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SUNDAY SHORTLIST | My top six tracks from Benjamin Ingrosso’s Identification

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…

 

Behave

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.

 

Spotlights

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 THE (GRAND) FINAL COUNTDOWN! My top 10 performances of Eurovision 2018

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!

 

 

THE GOOD 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

THE BAD

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

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

 

 

THE “OTHER”

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

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

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

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

 

 

A WORD ON THE FINAL’S RUNNING ORDER… 

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

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

 

 

 

 

THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 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:

  1. Sweden (12)
  2. Belarus (10.5)
  3. Norway (10)
  4. Switzerland (8)
  5. Russia (7)  
  6. 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:

  1. You Got Me, Stella & Alexandra
  2. Talk To The Hand, Aleksander Walmann
  3. Scandilove, Ida Maria
  4. Light Me Up, Nicoline
  5. I Like, I Like, I Like, Tom Hugo
  6. Stop The Music, Charla K
  7. Tengo Otra, Alejandro Fuentes
  8. Moren Din, Vidar Villa
  9. Who We Are, Rebecca
  10. 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.

‘Talk to the hand coz the face ain’t listening…and also coz I’m in the middle of servicing my car.’

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.

‘Is that your mum over there? Your grandma? You know what, I’m not fussy.’

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?

  1. Everyday, Mendez
  2. All The Feels, Renaida
  3. A Bitter Lullaby, Martin Almgren
  4. My Turn, John Lundvik
  5. Party Voice, Jessica Andersson
  6. Last Breath, LIAMOO
  7. Shuffla, Samir & Viktor
  8. For You, Mariette
  9. Every Single Day, Felix Sandman
  10. In My Cabana, Margaret
  11. Dance You Off, Benjamin Ingrosso
  12. 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.

‘I think I deserve a high five for not falling off this pyramid, don’t I?’

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.

They might not win over the juries, but they could be up for a Colgate advertising campaign.

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.

‘FYI, when I say ‘go ape’, that’s not an invitation for Francesco Gabbani’s man in a monkey suit to come party with me.’

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…

 

 

Putting The (Freaking) Beautiful Into The Mess: My five favourite performances of Eurovision 2017

Happy Hump Day, everybody! They say time flies when you’re having fun, but apparently it also flies when you’re in the torturous throes of Post-Eurovision Depression. It’s already been a week and a half since Portugal won their first ever ESC, and to me it actually feels like it’s been longer. Shouldn’t NF season have started again by now?

I just mentioned a bad bout of PED, but I have to admit that mine hasn’t been nearly as bad as usual. I’m not sure why – maybe because I’ve been pretty busy since final weekend, dealing with all the stuff I didn’t do before the shows because I had nothing but Eurovision on the brain and couldn’t concentrate on anything else. From now until about April 2018, my brain-space will only be 90% occupied by Eurovision – that leaves 10% for everything else, which IMO is plenty.

Obviously I’m not here to talk about anything but the contest, though, and today I’m focusing on the most freaking beautiful performances of 2017, according to moi (because boy, is this a subjective topic). Staging and singing standards were high this year, but there weren’t that many acts that had every single bit of their s%#t together. Here’s my personal shortlist – from no. 5 to no. 1, for maximum soap-opera-cliffhanger suspense – of those that did.

Hit me up with your top five performances of the year in the comments, and we’ll see if we have any countries in common…

 

  

#5 | Robin Bengtsson’s performance of I Can’t Go On for Sweden

But of course! I’d be concerned for my mental health – and I’m sure you guys would be too – if I’d willingly left Sweden off this list. Just as the two certainties of life are death and taxes, the two certainties of Swedish Eurovision performances are a) they’ll be polished to perfection, and b) they’ll have been that way since we first saw the future ESC rep on stage at Melodifestivalen. There was certainly no need to change Robin Bengtsson’s risky, but super-suave and super-slick staging of I Can’t Go On between Stockholm and Kyiv – although the backdrop was revamped, two dancers were replaced, and a new suit was bestowed the privilege of being wrapped around Robin (FYI, SVT…I would have done that for free). ANYWAY, Robin’s Eurovision performances were as sharp as said suit, and just as entertaining as his first public one from the NF days. What’s to fault? I do now feel inadequate, since I can barely power-walk on a treadmill without tripping over my own feet (let alone strut on one with confidence while singing, et cetera), but that’s just me being pedantic.

 

 

#4 | Salvador Sobral’s performance of Amar Pelos Dois for Portugal

Taking an alternative approach to Sweden’s cool, calculated one paid off for Portugal. Every single time Salvador the Salvadorable took to the ESC stage, he put a slightly different spin on Amar Pelos Dois, via his vocals and unique performance style. That gave his three minute appearances an authenticity and freshness that was so endearing, it made many of us feel like proud parents watching their shy son come into his own at a school talent contest. But don’t get me wrong – his performances were world class, with an emphasis on the ‘class’. Being the only artist to use the satellite stage (Hungary’s violinist doesn’t count), he stood out without the aid of any bells and whistles (I have no problem with pimping out a performance, but we all know APD needed to be pared-back). He’s a spellbinding presence on his own, and with that stunning woodland backdrop behind him, delivered something that was impossible to ignore. There wasn’t anything else on show in 2017 that was quite so dreamy…if we don’t include Robin Bengtsson’s penetrating gaze and Imri Ziv’s biceps.

 

 

#3 | Joci Pápai’s performance of Origo for Hungary

I might be biased on this one, since as you probably know, Origo is my hands-down numero uno song of the year. But even I was worried that Joci would be too nervous on stage, or that the A Dal performance feat. dancer, violinist and suitably aggressive rap sequence wouldn’t translate well to the much bigger IEC stage. Thankfully, I had nothing to worry about. The intimacy of the performance – an important thing to cultivate considering the personal nature of the song’s story – was retained, but the use of the satellite stage and the fire jets expanded it to Eurovision-size. The colour scheme was perfect, the camera shots clever, and the emotion just as raw and real as it needed to be to not come across as phony (or over-rehearsed). Joci’s costume change for the final was the icing on the cake. The only thing I’d have done differently is toned down the smile on the violinist’s face – I feel like she needed to be more Sandra Nurmsalu and less Alexander Rybak for Origo purposes. Then again, I can’t blame her for smiling her way through a performance this good.

