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LIGHTS, CAMERA, DUNCAN! | My Eurovision 2019 semi two review

***GRAND FINAL PREDICTIONS ARE NOW UP ON MY SOCIALS! CHECK OUT @EUROVISIONBYJAZ ON FACEBOOK, TWITTER AND INSTAGRAM IF YOU WANT TO SEE WHAT I THINK WIL HAPPEN TONIGHT***

Hello again, and welcome to the space between Eurovision’s second semi and the grand final, when speculation is at an all-time high and so is nervous anxiety (or is that just me now that Australia has climbed to second in the betting odds?). We have ten more qualifiers, and the final line-up is complete right down to the running order. But before I get into that, let’s have a look at the juicy bits from last night’s semi: the performances and the results.

PS – I hope you’re proud of me for producing a short, normal-person introduction for once.

 

The performances: From WTF to OMG

Once again I’ll run all the way down the list of 18 acts, but in order from my least favourite performance to the one that had me picking up my phone to vote (only to realise that I couldn’t vote in this semi…oops). Let me know how you would rank them in the comments.

Moldova For those of us who remember Ukraine 2011, this was the Walmart to Mika Newton’s Chanel. For those who don’t recall that performance, I’m assuming this still came off as soulless, substandard and at times, downright ridiculous (Kseniya trying to mime the “snow art” at double speed would have fooled no one with functioning eyesight). Anna’s vocals were solid, but her dress screamed 1996 senior prom…and Stay is even more dated than that. 

Ireland Well, wasn’t this cute? I’d happily hang out with Sarah and her gal pals at Diner 22, drinking prop milkshakes and lying unhygienically on the counter bemoaning my lost love. Unfortunately it was all a bit amateurish – the high school talent quest act of SF2 that Montenegro provided in SF1. I loved the Roy Lichtenstein-esque pop art backdrops (he happens to be my favourite artist) and I admire Ireland’s commitment to retro, but there was no question about the DNQ Sarah had coming.

Austria I was looking forward to seeing how Limits would come across live: whether it could win me over with its understated beauty, or if I’d be bored by the repetitive chorus that wears me out when I’m listening to the studio version. In the end, Paenda left me somewhere in the middle and somewhat unsatisfied. Her staging was well-executed, but she lost control of her vocals a few times and I found it distracting. This needed to be totally pitch-perfect and she just couldn’t pull it off.

Latvia That Night is another song that makes it hard to stay awake (especially as an Australian watching it performed at 3.30am) and the last minute or so drags beyond belief. That was definitely the case last night, but I have to give credit where it’s due: the staging and setup was lovely, if not engaging or exciting enough. Lead vocalist Sabine was the shining star, glowing like a goddess on camera and delivering silky-smooth vocals. Latvia did the best they could with what they chose.

Armenia Okay…there were some extreme pros and cons here. Positively speaking, Srbuk looked fierce AF and suitably, sang like a woman scorned (scorned but still very much in control of her vocal cords). But the Negative Nancy in me nearly expired when those empty arena shots were spliced in. What was Armenia THINKING? I assumed something had gone wrong and rehearsal footage had been hurriedly inserted to cover for it, when it was a calculated decision all along. WHY?!?

Lithuania There was nothing wrong with Jurij’s performance per se. He looked mighty fine if I may say so, and you’d be hard pressed to nitpick at his vocals. But there was nothing to speak of in the way of staging, and Run With The Lions isn’t an Arcade or a Too Late For Love – a.k.a. a song that can not only survive but thrive with pared-back, lighting-centric staging. The only zing I felt from this was a little one every time Jurij shot one of his alluring looks down the lens. I’m only human!

North Macedonia North Macedonia not stuffing up their staging was proof that miracles can and do happen. Tamara’s vocals weren’t as flawless as I was hoping, but they still had power and passion, and her whole performance was classy and elegant. I’m not one for gigantic faces plastered on backdrops (when will that go out of fashion, FFS?) but I’ll make an exception for the black-and-white photography used here. The pic of Tamara and her daughter at the end was the clincher.

Norway Something was weird about this. It was too dark and not joyful enough, and the stage felt super empty both when KEiiNO were apart at the start and when they joined forces later. Why then, you might ask, don’t I have Norway lower down in my ranking of the 18? The answer is, because I f*%!ing love Spirit In The Sky as a song and it was still enough to satisfy me. I also love the chemistry this trio has, and Alexandra’s overall perfection sight-wise and sound-wise. She’s a queen.

