a semi (being the highest finish for a Svensktoppen-chosen act), I am digging the beat and production of their song – it should make a great show opener. Habibi is my guilty pleasure and honestly, has the only chorus I could remember after I first listened to the snippets. I like the deviation from bubblegum pop to a more exotic Middle Eastern flavour for Sweden’s version of The Sugababes (because they change members so often, HA HA HA).
Omar definitely has the better song of the FO & O boys competing this year (RIP Oscar Enestad from the running) even if it is a mixed-language copycat of Side To Side/In My Cabana/Woman Like Me. Pop music is derivative, that’s just how the cookie crumbles – and I can’t wait to hear this spiced-up version all the way through. Who I Am rounds out my favourites list based on everything but the lyrics, which are so clichéd I have a hard time excusing it. Still, the power-pop style of the song and Rebecka’s vocal abilities are enough to keep me rooting for her.
My prediction This is a hard one. Last week proved that anything is possible and that the odds are not always correct (in a good way – go Malou!) so I’m not even going to use them as a guide for my guesses. I do happen to know that Jon Henrik is sitting pretty at the top and is as guaranteed of a place in the final as one can be, so NO-BRAINER ALERT. I believe in Rebecka’s potential to also go straight to Friends Arena, or to Andra Chansen at least. Dolly Style are in the mix after winning the audience poll, but I can’t imagine – especially after seeing a shot of their staging – that they’ll place in the top two. For me the last spot is for either Omar (hopefully) or more likely Lina based on her pedigree and the Jessica Andersson effect. Victorious ain’t no Party Voice, but it’s just what you’d expect from one third of Alcazar and that might well be enough. To sum up, I think it’s Jon Henrik Fjällgren/Rebecka Karlsson DTF, and Dolly Style/Lina Hedlund to AC. But feel free to surprise me (again) Sweden.
Which acts will go where in this Melfest deltävling? Let me know what you think in the comments!
Disclaimer: Normally I’d just be discussing Saturday night here, but Romania has inconveniently scheduled their final on a Sunday again (Ester Peony pun not intended, but a declaration of love for her song is coincidentally coming up) and I’ve got to talk about it. In amongst the 12 finalists there is a lot of cookie cutter music, but there’s also a handful of songs so good that I couldn’t stay quiet. Place your bets.
- Renegades Linda Teodosiu
- Right Now Olivier Kaye
- Dear Father Laura Bretan
- Skyscraper Teodora Dinu
- We Are The Ones Claudiu Mirea
- Your Journey Aldo Blaga
- On A Sunday Ester Peony
- Daina Letiția Moisescu and Sensibil Balkan
- Army of Love Bella Santiago
- Destin Trooper
- Without You (Sin Ti) Dya & Lucian Colareza
- Underground Vaida
Selecția Națională isn’t usually one of my go-to NFs, and for those of you who do adore it, sorry – I haven’t suddenly become its number one fan. But like I said, a few SN 2019 songs have caught my attention based on their potential to do very well at Eurovision, and/or how jaw-dropping it was to find them in the Romanian selection to start with.
My favourites Dear Father, On A Sunday, Daina and Army of Love. Laura Bretan is a pocket rocket with form on America’s Got Talent, and watching her semi performance of Dear Father had me shook. There’s something special in this song, and it has great build. Of all my top picks it is my least loved, but it’s the most likely to kick butt on behalf of Romania in Tel Aviv. My most-loved in this line-up is On A Sunday, which is like a musical love child of Ann Sophie’s Black Smoke and Alannah Myles’ Black Velvet. It turns out those are good genes to combine. It’s a song so slick and moody, I can’t believe it’s not competing somewhere in Scandinavia. Ester is flawless live and I wish she was more of a contender.
Daina is Romania doing what I miss Romania doing. They could have sent it to Eurovision in 2005, 2011 or 2018 and it wouldn’t have made a difference (not to me, anyway). Will they send it in 2019? Not a chance, but it’s a killer – not filler – addition to the final. Speaking of which…where there’s smoke there’s Fuego, and Bella’s Army of Love is such a Fuego soundalike that the smoke is stinging my eyes. My ears are all for it though, because it is a banger! Empowering lyrics, ethnic instrumentals and a rap verse in Tagalog make for a rip-off I’d welcome into this year’s ESC family with open arms.
My prediction As much as I’d like to believe there are multiple contenders for this NF, I think the winner has already been signed, sealed and delivered straight through the window she’s shattered with one of her sky-high operatic notes. I mean Laura, of course. Personally I’d prefer Bella, but when I watch Laura’s performance there’s more than one point where I think ‘This is unbeatable.’ The song might not be the greatest to my tastes, but she makes it great and gives me goosebumps in the process. I said this about Kate Miller-Heidke last weekend and I’ll say it again now: If this girl doesn’t win I’ll be flabbergasted. If she does, I’ll be grateful that Australia isn’t in the same semi as Romania.
Whew…aren’t you glad I drew the line at discussing three countries? I’m done now, so if you have any thoughts or predictions for tonight that you need to get off your chest, my comments box is empty and waiting for you to throw stuff into it.
Who’s going to win? Who’s going to get knocked out? Will there be curveballs or will the bookies’ favourites follow through? Wherever it’s happening and whatever your opinion is, I’m ready to hear about it. My response will be more polite if you agree with me though…
See you on the other side of this super Saturday/fun-sized Sunday!
It’s Saturday once again, and you know what that means at this time of year: it’s an NF fest! Believe it or not, the five shows on tonight are nothing compared to some upcoming Saturdays (but more on that later). Here’s what’s happening in a few hours’ time:
- Estonia Eesti Laul, Semi Final 2
- Hungary A Dal, Heat 3
- Latvia Supernova, Heat 2
- Lithuania Eurovizijos Atranka, Heat 4
- Sweden Melodifestivalen, Semi Final 1
My focus today is Hungary and Sweden (apologies to everyone else, but a girl’s got to have priorities) so let’s get straight into it. As always, spill as much tea as you like in the comments re: songs/acts/results/predictions. I’m ready for it!
Time flies when a national final is as awesome as A Dal 2019…isn’t that what people say? There’s got to be some explanation for how we’ve arrived at the third and final Hungarian heat already. There are only six spots left in the semi finals, with ten acts hoping to take them.
- Holnap Bogi Nagy
- Az Én Apá Joci Pápai
- Maradj Még Kyra
- Hazavágyom Leander Kills
- Egyszer Mocsok 1 Kölykök
- Run Baby Run Monyo Project
- Help Me Out of Here Petruska
- Forró Ruby Harlem
- Barát Salvus
- Posztolj USNK
My two least favourite songs are listed above, which is a bummer (find out what they are here) but all is definitely not lost! I’ve been eagerly awaiting this heat for a few reasons, and the main one is spelled J-O-C-I P-Á-P-A-I.
Yes, the man who makes magic every time he opens his mouth is back for another crack at representing Hungary – and though it would be out of character for them to send the same person twice (András Kállay-Saunders is not amused), it’s not totally impossible. Or am I just biased because Origo is one of my favourite Eurovision entries ever and I love everything else that Joci has ever recorded? Check out my top picks from this heat and decide for yourself.
What do you know, I’m starting with Az Én Apam! Plot twist. This is my favourite song competing this evening, and though I’m not going to say it’s as amazing as Origo, it’s just as special and emotional – just in a more understated way. I’m praying for Hungary and the A Dal jury to support it, because if Joci goes the way of Olivér Berkes and gets knocked out immediately, HELL WILL HATH NO FURY LIKE THIS WOMAN SCORNED.
X Factor winners USNK are going gangbusters on YouTube with Posztolj (6.7 million views as I type this) which IMO is deserved for anything with ByeAlex’s name attached to it. The song style isn’t my usual “thing” at all but I love it here – the edginess and intensity of the sound against the social media-themed lyrics makes for a cool contrast. Hungary isn’t averse to rap (which I appreciate) and USNK obviously have public vote pulling power, so this seems like an obvious qualifier. Maybe too obvious…
Leander Kills are one of 2019’s many repeat NF offenders. Since they couldn’t win A Dal with Élet in 2017, they shouldn’t win with Hazavágyom. Having said that, however, they are in with a damn good chance and I would be able to get on board with them as AWS successors. There’s something joyful and unique about Hazavágyom that I like a lot, and I expect the live performance to match – and of course, to be as competent as yesyes were INcompetent (WHY GOD WHY?!?) last week.
Kyra is serving up some diva power-pop in the form of Maradj Meg, and I am here for it. I’m 50/50 on whether her performance will be as on-point as it needs to be or a car crash (or somewhere in-between) but I’ll think positive until she proves me otherwise.
My other two faves in this heat are Help Me Out of Here – the less infectious but still appealing sibling of Petruska’s last entry Trouble In My Mind – and Barát, with Salvus delivering a classic slice of Hungarian rock that will probably follow in the footsteps of A Remény Hídjai and Kulcs by qualifying.
Who’s going through?
I’ve got an okay success rate going for A Dal so far in terms of predictions – 4/6 correct guesses for both heat 1 and heat 2. But I wouldn’t mind going one (or two, ideally) better this week. With the risk of opting for the obvious, I’m thinking it will be Leander Kills, Joci Pápai, USNK, Petruska, Salvus and Mocsok 1 Kölykök (my debatable wildcard) who make it to the semi final stage. In other words, I suspect the girl power level will be very low once the results have come in. If there does happen to be some female fierceness in tonight’s top six, I believe it will be courtesy of Kyra.
That’s enough about Eastern Europe for now (no offence). It’s time to talk Scandinavia, specifically Sweden, and more specifically Melodifestivlalen!
Brace yourselves, people, because Melodifestivalen has hit its first destination for 2019: Göteborg! I’m going to spare you guys another questioning statement about how we can possibly be at this point in time again and how fast the months fly by, et cetera. The fact is that we are here again and I’M SO EXCITED. I hope you are too.
There are returnees aplenty taking part tonight, including two 2017 finalists and (of course) Anna Bergendahl, whose claim to ESC fame I’m not going to mention since I think it’s time to move on (even though it gives her the best comeback narrative of the year). Here they are in running order:
- Chasing Rivers Nano
- No Drama High15
- Not With Me Wiktoria
- Mina Bränder Zeana feat. Anis Don Demina
- Mina Fyra Årstider Arja Saijonmaa
- Hello Mohombi
- Ashes To Ashes Anna Bergendahl
On name value, this is not the most thrilling semi for me personally, but the first one is traditionally not supposed to be (Sweden/Christer Björkman believe in saving the best until last, or at least until later). Even so, I have managed to pluck out four favourite songs.
My top four
Hello, Hello! Mohombi is bringing his A-game to this semi and I am so keen to see him perform. There’s something about this song I get just from the teaser that suggests it could do more in the comp than a lot of fans expect it to. Factor in staging that echoes Måns Zelmerlöw’s for Heroes and you’ve got an entry worth watching out for.
Mina Bränder is the good old ‘Swedish-language radio pop song that Jaz likes but nobody else does’ á la Stark last year. As such I expect Zeana and Anis to crash out of this semi, but only after I have bopped along to their three minutes – especially the chorus, which has a strong scent of Melfest 2005 about it.