 

 

#2 | Kristian Kostov’s performance of Beautiful Mess for Bulgaria

I had no idea what to expect from Bulgaria this year in terms of staging, but I knew that Beautiful Mess deserved to be presented in an amazing way. What was ultimately done with it was incredible, and gave it all the visual interest it needed without taking away from the song or from Kristian’s beyond-his-years charisma and vocal talents. Geometric shapes and a bleak but totally on-trend monochromatic colour and lighting scheme went hand-in-hand with Kris’s Addams Family-esque clothing choice. Together, those elements made the performance seem so mature it was easy to forget that he’s a kid who only recently turned 17. The choreography was simple, and the shaky camera shots that kicked in halfway through (perhaps inspired by the treatment of Oscar Zia’s Human at Melfest last year) added to the atmosphere. As Kris sings in the chorus, I don’t want nothing more – i.e. I couldn’t have asked for anything better – from Bulgaria’s performance. That’s two years in a row now, and it makes me excited for what they might bring to the party in Lisbon.

 

 

#1 | Sunstroke Project’s performance of Hey Mamma for Moldova

A public service announcement: from now on, we’re all to spell ‘fun’ like this – M-O-L-D-O-V-A. If you were after a Eurovision 2017 performance that ticked every single box, then you’d undoubtedly have found it in the Sunstroke Project’s sophomore stage appearance. It took a great party song and made it a serious contender by doing everything right. The boys and their brides-to-be were entertaining, energetic and vocally solid; their dance moves were quirky, memorable and easy to copy after a few drinks gave you the courage (or was that just me?); and their background graphics were 10/10. They also threw in a handful of bits and pieces that ramped up the fun factor without turning Hey Mamma into a disposable novelty entry – think the backup singers’ costume change, and their synchronised bouquet toss into the audience. Moldova’s semi performance took me by surprise as I didn’t foresee it being my highlight of the night, but it was. And final night wouldn’t have been the same without them, that’s for sure. A third place well earned? You bet your epic sax!

 

 

Now I’ve shown you mine, you can show me yours! Which performances from Kyiv do you think were the most douze-worthy?

 

 

Next time…I hope your poll-taking skills are still sharp from voting in Barbara Dex, because the 2017 EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards are about to kick off, and I need you to decide who and what should win the People’s Choice trophies! From the Miss and Mr. Congeniality awards to the Dancefloor Filler of the Year, Best Music Video and OMG Moment of the Year honors, it’s up to you to vote in a whole heap of categories and have your say on the best – and worst – of Eurovision 2017. Don’t miss your chance!!

 

 

 

 

JAZ JUDGES EUROVISION 2017 | Bulgaria, France, Italy, Romania, Serbia + Sweden

Bonjour! I’m back with another round of Eurovision 2017 song reviews (what else would I be doing at this time of year?). I hope you have a spare three to five hours to read through them all.

Just kidding. It’ll take two hours, max.

This is the halfway mark, so if you’d like to catch up on the countries covered by me and my mum (who’s still here delivering verdicts from a first-impression, non-obsessive fan perspective) so far, I’ve linked them below for your convenience. Hey there, people who are just as lazy as me!

  • Round 1, feat. Azerbaijan, Denmark, Georgia, Hungary, Norway + Portugal
  • Round 2, feat. The Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands + Poland
  • Round 3, feat. Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Macedonia, Malta + Switzerland

Now it’s time to cross six more countries and their awesome/average/abysmal songs off the to-do list. Today’s role-call: Bulgaria’s Kristian, France’s Alma, Italy’s Francesco, Romania’s Ilinca & Alex, Serbia’s Tijana and Sweden’s Robin. It’s the ESC equivalent of the popular kids’ table in a high school cafeteria, basically (with a few of the kids absent or in detention).

Have your opinions at the ready so when you get to the end, having found at least twenty comments you disagree with, you can say what’s on your mind – we want to hear everything.

Let’s get going!

 

 

My thoughts Let’s face it, Poli Genova left Bulgaria’s 2017 artist with shoes to fill bigger than that gigantic clog every tourist makes a point of posing with in Amsterdam. Stepping up to the plate (or into the huge-ass shoe) as a 17–year-old boy and the first ESC competitor to have been born in this millennium (#ifeelold), you’d think Kristian Kostov should be scared. But not only is Bulgaria currently the second-favourite to win the whole contest, they’ve brought in the bets with an absolute stunner of a ballad. Beautiful Mess is all beautiful and no mess. It’s almost like a down-tempo, male version of If Love Was A Crime: ultra modern, melodically memorable and full of lyrical determination (and similarities, right down to ‘together we’re untouchable’ versus ‘our love is untouchable’). It’s even gone down the same route of including a strangely alluring sample as a hook. As a result, I love it for many of the same reasons that I loved – and still love – ILWAC. I wouldn’t say Bulgaria has tried to carbon copy Poli’s super-successful entry so much as build on it, since it did do so well for them. Oddly, though, despite them being higher in the betting odds than they were in 2016, I don’t think Kristian can nab them another 4th place. He’s a brilliant performer with an almost studio-perfect voice, and twice the charisma of some of his fellow teen acts (Blanche, I’m looking at you in particular) but there is something missing from Beautiful Mess that, in a year of Italys and Swedens, will stop it from climbing quite that high in my opinion. However, I’m happy to be proven wrong. Did you hear that, universe? 10 points.

My mum says… I have to agree that the only Bulgarian mess is the one mentioned in the lyrics. The song is…well, beautiful. It’s interestingly worded for a romantic ballad, and heavy on the emotion without being weepy. Kristian has a voice and an ability to convey that emotion way beyond his seventeen years! I’m impressed. 10 points.

Bulgaria’s score 10.00

 

 

My thoughts Ooh la la! Speaking of countries that have ridden a wave of 2016 musical awesomeness into 2017, here’s France. Armed with Alma instead of Amir this time (á la Italy’s move from Francesca to Francesco) they’re bringing some sexy, summery tropical pop to Eurovision in a year with nothing else like that competing. I adore this song. I did have the original, all-French version at an even more heavenly status, and I’m still a little miffed by the switch to a slightly lame English chorus; but the ESC version of Requiem still ticks most of my boxes. Like the French pop I tend to favour, it’s not too predictable, but the catchy chorus sticks and stops the song from becoming inaccessible. And, I must admit, the English makes it easier for moi to sing along as I flamenco haphazardly around the house. Alma is a gorgeous girl/woman (she’s a little older than me hence IDK what to call her) and a good performer, but I have doubts about France’s ability to stage Requiem in a way that doesn’t make us all say ‘Mon dieu!‘. They did a nice job on J’ai Cherche last year, but they can’t be trusted implicitly to NOT screw things up presentation-wise, unlike Sweden or Russia (RIP) for example. They’re dealing with a song that could come across trés terrible with the wrong choreography, dodgy dancers, unsuitable costume choices, etc. However…if they pleasantly surprise me, I will sit quietly and watch them collect just enough points for a non-embarrassing, possibly excellent result. 10 points.