Romania How do you say ‘OTT’ in Romanian? The On A Sunday music video came to life on stage last night and although it was a lot to process, I wasn’t mad about it. And no matter how many kitchen sinks were thrown at this, I couldn’t be distracted from Ester’s crazy-good vocals – she’d never sounded better. She also played her part of the jilted and slightly crazed ex to an Academy Award-winning standard, which may have put some people off but to me was a highlight.

Russia I don’t really know how to feel about this. Sergey is a great guy with superstar stage presence, and he can SING (imagine how fantastic Scream would have sounded if he’d sung it in Russian). But this staging left me cold. I felt like I was supposed to be impressed, but the wow factor of You Are The Only One was nowhere to be found. It’s a strong package, but not a winning one the way I see it. Showering on stage fully clothed can only get you so far.

Denmark Some call this creepy, some call it cute…I call it both at the same time. There was a slight twist on the DMGP performance at play (and either the chair had shrunk a bit or just looked like it had) but mostly it was a carbon copy, including the top-notch vocals and unblinking stare of death from Leonora. I can’t fault this on a small scale, let alone a massive one. Denmark looked extra sweet and light after Romania, and it seemed that worked in their favour.

Croatia Melodramatic, flamboyant and just the kind of thing media outlets will pick up on so they can say ‘That’s SO Eurovision!’, Croatia put on a serious show (that couldn’t be taken too seriously). The story they told was loud and clear, and when the sexy golden angels awarded Roko his wings, I felt the strongest rush of guilty pleasure a person could possibly feel. And I know I’ve banged on about vocals a lot so far, but damn – Roko is a talented teenager. He owned his three minutes.

Albania Personally, I’d have factored more lights, shadows and fire into Albania’s performance. But that aside, HOLY HECK. Jonida is an incredible woman with a powerful, haunting voice that could cut through cement, and a striking sense of style that was on show via that glorious back and gold (or was it blue and white?) dress. I could not love her more, and she poured Jamala-level emotion into Ktheju Tokës. Kudos to her kick-ass backing singers too.

Switzerland To keep talking like the staging expert I am not, I envisioned something different for She Got Me. I was also a little disappointed in the dance break, which wasn’t half as dynamic or energetic as Luca’s dance moves throughout the rest of the song. But whatever – this remains one of my favourites in the contest, and it’s only partly to do with Luca’s biceps. Hearing the audience respond to the choruses made me so excited for Switzerland. Man Fuego is more than fine by me.

The Netherlands The big favourite did not (totally) disappoint. I have reservations about the staging, in particular the piano – and the fact that it takes ages for a close-up shot of Duncan to appear and allow him to connect with us down the camera. But Arcade is a stunning song, and Duncan’s vocals (here she goes again with the vocals!) were gorgeous. I’m not sold on this as a winner – I don’t get The Vibes – but since I said that about Israel this time last year, bring on Amsterdam 2020.

Malta This little island has done big things in Tel Aviv. Chameleon is such a cool song, and the youthful, colourful staging did it justice. Michela didn’t quite exude the confidence of fellow teen Roko before her, but she sang well and looked more and more comfortable as the song went on. While I expected to be impressed by Russia and wasn’t, I didn’t have huge expectations of Malta only to be blown away. Great stuff.

Azerbaijan Sure, Chingiz could have stood on the stage and flossed his teeth for three minutes and I’d still have swooned. But he did much more than that. This was a slick, high-tech performance, elevated by the ethnic bridge and dragged down by that tacky gimmick towards the end. Then again, was it any tackier than supersized CGI Cesár Sampson? Austria didn’t suffer for that, so I suspect Chingiz ascending in a blaze of bargain basement fire won’t impact Azerbaijan’s success.

Sweden If you’re shocked by Sweden’s performance being my fave of the night, you must be new around here. Was it absolutely perfect? I’m going to say no, mainly based on us not getting a good view of The Mamas’ strobe-lighting reveal. But was it joyful and uplifting and expertly-engineered nonetheless? Oh yeah. I just need John to give even more oomph and sparkle in the final, where he rightfully deserves to do very well for himself.

 

After all that, we were treated to another awesome mash-up of ESC entries; a performance from Shalva Band that warmed even my cold, cynical heart; and previews of Germany, Italy and the UK on the Expo stage (which didn’t change my mind about Germany). Then it was time to find out who would be staying in Tel Aviv for the weekend, and who…well, wouldn’t.