Neither Chasing Rivers nor Not With Me seem like they’re the best song their artist has competed with, but as expected both are strong. It’s particularly hard to get a feel for Chasing Rivers by only hearing a minute of it, but it has promise. Wiktoria is trotting out all the heartbreak clichés this time, but because Not With Me reminds me a lot of Isa’s I Will Wait and this is Wiktoria we’re talking about, I have to get behind it.
I know this is a top four, but I have to mention Anna’s Ashes To Ashes. It slips into my 5th place based on the jarring similes that make up the lyrics (like a this, like a that…it’s OTT for me, I’m afraid) but the melody is memorable and her voice is as distinctive as it was in 2010. Lycka till.
Who’s going direkt?
Nano and Anna Bergendahl. It’s hard to tell just how impactful Chasing Rivers will be from the snippet alone, but I think Nano is enough of a force to be reckoned with to place top two tonight…even if Hold On was too much to live up to. Anna might not get the fairytale ending at Friends Arena that she’s after, but I believe she will be there in March. I’ve seen her stage outfit and she deserves to win this semi based purely on how stunning it is.
And who’s off to Andra Chansen?
Wiktoria and Mohombi. If Wiktoria doesn’t go direkt, it’ll be her first time having to fight for a place in the final, but I have a feeling it’ll be her OR Nano to Friends straight away – not both. Mohombi is an artist I was excited about heading into this, but he took me by surprise with the vibe of Hello – I was expecting Bumpy Ride Part II (which wouldn’t have been a bad thing). He did win the rehearsal poll, and if he goes direkt I’ll be psyched…but it’s touch-and-go between the big players in this line-up.
Who do you think will advance to the final or to AC from this first Melfest 2019 semi? Place your (hypothetical) bets in the comments below!
Tel Aviv: Reactions from the week that was
It’s time for me to share my thoughts on what’s happened in the world of Eurovision 2019 since the last time I did the same thing. Three artist announcements and two songs await!
Austria Paenda has been decided as the artist who’ll attempt to top Austria’s surprise 3rd place from Lisbon. She’ll be singing the unreleased Limits, and somehow I’m getting the same feeling from the song title alone that I got from the likes of City Lights – like I just know it’s going to be good. As for Paenda herself…let’s hope she’s more successful than the last blue-haired competitor from that geographical region.
Czech Republic Barbara Mochowa had the voice and (to an extent) the song, but Lake Malawi have something extra – an element of fun and very questionable lyrics – that got them over the line to become the Czech entry for Tel Aviv. We might come to realise this was a mistake, but for me right now I’m pretty pleased about it. Let’s face it, anything that came after Mikolas Josef was going to be a letdown in some way. I would happily have him represent his country every year, particularly if he keeps bangers like Abu Dhabi coming.
Finland My beloved Robin may have turned the ESC ticket down, but world-famous DJ Darude did not. And so Finland brings us the DJ + vocalist combo that we got from Norway in 2017 and Poland in 2018. Fingers crossed Darude and Sebastian Rejman model themselves more after the former than the latter. They’ll present their three potential entries on March 2.
France Against all odds (by which I mean Seemone) Bilal Hassani is France’s chosen one, and I couldn’t be more excited for him – and for myself because Roi is a JAM. I loved his performance in the Destination Eurovision final and I’m glad it was the French public that got their way. Haters back off!
Malta The X Factor concluded with Michela Pace crowned champion and automatic ESC artist for Malta. There’s not much to say at this point other than yes, she can sing, so for Ira Losco’s sake give her a good song.
What’s next for NF season?
- 5/2-8/2 Italy (Sanremo Music Festival, Nights 1-4)
- 8/2 United Kingdom (You Decide, Final)
- 9/2 Australia (Australia Decides, Final), Hungary (A Dal, Semi Final 1), Iceland (Söngvakeppnin, Semi Final 1), Italy (Sanremo Music Festival, Final), Latvia (Supernova, Semi Final), Lithuania (Eurovizijos Atranka, Semi Final 1), Montenegro (Montevizija, Final), Sweden (Melodifestivalen, Semi Final 2), Ukraine (Vidbir, Semi Final 1)
- 10/2 Romania (Selecția Națională, Semi Final 2)
Next Saturday? HOLY CRAP. I’ll be over on the Gold Coast in the Australia Decides audience, so look out for me if you’re watching on TV or online. You’re welcome for the time difference that will allow you to watch our NF without missing any European ones.
Until next time (when I’ll review the Aussie songs and much more),
EUROVISION BY JAZ X EUROVISION UNION | Reacting to another blogger’s top 10 Melodifestivalen entries from the last 10 years
Fun fact: It’s been a hot minute (as in about three years) since I collaborated with anybody via this here blog. So when my talented and equally ESC-centric amigo Anita from Eurovision Union floated the idea of a pre-Melodifestivalen fling between our sites, I was like:
What we decided to do, just before the 2019 competition kicks off this Saturday (!!!) is each make a list of our top 10 favourite Melfest tracks from the last ten years (that length of time was hard enough…having any more songs to choose from would be torture). Then we’d swap our rankings and judge each other’s awful and/or excellent tastes when it comes to Europe’s biggest and best NF. So that’s what we’re doing today, basically!
Here’s Anita’s judgment of MY top 10 Melfest entries, 2009-2018. Check out her site if you haven’t already, because it is a Eurovision news-and-review lover’s fantasy land. And then keep reading mine to see what I think of her top 10 songs.
PS – By the way, we decided to consider songs that won Melfest as Eurovision entries, so we haven’t included any on either of our lists. If we’d forced ourselves to consider Loreen, Måns, Sanna etc, there wouldn’t have been room for anyone else.
#1 | Good Lovin’, Benjamin Ingrosso (2017)
There are two things you need to know about me in case you didn’t already: firstly, I’m a big Benjamin Ingrosso fangirl; and secondly, I was there in Friends Arena two years ago when he performed this song live at the Melfest final (something I drop into conversations as often as possible). I’m telling you this stuff so you’re prepared for the doubly-special place Good Lovin’ has in my heart. Should it have been his winning entry instead of Dance You Off? Definitely not. Were the giant baked-potato-in-foil props a good idea? Not so much. But those things aside, this is just one song in an endless string of slick, catchy and super-streamable Scandipop produced by Benjamin. It was a great Melfest debut for him and I listen to it on a far too regular basis. Nope, can’t fault your taste on this one, Anita.
#2 | Hold On, Nano (2017)
I may as well lay my cards on the table immediately: when I was sitting there in Friends Arena back in 2017 (told you I liked to mention that at every opportunity), it was Nano I wanted to win. Looking at it now, I’m glad Robin Bengtsson got his turn – but in a parallel universe, Hold On made for an awesome Eurovision entry and didn’t need treadmills to do it. One of my favourite things about Nano, this song and his performance of it was that none of it screamed typical Melfest. It was polished but had rough edges, was presented with more shadow than light, and wasn’t fronted by a buff, precision-choreographed teenage male soloist with perfect teeth and a head packed with hair product. Nano gave us something that felt true and stood out for that reason. Overall, his entry was like Rag ‘n’ Bone Man meets Rudimental, and I was totally there for it.
#3 | My Heart Is Refusing Me, Loreen (2011)
The original but not the best – that’s how I’d describe Loreen’s Melfest debut. That’s only because what came after it was Euphoria, and no mere mortal could ever hope to top that (or have something they’d done prior be considered better). MHIRM had substance and style, and it’s aged well enough that it could probably compete in 2019 and nobody would say it was dated. I’ve always liked the slow-burn structure of the song – how it builds into a dance track with a dark-disco feel gradually over three minutes, never making me feel like waiting for the climax to come is boring. Melfest 2011 is actually the first edition of the NF I watched as a fan who actually knew what ‘NU KÖR VI!’ meant, and I remember this song being my top pick at the time…and being devastated when it failed to get out of Andra Chansen. In all honesty, I think it’s a better song than eventual winner Popular, but it probably wouldn’t have the hit the heights of 3rd place at Eurovision.
#4 | Youniverse, Molly Sanden (2016)
Okay, so it wasn’t third time lucky for Molly at Melfest…and we haven’t seen her there since (she’s been too busy releasing epic non-competition music, most of which can be found on her latest album Större). But Youniverse was a solid effort, once you get past the wordplay of the title which messed with my mind at first. The writer and former English major in me loves the imagery and perfectly-rhymed lyrics – I mean, ‘We’re stars wrapped up in skin, the light comes from within’ is practically poetry. And the part of me that appreciates atypical pop songs (as opposed to cookie cutter, ultra-predictable pop songs) applauds the electronic dance-pop of the verses that alternates with the power ballad-esque choruses. There was something missing from the overall Youniverse package that prevented it from stopping Frans – and a few other acts – in his tracks, and it’s not my favourite Melfest entry of Molly’s (that “honour” goes to 2012’s Why Am I Crying?). But it’s sophisticated, unique and as I said, solid.
#5 | Put Your Love On Me, Boris René (2016)
Realistically, I could sum up how I feel about this number in one word, and that word would be YAAASSSSS!!! But you guys know my motto is ‘Why use one word when you could use 1500?’. So here goes. Who would have expected an ex-soccer player to contribute more to the Melfest lineup than some fancy footwork? Boris René delivered that by the truckload, but he also had a) above average vocal abilities, b) tons of charisma, and c) a heart that was IN A LITTER BOX. I don’t care if it’s supposed to be ‘little box’, I hear litter every time. Regardless, this entry is 100% pure joy and makes me so happy whenever I hear it (which is at least once a day, voluntarily). I’m glad Boris used the same formula for his follow-up Her Kiss, which is equally as effective as a musical happy pill. Either song popping up on a top 10 list is just plain old-fashioned good taste.
#6 | To The End, YOHIO (2014)
I bet you thought as this point that I was going to be annoyingly complimentary about all of Anita’s Melodifestivalen favourites. Well, it took a while, but we’ve arrived at one that I don’t dislike exactly…but I definitely don’t think of it as a personal best of mine either. To The End was YOHIO’s attempt to go one better than he did in 2013, when he lost out to Andra Chansen’s very own You by Robin Stjernberg (now there’s a song I love). To me he pulled an Ulrik Munther and tried too hard to succeed, ending up with an entry that didn’t quite recapture the magic of the first. Of course, this is my opinion – and I’m not saying that 2013’s Heartbreak Hotel was the greatest song on the planet – but I much preferred his debut to what came the year after. The show’s results reflected that, with To The End finishing 6th. Though having said that, 2014 was a way, WAY stronger Melfest year than 2013.