My mum says… I’m not sure if I like this or not, which tells me it might not be the most instantaneous entry in Eurovision this year (of course, it could just be me not feeling the amour). I like the drama it brings in its own way, and I did visualise myself walking Parisian streets with armfuls of Chanel purchases (I don’t know who’d be paying for all of that) while it was playing. But I felt it was a little disjointed, almost like two similar but not similar enough songs stuck together. Maybe it’s an acquired taste? 5 points.

France’s score 7.5

 

 

My thoughts If, just a few short months ago, you’d told me that Italy would somehow manage to present us with a dancing gorilla as part of their Eurovision act and have it be classy in that typical Italian way, I would have tossed a bowl of al dente spaghetti into your lap (the obvious reaction for someone in a state of disbelief). But, almost 100 million YouTube views and a shedload of OGAE Poll points later, we have the delightful Francesco and Occidentali’s Karma heading off to Kyiv…and he’ll probably be leaving with a Kosta Boda mic trophy in his human (not ape) hands. I’ll come right out and say that his song isn’t one of my absolute, unconditionally-loved favourites for 2017 – it’s drifting around the 6th to 10th zone in my overall ranking. But I, like 99.99% of people with functioning ears who’ve listened to it and/or seen Gabbani + gorilla in action, have succumbed to the irresistible, joyful and majorly memorable nature of the track. It’s effortlessly effervescent and sugary fun without being overly sweet, like a pint glass of pink lemonade. Every part of it is a hook to hang on to in itself, and the audience involvement created by the ‘Namaste, ale!’ is genius (although I can no longer finish off a yoga session in a peaceful way because I feel compelled to shout that every damn time). Francesco himself is personable and walks the fine line between a serious and tongue-in-cheek performance whenever he’s on stage, which should secure the affections of juries and televoters. Unless the significance of the man in the monkey suit is lost on a massive amount of people, I don’t see any stumbling blocks in the way of Italy winning their first Eurovision since 1990. And it could be a ‘fairytale’ ending for them in more ways than one, if you know what I mean. So, can I see myself happily eating gelato in Milan next May? Si.. 10 points.

My mum says… So this is the big favourite? It’s not my favourite out of the songs I’ve heard so far, but I can understand why so many fans love it en masse. I think it’s instantly likeable, unlike France, and you don’t need to speak Italian to feel Francesco’s joy and energy. The music’s very funky and happy too. I would so dance to this after a few too many glasses of Prosecco. 7 points.

Italy’s score 8.5

 

 

My thoughts Just when I thought we were never going to get a Eurovision entry that combined inspirational hip-hop with interludes of yodeling, along comes Yodel It! – the one we’ve all been waiting for. Or was that just me? Okay, so I’m being a bit sarcastic. But that doesn’t mean I’m about to reduce yodeler Ilinca and sing-shouter of uplifting lyrics Alex Florea to sobbing heaps of depression. In theory, this song should be the biggest disaster in music history, and hands-down the worst song of the 2017 contest (even with Croatia and San Marino’s offerings considered). But in practice, by some miracle (proudly presented by Paula Seling & Ovi), it works. I feel like it would take a solid six months in a science lab to figure out how, but what Ilinca and Alex are bringing to the table individually is like chocolate mousse and pickled herring – yet the combo is as complementary as peanut butter and jelly. Maybe that’s because the yodeling kicks in almost immediately, so by the time the first chorus is over, the shock has subsided – there’s no minute-long wait for the OMG moment like there was with Norway’s 2-for-1 Icebreaker last year. The fact that there’s little bursts of yodeling in amongst Alex’s catchy and urban verses/chorus – rather than a yodel marathon at any point – has to be helping too. That technique has been used at Eurovision before with varying degrees of success: Austria couldn’t qualify with it in 2005 (in Kyiv…is that a bad omen?) but Belgium finished fourth at Junior Eurovision in 2009 doing the same (though when a kid with flowers in her hair does it, it’s harder to hate). So, especially given how split-down-the-middle Yodel It! has Eurofans, there’s no telling how much better Romania’s ESC will be in 2017 than it was in 2016 – but hey, at least there’ll make it to the host city this time. I personally think it’s so ridiculously fun that the Romanian go-to of 11th-14th place isn’t out of reach…and neither is the top 10 if enough people with point-giving power ‘get’ it. Get it, love it, and yodel it. 8 points.

My mum says… If this is the closest thing to a token comedy duet in this year’s contest then I guess that’s a good thing, but I’m not a fan. Yodeling in general tends to turn me off, and that apparently isn’t affected by pairing it with another style of singing and a less traditional type of music. The whole thing sounds like it would work okay on a kids’ TV show – and I can’t say it’s not unique – but I’ll pass anyway. 3 points.

Romania’s score 5.5

 

 

My thoughts Serbia may have shot themselves in the foot by making us wait as far into March as possible (without actually being the last country to present their entry) for Tijana’s In Too Deep. Although that technique does attract attention, it means that if the song in question is anything less than sensational, it will be branded ‘not worth the wait’. Having said that, though I don’t think this one IS sensational, I’m not disappointed by it either. It may be even less “Serbian” (in an ethnic/stereotypical way) than last year’s Goodbye (Shelter), but I’m actually really keen on everything else about it. The music has variety and depth, the lyrics are just on the right side of simple (about a millimetre away from Cliché Central), the chorus is crash-boom-bang powerful, and Tijana has the vocal prowess to handle it all. I’m intrigued by the mix of styles going on here – it’s not as polar-opposite obvious as Romania’s, but there’s electropop/symphonic power ballad/dubstep elements woven together into a tapestry that I’d be happy to hang on my wall. Sure, it’s not daring or challenging or particularly original – and Serbia should thank their lucky Eurovision stars that Nano’s Hold On won’t be in Kyiv – but it’s comfortably safe, not the boring sort of safe. If I were staging In Too Deep, there would be wind machines, a floaty-yet-fierce dress for Tijana that could be blown about by said wind machines like Anggun’s in 2012, an aerial hoop artist or two (maybe Tijana herself could be swinging in a hoop as she is in the music video…) and some cool lighting, and voila – that’d be a well-wrapped package. But I’m not staging it, sadly, so it’s up to Serbia’s IRL stage director to not screw up what should be a simple equation of good song + good singer = good result in the grand final. When I say ‘good result’, I’m thinking 9th-15th, and in the final, that’s nothing to be ashamed of. 8 points.