 

 

The results: As expected…for the most part

Despite being the more competitive semi, this was the easier of the two shows to predict – for me, anyway. Correct me if I’m wrong! Ultimately North Macedonia, The Netherlands, Albania, Sweden, Russia, Azerbaijan, Denmark, Norway, Switzerland and Malta made it through. The unlucky eight were Armenia, Ireland, Moldova, Latvia, Romania, Austria, Croatia and Lithuania.

New name, new stroke of luck? That might hold true for North Macedonia, who find themselves facing their first final since 2012 on Saturday. I can’t say I’m too surprised, even though Proud isn’t one of my preferred picks of the year and I wouldn’t have voted for it had I been able to vote. Albania was the one I didn’t see coming, but I’m stoked to see them qualify again with a song they didn’t feel compelled to switch into English.

The rest of the top 10 were more or less expected to progress, though Denmark and even Norway were borderline – but Finland aside, we now have a full Nordic house for the final. I had a mini heart attack waiting for Switzerland to be announced, which was no doubt the intention of whoever decided on the “random order” this time round. But my pounding chest would have been nothing compared to what Malta’s Michela was feeling, as she sat through nine countries’ namedrops hoping and praying for her own to be spoken. It was borderline psychopathic making her wait so long, but worth it for what is now an all-time favourite reaction of mine.

Who won this semi? It has to be The Netherlands, though I’m not so sure Duncan would have won both the jury and televote (and I don’t think he’ll do that in the final either). The other end of the spectrum includes Armenia, who have now missed out two years running; Moldova, whose run of fun-driven fortune has screeched to a halt; Romania, also missing out again after their first ever DNQ in Lisbon; and Austria, who will be absent from the final for the first time since 2013. It really was a raw deal sacrificing eight songs in this semi, but those are the rules of the game…and if you’re not good enough, you’ve got to go.

 

Now for a quick word on the running order for the final, which was released pretty rapidly after last night’s qualifiers drew their halves. Opening was realistically between the Czech Republic and Malta (Björkman wouldn’t put Sweden first on a Saturday, nor would he want a replay of Replay being first on stage) and we’re really getting the party started with Chameleon. Albania scores the cursed second slot – a lucky escape for Germany. Russia won’t be thrilled with fifth position, and it looks like we can count them out for the victory they were desperate for. Sweden gets a decent, relatively late first-half spot between North Macedonia and Slovenia, while winner-in-waiting The Netherlands sits pretty in 12th – though that Cyprus/Netherlands/Greece run is intense.

Israel, as we already knew, will kick off the stacked second half which includes Norway, Iceland, Azerbaijan, France, Italy, Switzerland and Australia. My flying fairy queen Kate performs in 25th, the penultimate position previously occupied by Kristian Kostov and Eleni Foureira. And finally, we’ll end the show as we started it: in party mode, this time thanks to Spain.

With all that to contend with, plus about fifty interval acts (Madonna is the tip of the iceberg), it’s going to be a long night – or morning, for me and my fellow Aussies. But it looks like it will be a final worth getting next to no sleep for. The winner may be expected, but 2nd through 25th places (because you know who I think will come last) are up for grabs, and there’s sure to be some shocks when all is said and done.

 

 

That’s all I have to say for now, as we count down the hours to Eurovision 2019’s night of nights. You’ll be able to find my predictions for the show on all of my socials @EurovisionByJaz – so please follow and/or like if you don’t want to miss them (links are in the sidebar).

If you do want to miss them, fair enough. I’m keen to hear yours though, so leave me a comment here, there or anywhere and tell me where you think we’ll be going in 2020. Is Amsterdam inevitable, or is Milan still a possibility? Could Australia be choosing a European country to host on our behalf, or will be back in Sweden next year? Maybe I’m way off the mark and Berlin will be our next destination. Whatever you’re thinking, let me know below.

 

 

Merry Eurovision weekend!

 

 

 

 

THE TEL AVIV REVIEWS | Round 2 feat. Australia, Georgia, Hungary, Romania + Switzerland

Hey there, sweet people/children of the universe/other ESC-themed pet names for you guys that I can’t think of right now. Last time I attempted to introduce a post, we were four weeks away from Eurovision 2019’s semi numero uno. Now we’re four weeks away from the second semi, and before you know it we’ll be four weeks away from the final. It’s creeping closer and closer, and I am SO READY.