#7 | Bröder, Linus Svenning (2014)
Here’s a song that’s more emotionally-charged than most found at Melfest, and I was feeling all of the feels from Linus when he competed with it. The style of the song is great, building on a piano ballad beginning to end as more of a rock/power ballad. And Linus sells it so well, with more vulnerability than you might expect to vibe off someone with so many body modifications. As a package, this reminds me of LIAMOO’s Last Breath in its simplicity and authentic, true-to-the-artist nature. Unfortunately, when Linus came back in 2015, a lot of his authenticity was lost in Forever Starts Today, which tried so hard to be a step up that it backfired. But I digress. I’m supposed to be talking about Bröder, and that gets a big thumbs up from me even if I’m not as obsessed with it now as I was back then.
#8 | Blame It On The Disco, Alcazar (2014)
This is a classic case of knowing your lane and staying in it. Basically, Blame It On The Disco is Alcazar doing what Alcazar have always done and do best, and do I have any complaints about that? Um, no. My personal favourite from their competition back catalogue is Stay The Night (2009), but this is a close second…and to my surprise, it nearly finished second in Melfest. It does have everything one could possibly want from a Swedish schlager song and performance – including sequins, choreography, a key change, pyro, plenty of (machine-made) wind…and of course, the trio entering the stage from within a giant mirror ball. And, if you can manage to look past all of that, the song itself is a pretty good slice of its genre – with a singalong chorus that’s harder to escape than the hedge maze in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. A-ARE WE GONNA PARTY TONIGHT? Well, I couldn’t possibly say no, Alcazar.
#9 | Begging, Anton Ewald (2013)
It pains me to say that I knocked this off my own top 10 list (as reviewed by Anita…hit up the link at the start or end of this post to see it) at the last second. Why I love it so much and what makes it special is that Anton served us a 1950s Hollywood look and dance moves to match, all the while delivering a song that was contrastingly cutting edge. It was an interesting combo at least and an iconic one at most. I don’t want to admit that Anton himself, whose vocals are average but who has the face of a ridiculously attractive angel, at all influences my longstanding appreciation of this track, but I will admit it because I’m only human. His follow-up Natural had the same effect, though I genuinely think both are great dance songs that most other national finals would kill to have on their programs. Begging lived up to its title and actually did have me begging for more.
#10 | Busy Doin’ Nothin’, Ace Wilder (2014)
Am I allowed to say ‘the original but not the best’ again? We all have our preferred song from the Ace Wilder Melfest trilogy, and I’m afraid to confess (literally, in case somebody flies into a rage and tries to attack me) that this one isn’t mine (Wild Child is my favourite, if you must know). Busy Doin’ Nothin’ is a cracker though, and if it hadn’t been for Queen Sanna and the incredible Undo, I would happily have sat back and let Sweden send it to Eurovision. There’s something endearing about a thirty-something woman styled like and armed with all the angst of a hormonal teenager shouting repeatedly that she doesn’t want to adult – which we can all identify with. I know that sounds sarcastic, but I’m serious. When a song is this catchy and current, it can contain both yelling and attitude without either being a dealbreaker.
And that, my friends, is that. I hope you enjoyed my reaction to somebody else’s NF faves, and aren’t too disappointed that there was nothing I could honestly trash. I guess birds of a feather really do flock together, because the girls behind Eurovision Union and Eurovision By Jaz both have great musical taste. In fact, if you check out Anita’s judgment of my top 10, you’ll notice we have a few songs in common. SPOOKY.
One last reminder: see my song picks on Eurovision Union here!
What do YOU think of Anita’s Melfest top 10? Who would make it into your 2009-2018 best-of list? Let me know in the comments.
Until next time,
Have you been trapped in a basement for the past month or so? Maybe you just don’t follow Swedish darling and Eurovision 2018 wonder boy/televote non-magnet Benjamin Ingrosso on social media (the less dramatic option). Either way, you might’ve missed the build up to and eventual release on Friday of Benjamin’s first proper album: a.k.a. Identification.
I, as a tragic Ingrosso fangirl from way back, missed nothing. I’d been clinging on to the pre-release song teasers on Instagram like Salvador Sobral clinging on to the hope that he wouldn’t have to hand the ESC winner trophy to a fast-food-and-fireworks song like Toy (i.e. desperately). I dropped everything to read Scandipop’s comprehensive preview (luckily I wasn’t holding anything fragile, expensive or living at the time), and shook my fist super threateningly at Central European Time for dictating that the album would be released while I was at work. No prizes for guessing what I did the second I got home on Friday…
It’s now been a few days since Identification dropped, and since then I’ve played it more or less nonstop. As a result, I’m beyond ready to review it for anyone who’s interested – but rather than rambling on endlessly about all 12 tracks (which I could, because every single one is DOPE) I’ve decided to pick out my favourite six songs from the album and ramble on about those, and only those.
Behind the naturally cool-as-heck cover art of Identification is Benjamin’s latest single I Wouldn’t Know, Melodifestivalen winner/Eurovision entry/greatest song ever Dance You Off, and ten other slickly-produced pop songs – all co-written by the man himself – ranging from emotional ballads and hazy dream-pop to dancefloor bangers. And here, ladies and gentlemen, is the best of that brilliant bunch according to Jaz. You wouldn’t be here reading this if you didn’t want my opinions, right?
In album tracklist order…
It would have been easy to make Dance You Off the Identification opener, but I’m glad Benjamin didn’t – not when this absolute BANGER was waiting in the wings, equipped to get things started in style. Ingrosso’s trademark falsetto leads to a chorus so infectious, you’ll feel like wearing a surgical face mask and bathing in antibacterial sanitiser after hearing it. Subject-wise the song is almost like a Dance You Off prequel, with Benjamin taking us to the club where he’ll eventually dance this girl off the floor because she’s become a bitch (his side of the story) – only on this occasion, they’re meeting for the first time and she’s looking mighty fine…hence why he can’t make his eyes behave. Honestly, he could have based this song’s lyrics on his desire to judo chop Big Bird from Sesame Street and I’d still rate it. As it is, I’m placing a mental bet on Behave being the follow-up single to I Wouldn’t Know.
I Wouldn’t Know
Speaking of which, here’s I Wouldn’t Know in all its summer-soaked glory – track no. 2 of the album and one of my highlights without a doubt. If this song seems to sound like LA (which it totally does) that’s Benjamin’s excessive time spent in the city creeping in to his music. It’s a pretty upbeat song considering it’s about someone who’s just not that into him (are all these songs about the same person? If so, she must be seriously high-maintenance). Every time I hear the retro, sun-bleached intro, I feel like I’ve been transported to the land of palm trees and shopping streets where Julia Roberts is not welcome until she’s made the full transition from hooker with a heart of gold to Richard Gere’s sophisticated arm candy (and yes, that is a compliment). Cruisy vibes and overall catchiness make this a perfect addition to any holiday roadtrip playlist. Also, ‘Tell me what it’s like to love someone who gives a damn about you, ‘cause I wouldn’t know’? Sick burn, Benjamin.
I’ll Be Fine Somehow
This breakup ballad has none of the danceable qualities of Behave or the ironic happy feels of I Wouldn’t Know, but it’s equally awesome in its own way. It reminds me a little of Benjamin’s first grown-up single Fall In Love, only it’s slower and sounds more like it was influenced by R&B. It tells a typical story that we can all identify with (album title pun not intended, but I’ll roll with it). That includes a little list of the pros and cons of the relationship split in question, summed up in the chorus with this lyric: ‘I miss the way that you feel but I won’t miss the way I felt’. Excuse me while I melt into a puddle of feelings on the floor! My only complaint about this song is that it’s too short. As we Eurovision fans are well aware, three minutes isn’t always sufficient song-wise, and I’ll Be Fine Somehow is over before I’ve had the chance to reflect on all of the horrendous aspects of my love life. I suppose I could just play it ten times in a row…
So Good So Fine When You’re Messing With My Mind
This is what happens when you put Benjamin’s late 80s/early 90s influences in a blender with a bunch of top-tier pop songs and a big scoop of protein powder. Oh, and a profanity bleep for every chorus that only draws more attention to the d-word. There’s no kale or chia seeds in there, but that just makes for a more appetising smoothie. If Dance You Off didn’t do anything for you but you’re still hoping for an Ingrosso track that will make you move, this would be my suggestion – the chorus alone is impossible to sit still to. Coming a close second in the ‘Best of SGSFWYMWMM’ stakes is the fact that every part of the song is interesting and has a unique selling point, but all parts compliment each other like it ain’t no thang (or, to use normal person words, effortlessly). Like Behave, this song would make a great follow-up single to I Wouldn’t Know. HINT HINT.
You can hear the Los Angeles in this one too. Spotlights is basically Benjamin justifying his place in the music industry – and in the spotlight, obviously – in the face of haters who think he’s only where he is in his career thanks to the Wahlgren-Ingrosso legacy (this is something the Kardashians should consider doing if they can gather enough material). And this justification is boxed up in jazz-pop package that Bruno Mars would be proud of. My highlight within-a-highlight here has to be the second verse, because the rhymes are so, so satisfyingly neat. ‘See I was only fifteen, labels didn’t want me, they saw me on the TV, said I didn’t have a story, so I had to prove it, did it with my music, when I become a star they’re gonna say they always knew it’ = bomb wording if ever I’ve seen it. I don’t mind if Benjy’s career did get a boost from that hyphenated family name, because it eventually led to this song’s existence in my life and presence on all of my summer party soundtracks.
Dance You Off
Well, duh! I like to think of Dance You Off as the last official track of Identification, with Happiness being an acoustic tack-on that makes for a nice encore rather than a great grand finale. Fortunately, this song helps Benjamin go out with a bang. You guys know what it sounds like – I don’t need to describe it to you. Will that stop me though? Um, no. The late 80s/early 90s atmosphere is thick, the Michael Jackson influences are clear, and no matter how many times I listen to this track (or watch the mind-blowing performance) I will NEVER understand why the voting Eurovision public responded to it so negatively. It goes without saying that I exclude myself from that narrative, since I voted for Sweden and only Sweden back in May (well, there may have been a few messages sent for Mikolas Josef, but you get my drift). Ultimately it doesn’t really matter. Dance You Off is the gift that keeps on giving, televoting points or *sniff* hardly any televoting points.
Okay – that’s my top six tracks covered, so I’ll press pause on the ramble. But I do want to say one more thing: if you’re yet to give this album a go, get on it ASAP (wherever you usually listen to music digitally). It’s far from being a collection of Dance You Off clones, so if that wasn’t your cup of cocoa but you are a pop lover, you’re still likely to find something Benjamin Ingrosso-branded to enjoy.
I’m going to cheat and recommend two more tracks in addition to my favourite six: No Sleep (which sounds like it was recorded under water with the supervision of The Weeknd, and the result is glorious) and Good Intentions (another one to make you feel like you’re in sunny LA drinking cocktails at a beach party). But, in case you hadn’t guessed, I love this entire album and wouldn’t tell you to avoid any of it.
If you have given Identification a run-through, tell me which tracks floated your boat in the comments. How many stars would you give it? It’s pretty obvious that I’d give it the full five.
Now I’ve got to go play it again, because it’s been several hours and I’m having withdrawals.
Until next time (when I’ll write about something in a less sickeningly complimentary way),
It’s been less than two weeks since Israel won Eurovision, but to me it actually feels like longer – which makes it even more shameful that it’s taken me all this time to pick out my favourite performances of Portugal’s contest just past.