My mum says… I’d definitely hit repeat on this one! I really like it. It’s not flawless, but the music and lyrics are both high-standard, and together they make a catchy couple. Tijana’s voice is great too. There’s something about the sound of it that reminds me ever-so-slightly of Jamala’s, though it’s not quite in the same league. Neither is the song – it’s a bit hard to follow in 1944’s footsteps, I imagine – but it gets a thumbs up from me. Oh, and 8 points.

Serbia’s score 8.00

 

 

My thoughts I was going to flick through ‘Not Being Biased For Dummies’ before reviewing Sweden, but I was too busy practicing Robin’s foot shuffle on my treadmill, and then I had to go to the emergency room and stuff…so I just didn’t get the chance. So, as I’m someone who not only supports Sverige unconditionally every year (they were my adopted country to cheer for before Australia was competing, and TBH I still prioritise them over Australia) but also traveled to Stockholm for the Melodifestivalen final and watched I Can’t Go On win it, you should prepare for a rose-coloured review. Here goes: I LOVE THIS. It wasn’t even my favourite song in the Melfest final (the aforementioned Hold On was) but as I always end up loving at least 75% of the Swedish hopefuls, that’s irrelevant. Co-written by Robin Stjernberg – his stamp is all over this track – it’s three minutes of slick, sexually implicit (as opposed to Montenegro’s sexually explicit song) funk-pop with a Justin Timberlake vibe (only way less fluffy than Can’t Stop The Feeling) and it is everything I expect from a Swedish Eurovision entry. Is it insanely catchy from go to whoa? Yes. Was it perfectly polished and contest-ready from the very beginning? Ja. Is the performer incredibly attractive? Obviously *swoons*. And to top it all off, it comes equipped with staging that will be a talking point from when it opens the first semi final (!) to whenever Sweden next manages to outdo themselves. It’s clear that one year of stripped-back production was all they could put up with. It’s also clear that The Land of Cardamom Buns (how I miss them) hasn’t lost their touch when it comes to conquering the ESC without any effort whatsoever – it just comes naturally. Conquering in a year feat. Occidentali’s Karma is a tough task, though, and I suspect Sweden will find themselves on the podium – 4th or 5th at the lowest – but not number one. Robin finishing second at Eurovision on his second attempt to get there has a nice ring to it, and I think that would be a result gladly accepted by a country hungry to take their six wins to seven, but maybe not this soon after hosting. As for me, I’m unsurprisingly giving I Can’t Go On a freaking beautiful set of DOUZE POINTS!

My mum says… Even I’m biased when it comes to this one, since I was sitting right next to Jaz in Friends Arena when Robin won Melfest. Wiktoria was my personal pick to represent Sweden, so I’ve had to come to terms with I Can’t Go On going on (will jokes like that ever get old?) instead. Still, I can’t fault Robin or his act too much. His voice isn’t the strongest, especially at the start when he’s backstage – maybe waiting in the wings keeps the nerves higher than normal. But who’s going to be thinking about that when he’s dancing with four other handsome men on travelators, while performing such a catchy, hit-material song? It’s not a song of substance, but it isn’t meant to be and I don’t think every song should be. Sometimes you just want to listen to some fun music that makes you want to move (in my case, on solid flooring) and Sweden has given Eurovision 2017 an excellent example of that. I’ll be singing along to ICGO for months in my mind, and I reckon plenty of other people will be too. 8 points.

Sweden’s score 10.00

 

 

And just like that, another six songs bite the dust. Here’s today’s overall ranking (with a tie broken by yours truly because MY BLOG, MY RULES!!!):

  1. Sweden (10.00)
  2. Bulgaria (10.00)
  3. Italy (8.5)
  4. Serbia (8.00) 
  5. France (7.5)
  6. Romania (5.5)

For once, it actually seems shocking that Sweden’s sitting on top of a Eurovision-related scoreboard, since Italy had the chance to push them out of the way. But Francesco’s topped so many polls and rankings already, he’s probably getting bored. You’re welcome for the change, Mr. Gabbani (and gorilla).

There are still 18 songs left to review here on EBJ, with just a few days until delegations arrive and rehearsals start in Kyiv. I’M SO EXCITED SLASH STRESSED! Next time, the spotlight will be on Armenia, Austria, Finland, Moldova, San Marino and Slovenia. Whether you love or hate what Artsvik, Nathan Trent, Norma John, Sunstroke Project, Valentina & Jimmie and Omar Naber are packing in their suitcases (song-wise, as their respective choices of underwear are another matter entirely) you won’t want to miss it!

Seriously. I’m guessing my mother’s reaction to Spirit of the Night will be priceless.

 

Until then,

 

 

 

SELECTION SEASON 2017 | More Melfest magic + A Dal decision time = the tip of the NF iceberg!

It’s true – the Titanic wouldn’t have stood a chance against the massive, metaphorical chunk of ice (or ‘frozen water’ as Agnete likes to call it) that is This Weekend. Leonardo DiCaprio would still have died and Kate Winslet would still have let him go…but we’d all be partying like it’s 2017, because it is, and super-duper busy NF weekends like this one are Awesome with a capital A.

Don’t believe me re: the crazy schedule for Saturday and Sunday? Here’s the evidence:

  • 18/2 Estonia’s Eesti Laul – semi final two (feat. Daniel Levi, Koit Toome & Laura, Kerli + Liis Lemsalu)
  • 18/2 Lithuania’s Eurovizijos – heat seven (feat. Edgaras Lubys + Gabrielius Vagelis)
  • 18/2 Slovenia’s EMA – semi final two (feat. Clemens, BQL + Ina Shai)
  • 18/2 Sweden’s Melodifestivalen – semi final three (feat. Robin Bengtsson, Krista Siegfrids + FO&O)
  • 18/2 Ukraine’s Vidbir – semi final three (feat. Payushchie Trusy + Green Grey)
  • 18/2 Hungary’s A Dal – the final (feat. Gigi Radics, Joci Pápai + Kállay Saunders Band)
  • 18/2 Malta’s MESC – the final (feat. Klinsmann, Kevin Borg, Maxine Pace + Richard Edwards)
  • 18/2 Poland’s Krajowe Eliminajce – the final (feat. Martin Fitch, Kasia Mós + Carmell)
  • 19/2 Latvia’s Supernova – the semi final (feat. Lauris Valters, My Radiant You + Triana Park)
  • 19/2 Portugal’s Festival da Canção – semi final one (feat. Golden Slumbers + Rui Drumond)

There you go – CHAOS. Wonderful, wonderful chaos.