Unless you consider still having 36/41 reviews to take care of not being all that ready, in which case I need to make my motto less talk, more action. Without further ado, it’s time for round two!

Today is Judgment-by-Jaz Day for Australia, Georgia, Hungary, Romania and Switzerland. I definitely have some favourites out of Kate, Oto, Joci, Ester and Luca’s songs, and if you do too – or if you don’t – let me know in the comments. And stay tuned ‘til the end to see where these countries slot into my overall ranking so far…

 

 

Okay…the time has come for me to try and separate my patriotic attachment to this song from my actual opinion of it. Wish me luck! There are two things you should know about me if you don’t already: one, I’m a born-and-bred Australian; and two, I was in the Australia Decides audience when KMH became our fifth Eurovision representative. Like Lordi’s Hard Rock Hallelujah (winner of the first contest I watched) and Robin Bengtsson’s I Can’t Go On (the Melodifestivalen winner the year I made it to Friends Arena) this song is automatically special to me and associated with tons of good times. However, I do pride myself on my ability to support Australia’s Eurovision journey from go to whoa AND be honest in terms of how highly I rate the entry in question. And so, I can’t say my love for Zero Gravity is as sky-high as Kate’s glass-shattering operatic notes – and to tell the truth, it is my least favourite Aussie entry to date – but I still think it’s worthy.

For starters, it’s a relief that we’re sending something outside of our usual box – something far less generic than before and not written by DNA (we seriously needed to change up our recipe). Theatrical, dynamic and more popera than any other ESC entry before it, Zero Gravity is as much of a statement piece as Kate’s dangerously spiky silver fascinator. There’s an authentic feel about it that’s been missing from the Aussie package for a few years now. Kate isn’t just a singer who’s been paired with a song and told to give it her best go – rather, this track has her name written all over it (and in the writing credits, obviously). Combining her classical music background and pop sensibilities is what she does best. Zero Gravity’s verses are for Pop Kate and the choruses are for Classical Kate, yet the mish-mash of styles somehow makes sense and doesn’t sound like a stitched-together Frankenstein’s monster song. My favourite thing about ZG is the surprising substance it has in telling the story of Kate’s postnatal depression and the freedom she felt in her recovery. And of course, I love the last thirty seconds when she really lets rip with her high notes, and then never fails to nail that bombastic finale.

Even so, I’m not totally sold on this entry. Sure, I dished out a fair few compliments just then, but that was Biased Jaz talking. Truth-Be-Told Jaz actually wishes that Electric Fields were going to Tel Aviv, and thinks that 2000 and Whatever was a potential Eurovision winner whereas she’s super uncertain of how Zero Gravity will do. I (still talking as truthful Jaz) do think it’s a solid, unique entry deserving of qualification and a left-side scoreboard spot. But as someone who thought it was WTF at first, I can understand why many fans haven’t warmed to it. The Elina Nechayeva copycat claims are unwarranted, but the big dress needed to be ditched, so I was happy to hear that’s likely the case. Also re: the original staging, it was OTT for a song that has a lot going on by itself, so I’m hoping for a stage show that is less action-packed (or dare I say ‘gimmicky’) and more refined in May. There’s no doubt that I’ll be cheering Kate on with embarrassing enthusiasm then, but I’ll be nervous about her chances…and if she doesn’t make it out of the semi or screeches to a halt in the final, my thoughts will again turn to Electric Fields and what could have been.

 

In a line Action-packed popera that will divide but not necessarily conquer 2018 VS 2019 2018. I’ve still got love for We Got Love Predicted result SF 7th-10th, GF 11th-17th My score 7 points

 

 

 

 

Georgia isn’t a country I think of in super positive terms when it comes to Eurovision. Junior Eurovision, yes – but there have been very few Georgian adult contest entries that I’ve been crazy about (and in 2016, part of that craziness was due to the Lolitaz’ light show which singed my retinas and had me hallucinating for hours afterwards). It seems like I’m not alone, since the past two years have seen Georgia continue to kick goals at JESC while failing to qualify to the ESC final. I want them to find a successful formula again, complete with that special brand of Georgian quirk we’ve come to love…but that will have to wait until at least 2020. Keep On Going is not going to be their saving grace.