In my defence, it wasn’t an easy decision! Competition was fiercer than Eleni Foureira’s catsuit-and-stilettos combo this year, especially due to the no-LED policy of the stage design which meant countries had to get extra creative when chasing the wow factor. Better late than never, though, I’ve made my choices (just like Ari Oláfsson told me to). And, in reverse order as always, because I like to whip up a fresh batch of suspense every time I do a top 10 countdown, here they are. Let me know what our agree/disagree ratio is in the comments below…
#10| Ukraine (Mélovin with Under The Ladder)
When Eurovision meets Ukraine, the result is usually OTT – but up until 2018, it had been a while since the country lived large in terms of their contest staging (1944 and Time didn’t exactly slap you in the face with such subtle items as hamster wheels and half-naked centurions). So it was nice to see Ukraine changing up their recent less-is-more approach for a) a vampiric-looking artist slowly rising from the hellish interior of his grand piano; b) said artist removing a layer of clothing halfway through the song, which in this case looked a lot more badass than when Alexander Rybak did it; and c) yeah yeah FIRE!!! When you think about it, Mélovin’s performance could have been even more flamboyant – but he seemed to know just when to stop to give it the specific level of drama and Gothic glamour it needed. Under The Ladder on the Lisbon stage was as confident and cohesive as we’ve come to expect from Ukraine, whether they’re keeping things simple or kicking their staging up a notch or two (hundred).
#9 | Israel (Netta with Toy)
If it’s controversial to not have Netta right at the top of a ranking like this, then so be it. I didn’t vote for Israel this year and I can’t claim that Toy is the winning song I would have preferred (let’s just say that I was hoping to be trawling through Air BnB apartments in Limassol right about now). But I can’t argue with the punch this performance packed, thanks mostly to Netta herself and not so much to her dancers, who made the whole thing look more novelty than it actually was. Miss Barzilai, though, even without her looper, was a force to be reckoned with. Every facial expression, hand gesture and note was there; the attitude and sass were sky-high just as they should have been; and it was easy to believe that any guy stupid enough to cross her would be sorrier than Frans realising he really was sorry. Netta sold her song like her life depended on it, with her oriental outfit and backdrop adding an exotic touch to the appealingly bonkers proceedings (and not, IMO, falling into the category of cultural appropriation). The Altice Arena audience went crazy for this, and even on TV it was obvious why.
#8 | Austria (Cesár Sampson with Nobody But You)
Starring in this year’s episode of ‘Surprising Eurovision Third-Placers’ was Austria’s Cesár, who contributed a jury vote-winning rendition of Nobody But You to the grand final line-up. While I didn’t see that overwhelming jury love coming, I did get some spine-tingles from his performance: one that proved he could more than cope with the transition from backing singer to main artist. Commanding the stage – and a spectacular hydraulic platform – completely solo, he made it hard for me to look away from him (or even blink, lest I miss a shot of his impressive arm musculature). Austria also added a mix of shadowy and golden lighting that perfectly suited the song and its soul vibes; a bit of crowd interaction in the second half to up the human connection with Cesár; and, tapping into a trend that was way overused in 2017, the sole giant selfie of the year…which was great apart from the fact that super-sized Cesár was wearing a different shirt to flesh-and-blood Cesár. But that’s a mildly irritating detail I can overlook, based on how boss every other aspect of this performance was.
#7 | Denmark (Rasmussen with Higher Ground)
Like Sweden (a country you should expect me to mention later on in this list) Denmark rarely changes much about their staging between their national final and Eurovision. Unlike Sweden, a lot of the time they need to but just don’t. Fortunately, 2018 was not one of those years – and some credit needs to be given to the ship-inspired Lisbon stage for that. Performing a seafaring Viking song, Rasmussen must have thanked his lucky stars when he discovered how neatly Higher Ground fit in to the concept of the ESC this year. Sure, a ship wasn’t the first thing you thought of when you looked at the stage, but just knowing how appropriate Denmark’s package would appear in the year of ‘All Aboard!’ gave them a boost. Sails, snow, stomping, blue lighting, beards, and a manufactured breeze were all Rasmussen needed to create the ideal atmosphere for Higher Ground – and what came out of the oven once all of those ingredients had been combined and baked was gobbled up by televoters. They ranked Denmark first in the second semi, and in the top five in the final. That’s definitely higher ground than the Danes managed to reach in Kyiv!
#6 | Estonia (Elina Nechayeva with La Forza)
I’ve said this in a previous post, but there was a time when I thought Estonia didn’t need to stick Elina in a ridiculously expensive projection dress to make a statement. La Forza and her insanely impressive operatic talents would do the trick on their own, right? Well, we’ll never know for sure – but what I now know for certain is that The Dress: Eurovision Edition (forget about some wedding guest getup that’s black and blue/white and gold) turned Estonia’s appearance at Eurovision 2018 into a showstopper. What helped to make the performance all the more dynamic were the close-up shots of Elina during the soft, mystical verses (just to hammer home how stunning she is) interspersed with wider shots and aerial shots during the explosive choruses – those showing off the dress projections to maximum advantage. If I was being ultra picky (as I enjoy being sometimes) I would have liked the lighting scheme and projections to be totally celestial – more cool colours to take us all to a galaxy far, far away. But a bit of red lighting here and there and some psychedelic dress swirls didn’t prevent me from being speechless at the end of this three minutes.
#5 | Australia (Jessica Mauboy with We Got Love)
Okay…before you scream at your screen that I must have walked Rasmussen’s plank and drowned in a sea of my own insanity, hear me out. Firstly, I’m Australian and am therefore totally biased when it comes to our handful of ESC entries and my unconditional defense of them. Secondly, when I name Jessica’s performance as one of my favourites of the year, I’m referring more to the stronger semi-final version than the nervy final version. And thirdly, whatever your opinion on her vocals, that dress (which we now know finished 2nd in the Barbara Dex vote) or the characteristically dark Sacha Jean Baptiste staging, you have to admit that Jess is a ray of sunshine who invested every fibre of her energy into her time on stage and brought light to those overly-moody surroundings. I felt so proud (and a little bit teary) after her Thursday night performance – and part of that was to do with the freedom, rawness and authenticity that came from the dreamtime dance moves and a vocal that was a rough diamond rather than a crystal-clear one-carat diamond. Jess did what she does best by bringing her personality on stage as a prop, and I really enjoyed watching her as a result.
#4 | Moldova (DoReDos with My Lucky Day)
Discarding a cool NF staging concept in the hope of wowing people at the ESC with an even cooler concept is risky. Moldova took that risk, ran with it, and ended up providing us with an impeccably-timed slapstick-chic performance that elevated an okay song to sensational status. Try and find a flaw in DoReDos’ Eurovision creation and I will dispute whatever you come up with, because it had it ALL. Eye-catching costumes (in Moldovan flag colours, of course)? Check. Boatloads of stage presence and charisma from all three band members and their backing squad? Check. An oversized Ikea cabinet put to better use than anything with doors has been before? Check! Putting paid to the stereotype that men can’t multitask – and proving that women absolutely can – the trio sang, danced and dashed in out of those doors without missing a beat or looking like it was any sort of struggle. In a day and age of the easily distracted (myself included) keeping all eyes on you for 180 seconds can be difficult – but My Lucky Day live in Lisbon was entertainment well worth the price of admission.
#3 | Czech Republic (Mikolas Josef with Lie To Me)
From being stuck on a hospital gurney with a neck brace on to turning out a performance like this – only to go on and top it in the final? Mikolas, I salute you. For a horrifying few days early on in rehearsal week, we weren’t sure whether the Czech Republic would even get to compete in the contest with their best entry ever. But the Eurovision gods were smiling down on us (that, and Mikolas did what doctors told him to do). He got through his semi show in more restrained style than he would have liked before pulling out all of the acrobatic stops on the Saturday night – moves that capped off a super-fun, well-choreographed, part-music video/part-live performance feat. SWAG. There is nothing I would change about the Czech staging, although I wouldn’t have complained if a hologram camel had materialised at some point. The highlight – besides Mikolas landing the flip and not ending up back in the emergency room – has to be the butt wiggle/floss/backpack combo after the second chorus. That was genius, and in keeping with the saucy subject matter. I can fully understand why plenty of these greedies want to eat Mikolas’ spaghetti (apologies if I just said something super rude…I honestly don’t know).
#2 | Cyprus (Eleni Foureira with Fuego)
There’s a reason Eurofans still talk about Ani Lorak all the time, despite Shady Lady finishing as the Eurovision runner-up TEN YEARS AGO (!). Ani was a crazy-hot woman in an amazing outfit who, backed by a posse of equally attractive dancers, strutted her way through a top-notch pop song to rapturous applause from the audience. Does that sound familiar? Does it sound…fuego, perhaps? I think so. Eleni came to Portugal armed with an ethnopop banger that had all the best elements of Shady Lady in its staging, and also threw back to Secret Combination and Qele Qele (Greece and Armenia’s ’08 entries that finished 3rd and 4th respectively). I loved being reminded of those other fierce women who’d showed the ESC who was boss back in the day, while being treated to a song that was modern enough to work in 2018. Eleni looked incredible, danced like a woman possessed, and whipped her hair back and forth in amongst fake and real fire while wearing that sparkly catsuit you wouldn’t want to have to pee while sewn into. I’m not going to lie…I wanted to BE her. If we must have successful 2018 entry copycats in 2019, can they please be Fuego + Foureira copycats?
#1 | Sweden (Benjamin Ingrosso with Dance You Off)
As we arrive at my no. 1 personal pick for Eurovision performance of the year, it will either be a massive plot twist (because you’re new here and were partly responsible for Sweden’s low televoting score) or a predictable ending (because you know how obsessed with Sweden and how big a fan of Benjamin’s I am). Whatever the reason for that lack of love from the public, it was not a problem for me – someone in awe of the glow-up between Benjamin’s 2017 and 2018 Melodifestivalen performances, and then continually impressed by the Dance You Off performance that was copy-pasted to the ESC (why would you mess with something that slick?). I don’t know why people have an issue with Swedish performances being the same every time, at Melfest and in every Eurovision rehearsal. When you put that much effort in to a stage show – even though Benjamin’s was relatively simple, just extremely effective – and rehearse the crap out of it, why shouldn’t it be flawless by the time it’s going to be on TV? I love this song and I love how it was staged, unconditionally. Jean Baptiste who?
I’ve showed you mine…now show me yours! Which Eurovision performances floated your boat the most this year?
WE GOT LOVE, LASERS AND LUCKY DAYS: My highlights and lowlights of Eurovision 2018’s second semi final
Just like that, it’s over: semi final two. We now have our 20 finalists, 6 automatic finalists and a final running order feat. all of them. It’s bittersweet, but there’s still a lot of Eurovision 2018 left to experience – and this contest is shaping up to be one of the most interesting in recent years.
Before we find out for sure whether it will be or not, I need to get a big bunch of thoughts off my chest re: last night’s semi. It was a show I enjoyed a lot more than the first one for some reason (the Australia anticipation was real) and there’s heaps to talk about. So let’s talk!