As I keep saying, I can’t discuss every single selection show without taking on an army of assistants to type at 200 words a minute for free (any takers?), so it’s time to get picky. Choosing which semis and finals to cover is like choosing a favourite child – not hard if you’re honest with yourself (that’s what my mum said, anyway, when she handed me the ‘No. 1 Kid’ sash and a bouquet of flowers. Don’t tell my brother). Ergo, this was an easy narrow-down for me.

Though three of this weekend’s shows will produce Eurovision entries, I’m only reviewing one of them – Hungary’s A Dal – and, of course, I’m going to take a good look at Melodifestivalen’s third semi too. So let’s get on with it!

 

 

SWEDEN | Hi-ho, hi-ho, it’s off to Växjö we go…for Melfest, that is!

You know what they say – another Saturday in February, another Melodifestivalen Deltävling.

This time it’s nummer tre, and I’ve got to say, it’s not a third-time-lucky sort of situation. Meaning this heat is the weakest so far, music-wise. Made up of two returnees and a record high (for 2017, at least) of five debutants, it’s probably going to be the most difficult semi to predict. Which stars will shine for the first or second time, and which will fall?

I have no effing idea.

  1. I Can’t Go On by Robin Bengtsson
  2. Snurra Min Jord by Krista Siegfrids
  3. Kiss You Goodbye by Anton Hagman
  4. Gravity by Jasmine Kara
  5. Boogieman Blues by Owe Thörnqvist
  6. Crucified by Bella & Filippa
  7. Gotta Thing About You by FO&O

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We’ve got funk pop, dance pop, acoustic pop, country pop, boy band pop and Owe. Lacklustre overall song standard aside (compared to the previous two semis) it’s certainly going to be a variety show – and hopefully one with a happy ending.

 

My top four

  • I Can’t Go On – If Constellation Prize was a romantic seduction song, and I Can’t Go On is the raunchy post-seduction sequel, then should we await the third installment in a trilogy from Robin in 2018 entitled something like It’s Over, You Evil Bitch? Yes or no, Mr. Bengtsson can do no wrong in my eyes. I did expect something better from this collab of Robins (Robin Stjernberg co-wrote the song, and he’s definitely marked his territory) but I suspect this will benefit from being heard and seen in full.
  • Snurra Min Jord – Both of Krista’s Melfest entries have been much more plain-Jane than Marry Me. As with Faller, I do really like this one, but there’s nothing particularly special about it that gives it the edge to make Andra Chansen, let alone the final. But lycka till Krista all the same.
  • Crucified – Is it just me or has this song borrowed half its lyrics from Wiktoria’s Save Me? Regardless, it’s as sweet and light as a sorbet in summertime. Repetitive (and a possible female rip-off of Darin’s Lagom) it may be, but it has an undeniable charm.
  • Gotta Thing About You – I thought I was getting too old for teen boy band fodder, but apparently the flame’s still flickering in my bitter quarter-century old body. This is not a musical masterpiece, but was anyone expecting it to be? The FOOO Conspiracy FO&O fans will eat this up, and that little light-up heart in the corner of the screen will be on the verge of a myocardial infarction.

 

The rest

  • Kiss You Goodbye – And here we have Sweden’s answer to Shawn Mendes. This song can’t hold a candle to Stitches or Mercy, but it’s cute. I like how it begins in an acoustic, alternative kind of way before launching into a more straightforward pop chorus. Also, who is Anton’s dentist?
  • Gravity – I’m not sure if I like this or not. Jasmine has a great voice, great style, and a great name (even if we’re not total name twins since she’s got that ‘e’ on the end) but Gravity seems like a mixed bag of bits and pieces that don’t, ahem, come together to form a cohesive whole. I’m keen to see her perform it live.
  • Boogieman Blues – This is EXACTLY what I thought it was going to be. For those of you who don’t like surprises and do like retro tunes from ageing popstars, this is for you. But it’s not for me.

 

Who’s going direkt? Robin Bengtsson + FO&O. Perhaps this is a predictable prediction – and I’d like things to go in a more jaw-dropping direction – but Melfest is, at times, predictable. SVT hand out the first and final performance spots to the big guns, and said big guns usually find themselves progressing as a result. Robin Bengtsson won his heat over Ace Wilder last year, and he’s got the goods to win again now, but with a weaker song and against weaker competition. FO&O’s song screams Andra Chansen, but there’s nothing else up against it (besides I Can’t Go On) that necessarily has what it takes to nab a place in the final instead. 

Who’s off to Andra Chansen? Anton Hagman + Jasmine Kara. Krista Siegfrids is also in the mix here, but as she placed last in the telling audience poll after yesterday’s rehearsals, I suspect she’ll miss out and finish fifth at the highest. Bella & Filippa are underdogs. Anton and Jasmine, I think, can make enough of an impression and gain enough momentum to score themselves a second chance each – but I’m skeptical of their chances of making it out of AC at this point.

 

What do you think? Do we have an obvious outcome on our hands in Växjö, or will there be an upset feat. some Melfest first-timers? Let me know below.

 

  

HUNGARY | Eight becomes one tonight…but who’ll be The One?   

I’ve been known to proclaim that many selection show finals are worth sacrificing for Melfest, because the music in a Melfest semi often outdoes that of other countries’ finals. But I have to say, I seriously considered ditching Sweden’s third semi in favour of tuning in to A Dal tonight.

By ‘seriously’, I mean ‘for a split second’, because I am a devout Melodifestivalist from way back. However, I will be watching the last episode of A Dal on delay just to experience its pure excellence.

After three heats and two semi finals, thirty songs have been trimmed down to just eight – and IMO, two of these are good, one is very good, and the other five are amazing. How often does that happen? About as often as Loreen releases a studio album.

Here’s the (unordered) line-up of the Hungarian final, which I realise might not seem so sensational to fans less easily-pleased than me.

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  • Hosszú Idők by Totova & Freddie Shuman feat. Begi Lotfi
  • See It Through by Gigi Radics
  • Fall Like Rain by Gina Kanizsa
  • Origo by Joci Pápai
  • Seventeen by Kállay Saunders Band
  • Élet by Leander Kills
  • Kalandor by Soulwave
  • #háttérzaj by Zävodi & Olivér Berkes

Hungary clearly has faith in their own language, as Hungarian lyrics make up more than half of what we’ll hear tonight. They should, because a) it’s a gorgeous language, and b) it hasn’t stopped them from succeeding at Eurovision (Kinek Mondjam El Vétkeimet and Kedvesem, I bow to the both of you). That’s part of what makes this final so great in my eyes, but if you want more details, keep reading for my ranking of all eight finalists.