This song is 41st in my personal ranking, and has been there or thereabouts in every single top I’ve watched on YouTube or seen on social media. It’s not bringing up the rear of my ranking because I hate it with a passion. I actually don’t. I just happen to like the 40 other songs better and think they have more to offer. The good I see in this song is that Georgia is adding to the variety in Tel Aviv with the only straight-up rock song in the lineup; and that the song is perfectly suited to Oto’s powerful, rough-edged vocals. I also want to give credit to the revamp, which created more atmosphere and a bit more build. But I don’t think the most exhaustive musical makeover possible would have given Georgia a chance of competing in the final. It’s just not meant to be, as far as I’m concerned. I wouldn’t have wanted Oto to be stuck with a song that didn’t fit him, and of course there are rock songs that have triumphed at Eurovision (Hard Rock Hallelujah, We Could Be The Same and Deli, for example). Georgia themselves even took the genre into the top 10 back in 2011 with One More Day. But this particular rock track is a plateau of three long, dragging minutes in which waiting for something exciting to happen turns out to be pointless.

As I said, I don’t mind it myself…until I think about it as the competitive song it’s supposed to be. Even in the non-bloodbath SF that is Tuesday’s, there are easily ten other entries that have more appeal for both jurors and televoters. I’d go so far as to say that there are only one or two songs that have LESS voting appeal than Keep On Going. That’s not the sort of thing I’ve ever said about a song that went on to qualify. If we could break about eight rules and enter Your Voice by Tamar Edilashvili (Georgia’s 2018 JESC entry, for those who avoid the kids’ contest at all costs) then I’d be much more hopeful right now. But as it is, I highly doubt Oto’s offering is dynamic or interesting enough to even be a borderline qualifier. If he does miraculously make it through I’ll look pretty stupid, but I’ll be too shocked to care.

 

In a line Solid rock destined to stay put in the semi finals 2018 VS 2019 2018 Predicted result SF 15th-17th My score 4 points

 

 

 

 

You guys would have enjoyed the comic relief that was me finding out Joci was back attempting to represent Hungary again. I quite literally fell off my chair and may have shed a tear or 2500. THAT’S JUST HOW MUCH I LOVE ME SOME PÁPAI, OKAY?!? You don’t even want to know what I did when he went on to win A Dal again, but it would have gone viral if captured on camera. Anyway, my point is that I couldn’t be happier to have Joci back. If you’ve been reading EBJ since 2017, you’ll know Origo was my favourite entry that year, and that it became one of my all-time faves faster than I could listen to Joci’s beautiful back catalogue. He’s really found his sound lately, with every folk/ethnic infusion he comes out with giving me goosebumps.

Naturally, that means you’re about to be hit with one heck of a biased review. Joci’s music speaks to me and Az Én Apam is no exception – I absolutely adore this song. It’s emotional and heartfelt without a hint of fakery; it blends that trademark ethnic folksiness with an easy-listening guitar-based ballad to create something spellbinding; it sounds stunning in Hungarian, as every genre of music tends to; and Joci performs it with the same honesty and raw talent we had the privilege to be introduced to in 2017. Same man, same manbun…he’s just been hitting the gym, which you’ll have noticed if you paid the same obsessive attention to A Dal as I did this year. I have to add that the reworking of this song did wonders, filling in the few gaps of build and drama from the original version. Now it’s a track that’s ready to compete, despite what a lot of (less biased) fans think.

I’m not saying Joci is invincible. Even with rose-coloured glasses glued to my face, I can see that Az Én Apám isn’t as instant as Origo. Some might say it’s too understated, though I think Slovenia will have the biggest battle in that department. I’m more worried about one of Hungary’s main selling points – the emotion of the father/son relationship depicted by the lyrics – being lost in translation. Italy managed to convey their message in Lisbon (and funnily enough, will be trying to do the same thing in Tel Aviv with another father-inspired song) but other countries have failed before. Still, the call has been put out for photos of people’s dads á la the photographic backgrounds of Malta 2014/UK 2016, which should help. No matter what happens, I don’t expect Az Én Apám to outdo Origo – but that won’t mean failure for Joci. He’s bringing something meaningful and full of feeling (Salvador Sobral stamp of approval incoming) to the contest yet again, and has another chance to tell part of his life story on the stage. That’s just as important as numbers on a scoreboard. Having said that, if Hungary doesn’t at least qualify with this, I will throw a very undignified tantrum. Thank heavens Australia is in the same semi so I can steal the phones of everyone I know and vote en masse.