Their song’s not the strongest, and neither are their vocals – but what Moldova’s DoReDos lacked in above-average sound last night, they more than made up for with an epically-choreographed performance (plus truckloads of charisma and stage presence). Comic timing was crucial to pull the entire three minutes off, and everyone on stage clearly had their watches set to the millisecond. My Lucky Day live is something you can’t look away from, and as such I expect Moldova’s televote on Saturday to be substantial…though in such a competitive year, not as massive as their televote in Kyiv.
I can’t not mention Australia and the sparkly ball of joy that was Jessica Mauboy – I’d have my citizenship revoked and be banished to Siberia. Biased I may be, but I’m (almost literally) bursting with happiness over the show Jess put on. Sure, she had some less than perfect vocal moments, but I actually liked the raw and unpolished way she sounded and moved. She performed professionally, but with enough vulnerability and authenticity to make her come across as relatable and genuine. And I’ve never seen someone hair-flick with so much enthusiasm – no wonder she got whiplash earlier on in the week! I wouldn’t change anything about our performance, and I hope Jess pulls something similar – or even better – out of the bag for the final.
My other main performance highlights were via Hungary, Sweden and Ukraine. AWS went off in the Altice by the look of it, and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t attempt a headbang in my lounge room in support of the guys (I broke three windows and a table lamp, but it was worth it). Benjamin Ingrosso was always going to be an anticipated artist of the night for me (long story short ICYMI, I am a fully-fledged Swedophile and a big fan of Benjamin’s). Dance You Off was performed as flawlessly as ever, with the only thing I’d pick on being his choice of sneaker (go back to the Vans, man!). Mélovin’s closure of the semi made sure the run of songs went out with a bang (or technically, a flaming staircase) and he served up all the drama and intense gazes that I was hoping for.
There weren’t any bleeped-out f-bombs dropped, but I couldn’t help loving the postcard blooper reel anyway. We don’t usually get to see the production side of the vignettes that introduce every single song, let alone the parts of the process that don’t go according to plan. Thanks for that, Portugal – and take note, *insert whichever country we’re going to next year here*.
I think we all enjoyed the hosts’ Eurovision dance evolution skit – an original interval act idea if ever I’ve seen one. And speaking of the hosts (all twenty-seven of them), Filomena – who bears a passing resemblance to another ESC legend, Pastora Soler – is proving herself to be the host with the most, outshining the others (whose names I’m afraid I keep mixing up) with her green room antics and commendable attempt at the Loreen crab dance.
Results-wise, I was only really surprised by the first country to be drawn out of the hypothetical hat: Serbia. I didn’t predict Balkanika to qualify, but I’m glad they did, especially after Serbia missed out on a final spot last year. So did Slovenia, who are back in the final for 2018 too (in spite of Lea’s ‘technical malfunction’ gimmick). Russia did what I suspected and failed to advance for the first time – leaving Ukraine as the only country with its 100% qualification record intact (if we’re counting from the introduction of the semi final system). All the other qualifiers were reasonably expected – i.e. they were the 8 I managed to correctly predict. It’s been 8s all round for me this year, which is better than my 6 (!) from 2016; but a 9 in 2019 would be nice. In this case, I had Malta and Romania down as finalists instead of Serbia and Slovenia. But if it helps, I knew The Humans were goners once I’d seen their performance…
Speaking of Romania…as with Macedonia in SF1, ‘What were they thinking?’ is the phrase that comes to mind here. Goodbye is a great song, IMO, that would have been done justice if ANYTHING other than (what looked like) latex-clad masked mannequins were stuck all over the stage. It was like watching a performance broadcast live from a sex shop (and I didn’t want to know what had been dangled decoratively from the lighting rig). The outcome? An extra goodbye for The Humans, this time to Romania’s 100% qualification record. All bets are off in 2019 with regards to qualification, I’m telling you!
The only other thing I saw as a big downside to this second semi was Latvia’s failure to make it to the final. I kind of knew it was coming (and hadn’t predicted Laura to progress) but Funny Girl is so awesome and she was so kick-ass on stage, a part of me hoped she’d slip through. Let’s hope Latvia can avoid being sent home early (again) next time.
For whatever reason, I thought the hosts’ script was slightly less AAAAAGGGGHHH this time around. Maybe it’ll be third time lucky and the script in the final will be totally listenable and not make me miss Petra and Måns like crazy. A girl can dream!
Norway – giving us Eurovision song 1500, thank you very much – kicked things off with aplomb, but I felt a little hesitation from Rybak. Maybe the pressure of trying to fill his own shoes has taken a toll, but I wanted him to absolutely let rip and charm the crap out of me like he did at MGP, and he didn’t quite get there. Now he’s safely in the final, perhaps we’ll see that extra gear we know he’s capable of.
The award for throwing everything possible at a performance has to go to Malta – they clearly took cues from Croatia 2017. Just when you thought nothing else could fly out of or appear on the stage surrounding Christabelle, it doggone did. The Chanel rule of removing one thing might have done them some good, but nonetheless I’m a little surprised they didn’t qualify.
Oh, Slovenia. To me, the ‘Oh shit, the music’s cut out!’ trick was a bad move in an otherwise top-notch performance – but apparently, I am wrong. It’s going to be even more cringeworthy when repeated on Saturday, but I’ll try and focus on what happens before and after that to console myself. At the end of the day, I’m happy to have Lea and her drop-crotch jumpsuit still in the game.
A WORD ON THE FINAL’S RUNNING ORDER…
It didn’t take long for Christer Björkman and crew to unveil their 26-song masterpiece (let’s face it, the man’s had a lot of practice). Here’s what we have to look forward to this weekend:
First half Ukraine, Spain, Slovenia, Lithuania, Austria, Estonia, Norway, Portugal, United Kingdom, Serbia, Germany, Albania, France
Yep, it’s ballad central compared to the big-hitter other half. But you can tell Christer and co. did their best to create a varied line-up. Ukraine is an unconventional opening song, but I’m not against it. The most up-tempo, high energy tracks – Norway and Serbia – were put aside to be interspersed with all the slow stuff, which is understandable. France scores the lucky 13th slot, and gets to perform as late as possible in this half. Fantastique!
Second half Czech Republic, Denmark, Australia, Finland, Bulgaria, Moldova, Sweden, Hungary, Israel, Netherlands, Ireland, Cyprus, Italy
Mikolas Josef has the honour of getting the real party started (potentially with an ill-advised flip) and will be setting all of our camels in the mood (whatever the heck that means). Followed, in time, by Australia, Finland, Moldova, Sweden, Israel and Cyprus, he’s one of many favoured acts putting forward a banger in this half of the show. Will it all be too much with one after the other? Will Cyprus do what the odds suggest and win after not having to outshine anyone bar Italy? We’ll find out (too) soon. I think the voting sequence this year could see douze points going all over the place, though – or at least to a handful of different countries.
That’s all I wanted to comment on re: SF2, so now it’s your turn. What did you think of the show and the countries that came out of it smiling? And, who do you think will win the whole thing? Let me know in the comments as we count down to the final…and the inevitable, soul-sucking fog of depression that follows it (I like to end things on a positive note).
I’ll see you soon – don’t forget to check out my social media @EurovisionByJaz before the final for predictions, and during for funniness!
THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 8 (Belarus, Montenegro, Norway, Russia, Sweden + Switzerland)
Well, I did it! 43 reviews down, ZERO to go.
As you may/may not have noticed, I didn’t start my Eurovision reviews this year until mid-April. Over the past 28 days or so, I’ve worked my butt off and written an average of 1.5 reviews every single day – in between going to work, cooking enough food to keep myself alive and occasionally interacting with other humans socially. Sure, I haven’t ironed for a month, my floordrobe has to be seen to be believed, and I have unpaid bills stacked up to the ceiling…but Eurovision is priority number one. Everything else can wait.
I hope at least one of you has enjoyed my 2018 ramblings. If you’ve enjoyed them so much you want to go back and read them again before the contest kicks off – or if you’ve found me for the first time and want to catch up – here are all the links you’ll need for fast access:
- Round 1 feat. Armenia, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta + The Netherlands
- Round 2 feat Azerbaijan, Estonia, Poland, Romania + Spain
- Round 3 feat. Albania, Finland, Greece, Lithuania + Moldova
- Round 4 feat. Australia, France, Georgia, Ireland + Latvia
- Round 5 feat. Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Portugal + Ukraine
- Round 6 feat. Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Israel, Macedonia + San Marino
- Round 7 feat. Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Serbia, Slovenia + the United Kingdom
And then there were six. Before we dive headfirst into Eurovision week, I need to talk about Belarus, Montenegro, Norway, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland. Is there a douze-worthy song up the sleeve of Alekseev, Vanja, Alexander, Yulia, Benjamin or Zibbz? Maybe there’s a few, as far as I’m concerned. If you want to know what I think and how I scored their entries, keep reading – and for the final time, scroll for the poll to vote for your favourite!
My thoughts Sometimes rumours become truths, and that’s how Alekseev ended up representing Ukraine at Eurov…wait. That’s not right. It could have been Alekseev flying the blue-and-yellow flag this year, had he not pulled out of the Ukrainian selection to try his luck in less merciless Belarus. That’s not where the drama stopped (it practically went on Forever). But, many debates in the Eurovision community and withdrawals by fellow Eurofest contestants over the age of this song (i.e. was it eligible to go to the ESC as per the EBU rules and regs) later, Alekseev is in Lisbon after all. And he’s there armed with the original melody and English lyrics of a Russian-language song that was definitely publicly performed prior to September 1st. That date rule is a bendy one, isn’t it? And I’m down with it on this occasion, because I freaking LOVE Forever. This song is everything I want in an old-school Eurovision power ballad. It’s dynamic, dramatic in that classic Eastern European way (Work Your Magic comes to mind as a reference point), has a massive chorus which in turn has two massive money notes in it (which spawned the iconic Twitter account Alekseev’s Mouth) and, like a few other songs this year, takes me back to the ESC glory days of 2004-2008. The octave change in the first verse is an attention-grabbing opening to the song, one that’s hypnotic in its bold, loud moments, and spellbinding in its softer moments. And the melody throughout is haunting enough to give me the shivers. Now, I know what you’re thinking: This is clearly not at the forefront of modern music and isn’t exactly a masterpiece, so why am I making it out to be The Best Song Ever? Well, I don’t have a good answer to that. All I know is that if you could get Eurovision songs delivered like pizza, and I ordered an epic lights-and-shadows power ballad with a sprinkling of cheese, Forever is what I’d expect to be delivered to my door. The only things I’d pick off it, if it were a pizza, are a few questionable lyrics. ‘No need to worry, rain falling down, it’s our happiest story and there’s no one around’ ain’t the stuff of lyrical legends. I’m also bamboozled by Alekseev’s ability to blast his way through Let’s Get It Started by the Black Eyed Peas, in English without any trace of an accent (for his Voice Ukraine audition….you MUST YouTube it!), despite the fact that a few years later his singing English is heavily accented. That’s what makes me wish, since the EBU would probably have allowed it, that he was singing this song as Navsegda on Tuesday night. Not that anyone’s going to be listening to what’s coming out of his (Twitter-famous) mouth when he’s got a BED OF BLOODY ROSES protruding from his back. If the sight of that is as laughable as the press are telling us (us = me ‘cause I don’t watch rehearsals), Belarus are on the borderline of qualification. I suspect they might be sacrificed in this deadly semi, and that will upset me forevAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaah.