 

My top eight

  1. Origo – I AM IN LOVE. This track had me hypnotised before I’d even reached the chorus the first time I listened to it, and though I’m trying to accept that it’s probably 2017’s Győz A Jó (the slick, edgy ethno-pop entry that won’t win and will be sadly missed at Eurovision), my hopes of a win are still alive. Infectious and exotic but still on-trend (right down – or up – to Joci’s man-bun), Origo is OMG.
  2. Hosszú Idők – Here we have another song that manages to combine mysterious ethnicity with modern pop. Basically, it’s an ethno-pop power ballad. Though Totova gets slightly screamy performing it live, I can’t deny that it makes a mark, and that I could get on board with it winning even though it’s not my favourite.
  3. See It Through – A Disney ballad straight out of the early 2000s (Christina Aguilera sang it on the Mulan soundtrack, didn’t she?) should not work in 2017. But Gigi is such a showstopping singer with more onstage emotion than an Elina Born who wasn’t woken up, she makes it work. I would advise against the huge hair for the final, without which you’ll have a perfect package, Gigi.
  4. Seventeen – Last year, András and his band destroyed the brilliant Who We Are This year, they’ve done much better lives with a more pedestrian – but still extra-enjoyable – song. The Billie Jean reference is tired, but that’s my only complaint about this polished, well-produced and non-cheesy love song.
  5. #háttérzaj – What musical style doesn’t suit Hungarian? It totally gels in this bluesy, laid-back piano ballad. The only bother I have here is the hashtag title, which begs the question WHY GOD, WHY?!?!?
  6. Élet – Hard rock isn’t often my thing, but the dynamic nature of É let is interesting in a good way. There’s a soft piano intro, subdued verses and powerful choruses, and it’s almost like riding on a slow rollercoaster. There are plenty of ups and downs, but it doesn’t make you nauseous and you’re a little sad when you have to get off.
  7. Kalandor – Eurovision already has a folksy song for the year, and I’m not sure this one has the strength to win A Dal anyway, but it’s nice easy-listening, elevated by the fact that it’s not in English.
  8. Fall Like Rain – While I can acknowledge that this is a good song, I find it quite dated (and there are times when I just want Gina to shut up). I don’t think it’s the best choice Hungary can make in terms of a Eurovision entry, but I like the haunting, spiritual feel and the originality.

 

Now, as A Dal will make one more cut before congratulating a winner, it’s time to think about who’ll make it through the jury voting round – then be paraded in front of the public, who are the ultimate decision-makers (a good way to operate an NF, isn’t it, Spain?).

  

Predicting the top four I’m thinking Totova etc, Joci Pápai, Gigi Radics + Gina Kanizsa. There’s potential bumping space for Kállay Saunders Band or Leander Kills, in which case I think Gigi or Gina will miss out on the final four. But, based on the results of the heats and semis, this should be a safe bet for the top four (not that I’m actually betting. For someone who struggles to get things 50% correct, it’s a bad idea). Totova and guests plus Pápai are shoo-ins.

Who’s in it to win it? It looks like another Freddie (albeit a far less attractive one than 2016’s) will be heading to Kyiv on behalf of Hungary in May, as part of Totova’s posse. Hosszu Idők is a recipe with all the right ingredients to rise to the top, and has had the jury and public support in past weeks that it needs to fly through both stages of the comp tonight. I will be surprised if it doesn’t win.

 

If you’re as hungry for Hungary this year as I am, then you’ll have something to say about A Dal – so spill! Is this ticket to Eurovision Totova’s to lose, or should she be watching her back? Is there any chance András Kállay Saunders will make it to Eurovision again this year (Seventeen for 2017)? Give up your internal gossip in the comments.

 

Of course, if you want to chat about anything else that’s happening in the ESC bubble this weekend, I’m all ears. If you want to have an intense conversation about your personal problems, I may not be the best person to talk to, so stick with Eurovision for now. You can always book an appointment later with the same therapist you saw after Objetivo Eurovisión concluded last weekend…

Enjoy all of the national final action ahead, guys – I’ll see you on the other side when we have three more songs for Ukraine!

 

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SELECTION SEASON 2017 | Talking all things Estonia, Sweden + Spain on the most super-sized NF weekend so far!

Bonjour, mesdames et messieurs! I feel like I can use that as a greeting with some relevance, since France dropped their Eurovision 2017 entry on us earlier in the week, just in time to steal some of Germany’s thunder. Not that Germany had that much to steal in the first place, but more on that in another post (for now, I’ll just say that red, white and blue > red, black and yellow). My point is, any opportunity one gets to throw around some random, stereotypical French should be taken. Oui oui!  

France is just about the only country where there ISN’T any NF action going on this weekend – a weekend so full of finals (and heats, and semis…all the good stuff), there’s not enough room for all of them to trend on Twitter. Feast your soon-to-be-weary eyes on this lot: 

  • 11/2 Estonia’s Eesti Laul – semi final one (feat. Lenna Kuurmaa, Elina Born + Ivo Linna)
  • 11/2 Ukraine’s untitled NF – semi final two (feat. Kuznetsov + Ilaria)
  • 11/2 Italy’s Sanremo Music Festival – the final (feat. Michele Bravi, Elodie + Alessio Bernabei)
  • 11/2 Hungary’s A Dal – semi final two (feat. Ádám Szabó, Kállay Saunders Band + Roma Soul)
  • 11/2 Sweden’s Melodifestivalen – semi final two (feat. Mariette, Lisa Ajax + Benjamin Ingrosso)
  • 11/2 Lithuania’s Eurovizijos – heat six (feat. Mia, Sasha Song + Aistė Pilvelytė)
  • 11/2 Spain’s Objetivo Eurovisión – the final (feat. LeKlein, Paula Rojo + Mirela)
  • 12/2 Latvia’s Supernova – heat two (feat. Markus Riva + My Radiant You)
  • 13/2 Israel’s Rising Star – the final (feat. Julietta, Diana Golbi, Beatbox Element + Imri Ziv)

Visit eurovision.tv for all of the live-streaming links. And because it might be lonely and want to have a cup of coffee and a chat with you.

What will you be watching? You’ve got about as much chance of catching everything at once as I do of covering it all here – so I guess we’ll both have to pick our priorities.

To be honest – as if the title of this post wasn’t a giveaway – I’ve already decided where my loyalties lie. So, if you want some verdicts on/predictions for Eesti Laul, Melodifestivalen and Objetivo Eurovisión, you’ve come to the right blog.

Let’s muse about the music!

 

 

Estonia: Elina Born is back as Eesti Laul begins…but is she In Or Out?

It’s a good thing there isn’t a prize for Best Blog Subtitle, ‘cause I wouldn’t be winning any for that one. Blame Elina Born, who went and signed herself up for Eesti Laul as a soloist – for the second time – with a Stig Rästa song that begs to be used in many punny ways (it’s the new That Sounds Good To Me). Girl has said Goodbye To Yesterday and hello to a shot at competing in Kyiv, and her quest begins tonight with the first semi final of Estonia’s always enjoyable NF.

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Of course, she’s not the only act competing this evening, so I shouldn’t devote too much screen space to her alone. Elina will be the second of ten acts to perform, and here’s a rundown of them all: 

  1. Slingshot by Lenna Kuurmaa
  2. In Or Out by Elina Born
  3. Everything But You by Carl-Philip
  4. Suur Ioterii by Ivo Linna
  5. Feel Me Now by Ariadne
  6. Supernatural by Uku Suviste
  7. Hey Kiddo by Laura Prits
  8. Have You Now by Karl-Kristjan & Whogaux feat. Maian
  9. Valan Pisaraid by Janno Reim & Kosmos
  10. Hurricane by Leemet Onno

As usual, Estonia is providing us with an interesting set of songs, many of which take some second or third listens to figure out (it’s a pre-selection of acquired tastes, IMO, which is not a bad thing because it speaks for the complexity of what ERT program the show with). Sadly, I don’t have the luxury of being able to listen more than once – and in some cases, my first impressions are based on snippets (with a Eurotrip three weeks away and other commitments calling, time is like thunder short for me at the moment). Here are the semi one songs that stood out to me with minimal exposure.

My top five In Or Out, Everything But You, Feel Me Now, Supernatural + Have You Now. My favourites from this shortlist would be In Or Out (the trumpeting might be passé, but it’s still enjoyable) and Have You Now (which is obviously an Estonian tribute to The Chainsmokers). There’s nothing super-duper dated – or plain terrible – in the whole semi, though. Not even Ivo Linna is acting his age, musically-speaking.

Predicting the ACTUAL top five Slingshot, In Or Out, Feel Me Now, Hey Kiddo + Have You Now. I won’t say where I pulled this prediction from (in the interest of maintaining some degree of ladylike elegance) but let’s just say it’s unreliable. On the other hand, if it turns out to be 60%-100% right, I’ll claim that I produced it after a careful, educated analysis. K?

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I doubt Elina will be pulling her hair in frustration after tonight…unless that’s how she celebrates too.

 

Do you think Eesti Laul’s off to a good start? Is there someone in this first semi who can do what Juri Pöötsmann couldn’t and get Estonia to the Eurovision final again (without giving the impression that their hobbies include dismemberment, and preserving vital organs in formaldehyde)? Let me know in the comments.

  

 

Sweden: Melfest makes it to Malmö for a big-deal Deltävling 2

That’s right – we’re taking a trip back to Malmö Arena, where those of us who were otherwise engaged during Petra Mede’s Melfest hosting gig may have first laid eyes on her when she owned Eurovision in 2013. Unfortunately, some might say, tonight ain’t about Petra – it’s about the seven acts who all want to follow in Ace Wilder and Nano’s footsteps (I assume) since they lead straight to Friends Arena in Stockholm, and the Melfest final. 

  1. A Million Years by Mariette
  2. Himmel Och Hav by Roger Pontare
  3. Up by Etzia
  4. Vart Haru Varit by Allyawan
  5. Hearts Align by Dismissed
  6. I Don’t Give A by Lisa Ajax
  7. Good Lovin’ by Benjamin Ingrosso

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We’re down one returnee from last week, with Mariette, Roger Pontare and Lisa Ajax in the mix. In Göteborg, just two of the four comeback acts progressed, and with only one real contender standing/dancing in the way of Mariette etc’s direkt and AC spots, can they all make it through? SHOULD they? Melodifestivalen raises some tough questions. Luckily, they’ll be answered later, but I’ll have a go at filling in the blanks in the meantime.

 

My top four

    • A Million Years – Is this better than Don’t Stop Believing? I don’t think so, but it’s similarly  intriguing and contemporary. The lyrics are a little cliché, and that ticks me off as a writer who goes out of their way to avoid clichés. I really need access to the complete package before I make my mind up about Mariette 2.0. Potential for greatness is here, though.
    • Vart Haru Varit – This is Adrijana’s Amare with a male singer and a slight increase in mass appeal. It’ll probably make just as much of an impression as Amare did (i.e. none whatsoever) but dang it, I love Swedish hip-hop!
    • I Don’t Give A – In case you missed the barely detectable F-bomb (times ten) in Lisa’s sequel to My Heart Wants Me Dead, yes, it exists (#sarcasm). It’s not necessary in a song that lacks the Zara Larsson attitude and style I was expecting. Still, expletives aside, there’s pros a-plenty to be found in I Don’t Give A. The pop ballad style lets Lisa show off her amazing vocals, and all in all it’s very ‘now’. Well, I think it is. I’m not too tuned in to what the youths of today are into *returns to knitting an intricate sweater for my dog*.
    • Good Lovin’ – Maybe I’m biased, given that I practically had a heart attack when my beloved (in a platonic way as he’s a bit too young for me) Benjamin was announced as a Melfester for 2017…but THIS KICKS BUTT. It’s everything I want in a pop song and more. It also manages to be both what I was expecting, and something completely different. Slick, smooth, and well-sung. Så brå.
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His mum’s done Melfest four times, so I think fabulousness (and great hair) must be in his genes.

 

The rest

  • Himmel Och Hav – I actually toyed with having Roger in my top four thanks to the great atmosphere and ethnicity of this track. As someone who never fell hard for When Spirits Are Calling My Name, I could learn to like this more than that. GASP!
  • Up – I know this isn’t culturally similar to Kizunguzungu, but it’s easy to compare the vibes of the two. I can’t see Etzia sharing SaRaha’s success in a) going through to Andra Chansen, and b) getting out of it. Up is catchy, but pretty pedestrian overall.
  • Hearts Align – This is okay. It’s fine. The performance and costuming choices will be the biggest talking point though. No chance of direkt for Dismissed, methinks.

 

On that note, it’s time to make a few predictions. Last week I somehow managed to be 100% correct, so I’m going to do my best not to ruin that this time. 