2017 VS 2018? I wasn’t a huge fan of Naviband’s song (don’t hate me), so 2018.
My score 10.5
My thoughts I realise that anything Montenegro sent to the ESC straight after Space would have seemed like a stark contrast – but to go for a majestic Balkan ballad, right off the back of a song that referred to wet dreams, is a plot twist and a half. Bringing us the best possible Montenegrin option (their NF was pretty shocking) is Vanja, and if Inje wasn’t missing the magic ingredient that makes a Balkan ballad sensational (Željko Joksimović as composer) I’d be praising the Eurovision gods for its presence in Portugal. As it is, I’m kind of feeling it. It’s a slow-moving, slow-burning number that doesn’t quite explode into a climax worth waiting for (to use Slavko-approved language) but feels grand anyway. If Lejla by Hari Mata Hari is a Chanel, Inje is a Wal-Mart…but that’s only by comparison. Still, I normally go so (dancing Italian) ape over big Balkan ballads, I was wondering why exactly I couldn’t go crazy over this one. I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s due to what isn’t there rather than what is – because what is there is adequate, if not remarkable. It’s slightly too slow-paced to whip up excitement; the melody of the chorus is simplistic when I personally prefer my BBs to be extra-rhythmic; and there are times when I could call it boring, even though I don’t want to. I guess I want the whole thing to level up. Like last year, when I loved the camptastic Space but wanted more from Slavko’s performance (wind/dry ice/a horde of hot, half-naked, oiled-up male dancers seductively waving huge, feathered fans), I like Inje, but I’m asking more of it than it wants to give. I want more drama, more atmosphere and more complexity (I’m very greedy, I know). I’m waiting now to see if the performance fills in some of the gaps – maybe when I’m watching it, I’ll get the spine-tingles I so desire. Or not, as Montenegro’s had as many staging misses as they have hits. They do have a capable, confident performer in their corner, which is a giant plus. Vanja may not be in the same smouldering category as Željko Joksimović, or be quite as compelling as Knez (and unlike Knez, is not an expert at making doves disappear and sawing people in half) but he holds his own. And he’s surprisingly hilarious on social media: a fact that may not help him succeed in the contest, but has won him a lot of admirers thanks to his snappy Inje-hater clapbacks. Vanja? More like VanJAAASS. Because he’s such a dope dude, I regret to predict a DNQ yet again for Montenegro, even knowing that every time they’ve sent a Balkan ballad in the past they have made it to the final. Third time unlucky, I reckon. This song would be a nice addition to the final 26, so if I’m wrong, I won’t complain.
2017 VS 2018? The disco-dance power and smuttiness of Space wins.
My score 7
My thoughts Any Eurofans out there who thought ESC record-holder Rybak wouldn’t end up representing Norway this year were very naïve. I know, because I was one of them. That was in spite of his irresistible performance of That’s How You Write A Song winning me over, after I’d already made the most drastic change-of-mind possible on the song itself. It went a little something like this: Listen No. 1 (with high hopes): ‘What the HELL is THIS?!?!? It’s TRASH, is what it is! You should be ASHAMED of yourself, Alexander!!!’. I was so disappointed, I could have cried myself to sleep that night (but didn’t ‘coz I’m a grown-ass woman and pulled myself together). Then came Listen No. 2, my reaction to which was (inexplicably): ‘Holy crap, this is AMAZING!!! I have never known the true meaning of musicianship until this moment!’. Okay, so I’ve dramatised that reaction a tiny bit to show you how much of a 180-degree turn I did. But boy, did I change my tune. I can’t even remember why I was so appalled in the first place…maybe because the song is a humungous throwback to an era that isn’t yet retro-fashionable again. I no longer care about that, and I definitely don’t care that Alex’s instructions for writing a song are wildly inaccurate. I’m too caught up in the bubblegum fun of the mid-tempo disco music, simple lyrics that make for a karaoke dream song, inevitable violin solo, and showstopping final third. I even love the scatting…what have I become? The onscreen scribbles may have been borrowed from Francesca Michielin, but they’re used more interactively á la Bulgaria in Kyiv, and look great on TV. If you’re thinking I need a reality check and should throw in some negatives to prove I haven’t gone completely insane…too bad. I swear, if anyone other than Rybak was peddling this track, I wouldn’t have come around. It’s not because he is who he is, with that Eurovision legacy, but because he has the ability to sell the song like his life depends on it. And I’m not just buying it – I’m throwing fistfuls of kroner at him while screaming hysterically. He instructs us to ‘believe in it’ in the THYWAS chorus, and he seems to practice what he preaches, pouring boundless energy and charm into his live performances. And he still looks so youthful (more on that in a second) that his childlike enthusiasm is infectious, not creepy. The thing I do find annoying about this, Alexander, is that you couldn’t wait another twelve months to make your (possibly) triumphant comeback TEN years after Fairytale. Nine years just bugs me. Also annoying (as it doesn’t apply to me), how has this guy barely aged, when he was 23 at the time of his win and is about to turn 32? Potential humanoid cyborg alert! More importantly, I might have to issue a potential two-time Eurovision winner alert while I’m at it. I can’t believe I’m even saying it, but Norway’s shift to 2nd in the odds after Rybak’s first rehearsal show how dangerous he could be. A safe top 10 result is more likely, but I am yet to discount this entry from the first-place fight.
2017 VS 2018? It’s another case of ‘I love them both equally and could never choose!’.
My score 10
My thoughts When Russia gives Eurovision their all, they go BIG (baking sweet treats live on stage and everything). When they really want to win the contest, it’s crystal clear. The only thing big about Yulia’s 2018 entry is the papier-mâché mountain she’s been forced to sing it on top of (the hills are alive…with the sound of mediocre music). And what’s crystal-clear about I Won’t Break is that, while Russia did good by keeping their promise to Yulia after last year’s Drama (drama so sizeable it deserves a capital D), they didn’t do good by her when they came up with this as her comeback track. It goes without saying that this song runs rings around last year’s almost-entry Flame Is Burning. But that’s not saying much, and unfortunately, plenty of the same problems remain. Once again we’ve been presented with a song that is a) unexciting and uninspired, b) belongs in a different decade, c) features wannabe-inspirational lyrics about strength and resilience and how there is light even in the darkest of places, blah blah blah, and d) in a language that Yulia is obviously not 100% comfortable with and cannot clearly pronounce with genuine feeling (which she shouldn’t be expected to). All of this is just on a smaller, much more bearable scale. I mean, I can sit and listen to I Won’t Break without wanting to punch a hole in the wall. But it’s still light years away from making a Best of Russia at Eurovision play list on Spotify. The beat is good, and I like the melody and the way it develops. But the lyrics are vague and clichéd, and overall the song is just not that interesting – it’s one of those you can imagine playing in the background of an Olympics montage (in this case, moments in which athletes triumphed over adversity) and that’s rarely a sign of imminent ESC success (Heroes aside). My biggest issue of all with this entry is that insistence – by whom, I’m not sure – that Yulia sings in English. It’s not her comfort zone. But for all I know, she was the one who insisted on it. I have to wonder, after trying so hard to win in Stockholm and losing to Ukraine, of all places (and Australia, but I don’t think Sound of Silence bothered them much compared to 1944), what happened to Russia’s A-game? Did Sergey accidentally leave it in the stage wings of Globen, where it was picked up on the sly by Christer Björkman and added to Sweden’s already stellar Eurovision toolkit? With the right song and the right approach, Yulia could be portraying Russia at their ESC best, and even though I Won’t Break makes Flame Is Burning sound…well, just as bad as it was, it still only gives her half a chance of success, if that. Yet we know Russia can do amazing things on the Eurovision stage. They certainly have the funds for it. I’m sure that mountain cost a pretty penny, but it wasn’t a wise investment piece. Is it a gimmick that will help them reach the lofty peak of the final, or is that 100% qualification record of theirs about to be destroyed? I can’t decide, but this must be the most dangerously close to a DNQ that they’ve ever been. I want Lazarev-level Russia back next year, please.
2017 VS 2018? There is nothing that isn’t better than Flame Is Burning.
My score 7
My thoughts Sweden may not be alphabetically last in this round of reviews, but this is my 43rd review for the year – i.e. I wrote it after the Swiss one below. I decided to save Sverige for as long as possible, like I was eating a particularly delicious slice of chokladkaka and leaving all of the frosting until last. Why? Well, if you’ve read literally any of my posts before, you’ve probably picked up on my Swedophile status: they’re my favourite Eurovision nation, I speak a fair bit of Svenska and am always teaching myself more, and I’ve traveled to Stockholm twice in the past two years (for the ESC in 2016 and for the Melodifestivalen final in 2017). Needless to say, I’m biased as heck when it comes to the country’s contest entries, and you won’t be shocked to discover that Dance You Off is my #1 song of this year’s comp. Some Eurofans hate it and think it’s trash; others aren’t bothered either way; and then there’s people like me who think it’s INCREDIBLE and actually cried a little when Benjamin won Melfest in March (okay, so I might be the only person who cried). I understand why the song doesn’t appeal to everyone, but I’ll tell you why it appeals to me. Firstly, Benjamin’s musical stylings are right up my street, and I love every song he’s released prior to this – Do You Think About Me, One More Time and last year’s Melfest entry Good Lovin’ in particular tap into the polished, slick and summery dance-pop I have a weakness for. Then there’s the resemblance between Dance You Off and two cracking songs by another of my favourite artists, The Weeknd – Can’t Feel My Face and I Feel It Coming. Those two songs and DYO all take inspiration from the late 80s and early 90s, and mesh those influences with late 2000s pop trends to create effortless cool. THEN there’s my tendency to fangirl over anyone who can whip out some falsetto and smooth dance moves simultaneously (I am aware that Benjamin is too young for me and has insanely hairy Italian arms, but I can still admire his talents, right?). You can add to that simple, but at times downright genius lyrics – ‘Treated you good, we were gold, I dug you like you were treasure’ = OH YES. Last but in no way least, there’s the fan-bloody-tastic staging concept that sees Benjamin bring a music video to life on a stage within a stage. Visually, this is so impressive – the first time you see it especially, but I’ve watched this performance more than any other and I’m still in awe. Unfortunately, because Sweden is criticised more harshly than any other Eurovision country if they don’t have a surefire, mass appeal winner on their hands, I feel this entry is receiving more hate than it deserves. But in a nice act of revenge, it will probably do better than a lot of people think. Don’t discount the fact that many people will see Dance You Off in all its light-up glory for the first time during Thursday’s semi, and even if they don’t like the song, the staging is easily spectacular enough to suck up votes like a vacuum. When Sweden inevitably reaches the final, they might not do quite as well as they have the past two years (though I believe this should do better than 5th) but there’s a top 10 place with their name on it. I hope that some day soon, Sweden stops being punished by Eurovision fans for their streak of success (even if it’s for selfish reasons because I’m sick of seeing hate comments directed at my favourite songs). Regardless…Team Ingrosso, NU KÖR VI!