Who’s going direkt? Mariette + Lisa Ajax. Based on such data as Facebook likes, Mariette seems to be the Nano of this week’s show (swap the man bun for dreadlocks and the difference is undetectable) in that the heat is hers to lose. Lisa’s song might divide voters (unless the f-word is on par with ‘darn it!’ in Sweden) but I have no doubt she’ll nail it live, and it’s big enough to leave a lasting impression. The swearing actually makes the song more memorable, I must say.

Who’s off to Andra Chansen? Benjamin Ingrosso + Dismissed. I desperately want Ingrosso to go straight through, but girl power is likely to pip him at the post. Fourth place could go to Roger Pontare if Sweden is still feeling his flow, but I suspect it might go to Dismissed as Hearts Align screams Andra Chansen to me.

 

In the immortal words of Elaiza, is it right or is it wrong? Do you think you know who’ll go where when the results of Deltävling 2 are revealed? Tell me more!

 

  

Spain: Which of the six singers will fill Barei’s dancing shoes?

Si, amigos – Objetivo Eurovisión is back, albeit without Brequette (maybe 2018 is your year, queen). The line-up is much more diverse than it was in 2016, which makes the outcome harder to predict. But we can’t complain about variety and (reasonable) quality all round…can we?

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  1. Do It For Your Lover by Manel Navarro
  2. Ouch! by LeKlein
  3. Lo Que Nunca Fue by Paula Rojo
  4. Spin My Head by Mario Jefferson
  5. Momento Critico by Maika
  6. Contigo by Mirela

I don’t know about you, but I can clearly divide up these six songs: there’s two that I absolutely adore, two that I quite like, and two that I wouldn’t miss if I never heard them again. And I have no idea whether Spain will think along the same lines, or choose a song that has no chance of reversing their Eurovision fortunes. One thing’s for sure – I’ll be sitting on the edge of my seat while waiting for them to make up their collective mind.

 

My top six

  1. Ouch! – This song is ridiculously sublime. I can’t take LeKlein’s screams of ‘ouuuuuuuch’ seriously (she sounds exactly like me whenever I stub my toe on something) but I love everything else about her potential ESC entry. I love the grammatically awkward lyrics, the melody of the verses, the power and anthemic quality of the chorus, the polished production…it’s all very bueno. Now, if only she could carry it off live without numerous unstable vocal moments…
  2. Contigo – It’s no Nada Es Comparable A Ti (not only my fave NF effort from Mirela, but one of my fave NF songs ever) but then again, it’s not supposed to be. It’s an instantly infectious, ethno-pop triumph that needs to be a World Cup theme ASAP. The lyrics might be rubbish (I speak zero Spanish and have not yet Google-translated them) but who cares? Sometimes you just want to get up and dance and have a good time – a fiesta then a siesta – without considering the meaningfulness of lyrical content. Contigo is perfect for that purpose.
  3. Spin My Head – I feel like having your head spun up (as opposed to around) would be painful, but Mario seems to be welcoming it. Again, this isn’t going to win any awards for substance, but I would wave my hands in the air like I just didn’t care to it in a club (or in the supermarket. Whenever, wherever, as Shakira would say). The Spanglish chorus is decent when it could have been a disaster.
  4. Do It For Your Lover – Speaking of Spanglish, here’s a mixed-language version of The Lazy Song by Bruno Mars. That’s not a negative, but I do wish Manel was offering up something more original. I also wish ‘do it for your lover’ wasn’t repeated nearly THIRTY times in three minutes. What is ‘it’, anyway?
  5. Momento Critico – Maika is not a woman I’d want to mess with, so in case she ever reads this, I’m going to point out the positives of her Objetivo song. It’s unashamedly rocky. It has attitude. It’s somewhat memorable (although I have forgotten how it goes now that I think about it. But I know I thought it was kind of memorable). It’s not bad. Please don’t come at me with an industrial-sized blowtorch, Maika.
  6. Lo Que Nunca Fue – Boring. Sweet and cute and charming in a countrified way, sure, but this leaves no impression on me whatsoever. It’s totally forgettable, and if there’s a hook in it, I can’t hear it. All of this means it’ll probably win.

 

Who SHOULD win LeKlein or Mirela. Yes, they’re my personal top picks, but I genuinely believe they have the best odds out of the six of making Spain’s trip to Ukraine worth it. I’m not saying they’re Eurovision winners, but if either one wins tonight and takes advantage of the gap between now and the contest (to revamp and maybe take a few singing lessons) anything’s possible. 

Who WILL win I want to scream ‘SEND HELP!’ on this one, because I cannot decide. I’m not even convinced that one of my preferred two will win. I’m going to rule out Maika and Mario. Paula and Manel are my dark horses. The failure of Maria Isabel’s ethno-pop to get far last year gives me doubts about Mirela…so that leaves LeKlein. She’s already proven she appeals to the public (winning the Eurocasting round is why she’s in OE) and if she produces a more polished live rendition of Ouch! tonight, she could win this too. Or not, and I’m just wishful thinking.

 

In a shocking turn of events, I want to know what you think about the Spanish show. What’s good, what’s bad and what’s even worse in your opinion? And, more importantly, who’s going to win? You’ve got a 1 in 6 chance of getting it right!

 

Whatever you’re watching this evening (or tomorrow morning, if you’ve also been screwed over by your time zone), I hope to see you on Twitter for some 140-character or less fun times. We Eurofans know how to party, even if it’s just on social media.

 

May the best songs win (or qualify)!

 

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

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

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

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

Please???

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

 
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THE ARTISTS

 

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Winner Freddie Honourable Mention/s Amir, Douwe Bob

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

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Winner Samra Honourable Mention/s Iveta Mukuchyan

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

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Winner Amir Honourable Mention/s Sergey Lazarev

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

 

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

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

 

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Winner Laura Tesoro Honourable Mention/s Poli Genova

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

 

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Winner Ira Losco Honourable Mention/s Dami Im

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

 

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Winner Laura Tesoro/Zoë Honourable Mention/s Frans

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

 

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Winner Belgium Honourable Mention/s Bulgaria

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

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 THE SONGS AND THE SINGING

 

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Winner If I Were Sorry Honourable Mention/s Alter Ego

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

 

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

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

 

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Winner Sound of Silence Honourable Mention/s Ghost, Play

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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Winner Ghost Honourable Mention/s The Last of Our Kind

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

 

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

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

 

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Winner Bulgaria Honourable Mention/s Australia, Norway

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

 

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

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

 

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Winner Dami Im Honourable Mention/s Jamala

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

 

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Winner Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz

Honourable Mention/s Joe & Jake, Minus One

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

 

 

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

 

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