2017 VS 2018? 2018, but they were both jättebra.
My score 12
My thoughts Ahh, Switzerland. The land of Lys Assia (RIP), excellent cheese and chocolate (what more do you need?), and consistent choosers of the best possible Eurovision entry from their NF. Sadly, they’re rarely rewarded for that last national trait – maybe because their best offering can’t quite compete with the best offerings from most other countries (harsh but true). The Swiss actually had two awesome, you-better-pick-that songs in this year’s Entscheidungsshow, and one of them was indeed Stones. There’s something about this song that is just plain cool and very likeable. It’s Americana-inspired soft rock that’s 100% authentic, 0% artificial – unlike the other Americana song we have in Lisbon via the Netherlands. Corinne and Stefan do spend half their time in Los Angeles, so there’s the explanation for that. It’s brimming with attitude, and the lyrics are definitely on track to being my favourite of the year – they’re especially tight in the chorus, but original and well-rhymed all the way through. The only part I’m not a fan of is the precursor to the final chorus, where it’s rammed down our throats that these two ‘ain’t standing alone’. It’s a little cheesy and not on par with the rest of the song, but that last chorus and the mic-drop ending later, and all is pretty much forgiven. Even though I’m an Australian whose studying days are over, this song makes me want to go on college spring break just so I can attend a party feat. warm beer in those classic red cups, and hopefully scream-sing it at the top of my lungs before jumping off a balcony into someone’s swimming pool. I’m not going to, but dang, the pull is strong! I love that vibe. Stones in general is laid-back and relaxed but has bite, and it’s a good combo. It’s not right up there with my most beloved songs of 2018 – not right now, at least – but as I’ve said before, there are only a few I truly dislike this year and this one is well above those in my ranking. Of course, if Switzerland had sent Compass by Alejandro Reyes, they’d be firmly inside my top 10 and wouldn’t have to worry about being booted out. I’d also be more confident of a qualification then, but with Zibbz I’ve been back and forth. I feel like they can, and therefore might be sacrificed from semi numero uno. There are so many powerful acts and big-hitters up against them, and Switzerland does not have a great recent track record (they last qualified in Copenhagen). However, I have heard good things about their rehearsals, and with this year looking more unpredictable by the minute, I wouldn’t be shocked to see them slip through. It’ll be 9th-14th in the semi, I think – and if it’s 9th or 10th, the final result is likely to be lower than left-side scoreboard. Just being involved in Saturday night, though, would be a step closer to leveling up for a country that’s been sent home early three years in a row.
2017 VS 2018? 2017 by a Stones-throw (my god, I’m hilarious).
My score 8
And that is that! THANK THE LORDI. Before I go and have a lie down because this race to smash out 43 reviews in a month has exhausted me beyond belief, I’ll give you a look at today’s ranking:
- Sweden (12)
- Belarus (10.5)
- Norway (10)
- Switzerland (8)
- Russia (7)
- Montenegro (7)
In news that will surprise no one, Sweden tops my list with an easily-earned douze. Belarus and Norway are not far behind. This was a generally high-scoring lot of songs, and I’m glad I got to end on a positive note.
If you’re wondering when I’ll unveil the entire EBJ ranking for 2018, wonder no more: it’s happening ASAP. Definitely before the first semi final, and probably alongside my predictions for SF1 – so keep an eye on my social media over the next few days if you don’t want to miss a thing (I’m @EurovisionByJaz everywhere).
Now it’s time for you to do your Eurovisual duty:
Feel free to post your personal ranking of all six – or even all 43 songs in the Lisbon line-up – in the comments. If you have thoughts on anything ESC-related, basically, I’m happy to hear them.
Okay, I’m seriously going to go pass out now. I’ll be back before it’s too late (a.k.a. before that first semi begins) with my promised predictions. Who’s in and who’s out? At this point, I’m still confused about that, so I’ll get back to you…
Welcome to Eurovision week – it’s going to be a great one!!
SELECTION SEASON 2018 | A shipload of songs for Portugal, Norway’s Grand Prix + the pointy end of Melfest!
It is with great regret – and to be honest, a little relief – that I say hey to you guys on the last Super Saturday of the 2018 ESC NF season. It feels like five minutes ago that the season started, and all of a sudden we’re in the thirties with our set-in-stone song tally and just days away from having a full house (and using the good old sorting tool to its full potential). The positive part of this, though, is that we are now just TWO MONTHS away from the main event.
No, not my birthday…that’s in September. I’m talking about Eurovision, obviously. Isn’t that all I ever do on this blog?
Before the spotlight hits Lisbon, there is more business to take care of. This is a sedate Saturday when you compare it to the last three or four – but the two finals taking place tonight are big ones.
- Norway (Melodi Grand Prix final)
- Sweden (Melodifestivalen final)
Yep – it’s an all-out Scandifest! And even though I’m mad about it denying me the chance to be on Twitter throughout Melfest if I want to watch MGP afterwards sans spoilers (why did they have to be on the same night, for the love of Loreen?!?) I’m also very, very excited. And very, very keen to get on with talking about a) everything that happened last week re: Portugal’s participating songs, b) Melodi Grand Prix, and c) my beloved Melfest (to think I was in Friends Arena for the final a whole year ago!). So I’ll get straight into it.
After a drip-drop few months of the NF season (Safura pun intended), all of sudden we are DROWNING in songs (albeit drowning in an enjoyable way).
It all started with the results of last Saturday’s finals, which saw five songs selected in Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Poland and San Marino. The role call = La Forza by Elina Nechayeva, Monsters by Saara Aalto, Our Choice by Ari Oláfsson, Light Me Up by Gromee feat. Lukas Meijer, and Who We Are by Jessika feat. Jenifer Brening (a Maltese/German production for San Marino, of course). My least favourite of this bunch by far is Who We Are (and if Norway chooses a much, MUCH superior Who We Are tonight, San Marino will be even worse off) while my top pick of the night was La Forza. I’ll tell you why – assuming I still feel the same way – when the EBJ reviews for 2018 kick off. #cliffhanger.
Sweden’s Melodifestivalen stage has made its last pre-Stockholm pit stop, and the final line-up is complete (obviously, since it’s happening tonight…I’m just mentioning it now). Quashing their competition in each of the four Andra Chansen duels last Saturday were Margaret, Renaida, Felix Sandman and Mendez, paving the way for a Schwarznegger-strong final. For more on that, including my winner prediction, keep reading.
We have our host entry at long last, with Portugal choosing Cláudia Pascoal and her fairy floss hair to defend their Eurovision title with O Jardim. It’s a seriously slow burner of a song, and I definitely need time to figure out how I feel about it – but my first impression is good. Not good enough to make me think Portugal will successfully defend their first-ever win, however.
Later in the week, just when we thought the flood of songs had stopped, in surged Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Croatia and Ireland, unveiling entries by artists that had been locked in for a long time (Belgium in particular). It’s no surprise that most of my attention was on my own country’s entry (no. 4…who would have thought), but I’m actually not going to say anything about Jessica Mauboy’s We Got Love at this stage. Do I love it? Do I hate it? YOU’LL NEVER KNOW MWAHAHAHAHA until later on when I’ve formed a proper and objective opinion. Sorry, not sorry.
If I could describe the others in one word, though, Cesár Sampson’s Nobody But You would be ‘smooth’, Aisel’s X My Heart ‘underwhelming’, SENNEK’s A Matter of Time ‘interesting’, Franka’s Crazy ’jazzy’, I guess (and I’m glad Croatia isn’t in the same semi as Latvia, because I love Funny Girl and I don’t want two similar songs clamouring for the same points) and Ryan O’Shaughnessy’s Together ‘sweet’. Stay tuned for those 2018 reviews when I’ll say a lot more than that about all 43 entries.
Now it’s time to talk about some potential entries. Let the Scandifest begin!
We’ve known the artists and the songs for a good few months – and now, it’s finally time for Norway’s MGP to pit them against each other live and narrow ten down to one. And those ten are, in case you needed a refresher:
- You Got Me, Stella & Alexandra
- Talk To The Hand, Aleksander Walmann
- Scandilove, Ida Maria
- Light Me Up, Nicoline
- I Like, I Like, I Like, Tom Hugo
- Stop The Music, Charla K
- Tengo Otra, Alejandro Fuentes
- Moren Din, Vidar Villa
- Who We Are, Rebecca
- That’s How You Write A Song, Alexander Rybak
I don’t know about you, but I reckon this final is pretty freaking beautiful, to quote Robin Bengtsson *struts on treadmill and tries to type at the same time*. You did good, Norway – even if Alexander Rybak isn’t adding a surefire hit to the mix as many of us assumed he would.
Here’s my rundown of the songs that are hits, and those that missed the mark (in my opinion, obviously…feel free to disagree in the comments).
My favourite four (a.k.a. Jaz’s personal super final)
Who We Are In the wake of A Monster Like Me, Mørland brings us another musical masterpiece via Rebecca. It’s a power ballad that moves to morph into Sanna Nielsen-style schlager before each chorus, but (plot twist) doesn’t. The lyrics are familiar but not clichéd or a cheesefest, and each part of the song is as memorable as what comes before it – there’s no relying on a strong chorus to carry everything else. AMAZING. This is the MGP song leading the odds at the moment, and if Rebecca can deliver it close to studio-perfect tonight, there’s a good chance we’ll be seeing her on an even bigger stage in May. 9.5/10.
Talk To The Hand I was surprised to see JOWST and Aleksander Walmann so keen to give Eurovision another shot so soon – surprised, but psyched. This time Aleksander is the only billed artist, but we still get to experience JOWST’s brilliant lyrics (Grab The Moment won the EBJ Award for Best Lyrics of 2017, ICYMI). And it’s another catchy, cutting-edge pop track, with a faster pace than the Kyiv 10th-placer. I love it. It’s so much fun, and I will be Spotifying the shiz out of it whether it wins or not. 9.5/10.
Scandilove Speaking of fun…oh my Lordi, this is a party starter. At first I thought it was ridiculous, but all it took was a second listen to get me thinking it was ridiculously epic. It’s unbelievably catchy, bubblegum as heck, and hilariously quotable – ‘Can you make love like a Scandinavian?’, ‘Swim in the ocean, feel the emotion’ and ‘It’s fucking frEEEzing’ are the tip of the iceberg. Sure, it could be an absolute train wreck when performed live, but Ida is innocent until proven guilty. 9/10.
Tengo Otra Who would have thought that the Despacito effect would pop up in Norway’s national final? Or Sweden’s, for that matter? Well, believe it or not, it has – and I’m fine with that when it gives us songs like this. I have no idea what Alejandro is singing about (I’d have better luck if he’d gone with Norwegian) but his melody is exotic and makes me want to dance until sweat is pouring off me and I have to excuse myself to go and down an entire pitcher of sangria. 8.5/10.
The leftovers (a.k.a. the stuff that’s still good, just not great)
That’s How You Write A Song Artist-wise, this is the big one. Song-wise, this is the musical equivalent of a trashy TV movie that’s so bad it’s good. What’s not good is how inaccurate the lyrical instructions are (I think there’s a little more involved in the songwriting process than you’re letting on, Alexander) but who cares when the violin riff is so fantastically cheesy? Fairytale this song is not, but it is my guiltiest guilty pleasure of the whole NF season. 8/10.
Moren Din Up until now, the creepiest mother-related song in the Eurovision bubble was Belgium’s 2014 entry from Axel Hirsoux. Enter Vidar, who wants to get it on with someone else’s (I must stress that) mum and is not shy about making that public knowledge by singing about it on national TV. Subject matter aside, the song is folksy fun and I quite like it – all the more as it’s the only Norwegian-language song competing in MGP this year. 7.5/10.
Stop The Music This is a strange name for a song, but I can’t even make a stupid joke about it along the lines of ‘I wish they had stopped the music’ (HAHAHA not) because it’s a nice song. As ballads go, it’s not the cookie-cutter kind, and I appreciate that. 7.5/10.
You Got Me Holy Haba Haba – Stella’s back! And she’s got her groove back too by the sounds of it (I owe you a congratulatory handshake if you got that reference). Her duet with Alexandra – as opposed to Alexander, Aleksander and Alejandro – is full of energy and packs a decent punch with the chorus, but it doesn’t exactly set my Scandipop-loving soul on fire. 7/10.
Light Me Up This is probably the most nondescript song of the ten. It’s good for radio play or the movie soundtrack of a John Green adaptation, but it’s too lacklustre to compete in a contest. There’s no fight in it. Sorry, Nicoline. 6.5/10.
I Like, I Like, I Like Now here’s a song title I can joke about! It’s not that I don’t like, don’t like, don’t like Tom’s track (though TBH, calling it I Like x1 would have been totally fine) – it’s just one of the few weak links here, and I’d be shocked to see it progress to the super final unless the live performance is miraculously mind-blowing. 6/10.
Making my predictions (a.k.a. embarrassing myself)
Traditionally, the four spots in the Melodi Grand Prix super final/gold final/whatever they’re calling it in 2018 are filled by a few predictable betting favourites, plus a few left-field options that few saw coming (and by ‘few’, I mean ‘me because I’m not very perceptive’). I’m not even sure I would have anticipated Grab The Moment making the cut last year if I’d followed MGP (I was busy swanning around Stockholm at the time). So, I’ve thought long and hard about who I think the final four will be this time…
…which didn’t help at all.
That means it’s stab-in-the-dark time, y’all! And I’m taking a stab at Aleksander Walmann, Vidar Villa, Rebecca and Alexander Rybak being the final four. If Walmann fades into the background after performing in the dreaded second slot, or Vidar isn’t the curveball I suspect he might be (remember En Godt Stekt Pizza?) we could see Ida Maria (if Norway’s feeling frisky) or Stella & Alexandra stepping up instead. Rebecca and Rybak are more or less already there, as far as I’m concerned, but don’t make me bet anything on it.
As for the winner, I do think Rebecca will do it if a) her live vocals are up to scratch, and b) the staging hasn’t been stuffed up and does Who We Are justice. That means the music video should definitely NOT be replicated on stage, as cool of a concept as it is.
What do you think? Am I crazy for not naming Rybak the runaway winner, or is there someone I’ve overlooked? Who do you want to represent Norway in Lisbon? Let me know below.
It’s here. After five cities, four semis and one second chance round, Melodifestivalen has arrived in Stockholm, and the capital is prepping for a final that has turned out to be pretty fantastisk considering the overall, weaker-than-usual standard of this year’s competition. 12 songs remain, and outside of victories on the Spotify charts, only one can win. So who’s going to Eurovision?
- Everyday, Mendez
- All The Feels, Renaida
- A Bitter Lullaby, Martin Almgren
- My Turn, John Lundvik
- Party Voice, Jessica Andersson
- Last Breath, LIAMOO
- Shuffla, Samir & Viktor
- For You, Mariette
- Every Single Day, Felix Sandman
- In My Cabana, Margaret
- Dance You Off, Benjamin Ingrosso
- Fuldans, Rolandz
That golden ticket to the ESC is still up for grabs. There’s no crystal-clear winner forging ahead far enough to make betting on them worthwhile (at least for a scaredy cat with a fragile bank account balance like me). Benjamin is leading the odds and won the audience poll; Felix is topping the charts and gaining more support by the second; Mariette or John Lundvik could still surprise; and LIAMOO might be a miracle worker who raps his way to first place.
A lot is going to come down to who Sweden votes for now that the best songs are in direct competition, and what the international juries take to as well (so we probably won’t see Samir & Viktor shuffla in Lisbon). Before I make my best possible winner prediction, I want to run down the full list of tonight’s twelve songs: not in performance or even alphabetical order (gasp!) but by how much I want them to win. Tell me if you feel the same – or not – in the comments.
Nej, tack…the songs I DON’T want to win Melfest 2018
A Bitter Lullaby I think there is a place for this in the final, and as long as it isn’t first place (which is about as likely as San Marino winning Eurovision this year) I can make peace with it being there. The song has grown on me since listen no. 1, but I still see it being too vanilla to get Sweden a result on par with what they’re accustomed to. 6.5/10.
Party Voice Melfest wouldn’t be Melfest without a touch of schlager, and since Jessica is one of only four females competing tonight, Party Voice is representing schlager and girl power in Stockholm. But, like Christer Björkman, I do NOT want a song like this winning through to the ESC and setting Sweden back 15-20 years. Again, it’s not going to happen…but I just want to make my feelings clear (while dancing like a mother). 7/10.
For You It’s not Mariette’s fault that she had so much pressure on her to produce a clear Melfest winner. Nonetheless, she didn’t. I think she’s almost out of contention for the win (if she couldn’t do it with A Million Years, she shouldn’t be able to with For You). The song and the performance are good, but missing the x factor. 7/10.
Fuldans I can’t be mad that Rolandz went direkt – didn’t we all see it coming? They are officially the Owe Thornqvist of 2018, right down to being handed performance slot 12 in the final. As with Boogieman Blues, I’d be lying if I said I got zero enjoyment out of Fuldans. Knowing it shouldn’t and won’t come anywhere near winning means I’m not worrying about it much. 6/10.
The songs I could get on board with (or should I say ‘All Aboard’ with?)
Everyday This is a bop. So much so that I can forgive the line ‘We were always meant to be’ (seriously, couldn’t they come up with anything else?). The chorus is possibly the catchiest of the year, and the colourful, frivolous staging contrasts well with Mendez’ all-black ensemble. 8/10.
All The Feels Fiercest, most flawless female in the final alert! I’m so thankful Renaida made it out of Andra Chansen so we get to witness her smash it on stage again. All The Feels is addictive, contemporary and perfectly choreographed. The odds aren’t in its favour to win, but if it did I would be happier than Nathan Trent after a lottery win. 8.5/10.
Shuffla They’re leading the pack on Spotify – and it’s understandable – but as with Rolandz, it will be the international juries who drag Samir & Viktor down a scoreboard they might have topped if Sweden had 100% of the power. I’m not super keen on a Shuffla win, so that’s okay with me. Still, imagine the energy this would bring to Eurovision, and how jättebra it would be to have Sweden send a song in Swedish for the first time since 1998! 7/10.
Every Single Day Comparing this song – and Felix himself – to Frans’ win with If I Were Sorry is easy. I ended up loving and supporting that in Stockholm (right down to wearing Frans’ face on my t-shirt) and I can see myself doing the same thing if the Sandman becomes the second-ever winner to come out of Andra Chansen. At this point, though, I like this song, but love others. 8/10.
The songs I want to win
My Turn How did I go from labeling this as a total by-the-numbers cheeseboard to adoring it when I’ve only listened to it once since semi 1? Your guess is as good as mine. But there’s something about the melody, power, and John’s beautiful face that’s worked magic on me. Don’t underestimate this one! 9/10.
Last Breath I get that rap isn’t for everyone, but it’s what LIAMOO does best and that makes his performance of Last Breath authentic and moving. The staging is simple but complementary, and the song is dynamic thanks to the uplifting chorus that gives rap-haters a break from the more intense verses. As Sanna Nielsen would say, I’m in love. 9/10.
In My Cabana But of COURSE. I don’t care if Margaret sings like a drunk pack-a-day smoker (although she has come a long way from her Polish NF performance of Cool Me Down). This song is the bomb dot com – a tropical-reggae-pop banger with numerous insanely catchy bits. Oh boy, oh boy. 9.5/10.
Dance You Off Last but not least, it’s my boy Benjamin with a slick R & B/dance track and the most epic staging I have ever seen. Together they’re an ESC-ready package that I’ll be cheering for tonight so loudly I’ll wake up everyone else in my house, and you’ll probably hear me even if you’re in Friends Arena. 9.5/10.
Predicting the winner, with sweaty palms (and sweaty other places)
I’m going to keep this (kind of) short. Realistically, I think there are four songs that are in it to win it – My Turn, Last Breath, Every Single Day and Dance You Off. As I said before, Samir & Viktor will be dragged down by the international juries, whereas I think Swedish love for Mariette will be decreased now there are stronger songs and performances in play.
Last Breath is too divisive to win, in my opinion – as much as I’d enjoy that. My Turn is probably not current enough. That leaves a likely top two of Benjamin and Felix (who have a bromance going on that Shakespeare would write a sonnet about if he were alive today) and I’m having trouble deciding what’s more likely: the song I actually want to win winning (Dance You Off ) or an Andra Chansen qualifier winning again (Every Single Day). All I feel 100% confident in saying is that Sweden will be sending their fourth guy in a row to Eurovision (so could we please get some girl power á la Sverige in 2019?).
That being said, YOU HAVE TO MAKE AN ACTUAL PREDICTION, JAZ!!! So, for the win, I’m settling on *drumroll*…
Felix. Because I don’t want to jinx Benjamin, but also because I got this feeling inside my bones (Justin Timberlake knows).
Who’s your pick to fly the Swedish flag in Lisbon? Do we agree, or do we have to agree to disagree?
NF UPDATE: What’s Up Next (The Last NF of the Season, Noooooooooo!)
- 11/3 Lithuania (Eurovizija final)
And we still have song reveals from Bulgaria, Georgia, Israel, Macedonia and Russia to look forward to. Are we spoiled or what?
I think I’d better stop the Scandifest now since I could probably publish all of the above as an encyclopedia-thick novel (that nobody would want to read). I hope you enjoy Melfest or MGP if you’re watching one/both tonight, and that you don’t decide to be Eurovision Satan and DM me spoilers from Norway on social media. Have a heart!
Until next time, when the real ESC countdown begins…