 

In a line Majestic Magyarorság magic feat. manbun 2018 VS 2019 2019. Sorry AWS, but I know where my loyalties lie Predicted result SF 6th-8th, GF 12th-17th My score 12 points

 

 

 

 

2018 was not the best Eurovision for Romania. They missed out on a spot in the final and lost their 100% qualification record in the process, something that once upon a time would have seemed impossible (but after Greece bombed out in 2016, nobody was safe). Their trip to the contest this year involves a song that wasn’t preferred by the Romanian public but singled out by the jury, and managed to outrank two big favourites to win. On A Sunday, from Canadian-Romanian Ester Peony, is also a song that stood out to me when I was previewing the Selecţia Naţională entries – mainly, I have to say, because I was so shocked to hear something like it pop up where it did.

On A Sunday fits the Eesti Laul or A Dal mould more than anything else. There’s grit to it and a vintage sexiness (if that makes any sense) that just doesn’t sound like the Romania we know. Consider this being the same country that sent Zaleilah, It’s My Life, Miracle and Yodel It and you’ll see what I mean. None of those songs could have made the cut for the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack, but if Ester’s subject matter was a little less breakup and a little more bondage (maybe she should collab with Hatari?) then she’d be a shoo-in with this. I’ve been thinking of her song as a musical mashup of Black Velvet by Alannah Myles, Ann Sophie’s Black Smoke and Croatia’s entry from Lisbon, Crazy. I like all of those songs, and I really like On A Sunday too. In fact, when it did catch my ear before the Romanian NF, it immediately became The One for me – but I never thought it would beat Army of Love and Dear Father. It didn’t seem like something Romania would ever choose, and technically, I guess they didn’t. But however the victory came about, I can’t help being happy about it.

I love the whole vibe of this song: smoky and sultry but mournful at the same time. I love the lyrics, which are pretty sparse but cliché free (unlike neighbouring Moldova’s lyrics, but I’ll get to those later). I love the hypnotic beat that draws you in as the song progresses. I love the melody. And, last but not least, I love Ester’s voice, especially when she works her way into those high notes towards the end. Her vocals at the NF were ropey at times, but no doubt they’ll be polished up by May. All in all I’m into this in a big way, and I’m seeing all sorts of staging possibilities in the hope the Romanian delegation can read my mind. I’m not totally confident Ester will take Romania back to the final – not many people are this fond of her song, and a top 10 place in that second semi won’t be easy to come by. But my fingers will be crossed for this Canadian to be closer to Celine Dion than Rykka, results-wise.

 

In a line Being dumped never sounded so good 2018 VS 2019 2019, though I am sad to say goodbye to Goodbye Predicted result SF 9th-14th, GF 16th-21st My score 8 points

 

 

 

 

Remember how flabbergasted (I don’t get to use that word enough) we all were when Mikolas Josef came out of nowhere with an absolute banger and gave his country their best result ever by a million miles? It was only a year ago, so you should remember. Now, I’m not saying Luca Hänni is going to give the Swiss their best-ever placing, since he’d have to win to even equal it. I just think that in many ways, Luca is and will continue to be the Mikolas of 2019. I first got familiar with him (though not as familiar as I’d like to, WINK WINK) late last year when the rumour mill was turning at warp speed in his favour, and I thought I’d better do some research in case the rumours became reality. Within minutes I was in deep and knew I’d be devastated if he was a red herring and Switzerland was actually sending Sebalter again. So danke schön, my conflict-neutral, chocolate-producing friends, for making my dreams come true. What’s not dreamy about a ridiculously good-looking singer/dancer/model armed with a crazy-catchy party anthem?

NOTHING. She Got Me is the best Swiss entry in years, with the country’s bittersweet leapfrog over Sweden in the odds (my loyalties have never been so divided) testament to that. They’re currently sitting pretty in third place, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they finished that high in the actual contest. Given that Luca can sing AND dance, when it comes to his last few releases I was hoping for his Eurovision song to be more like Signs than Powder, as much as I love the latter. My wish was granted. One of the ESC 2019 songs that can be compared to Fuego (basically, it’s got a beat drop) this has quickly become more talked about than Replay and Chameleon, and I’m a willing participant in the conversation. The song is iconic and infectious from the moment it starts, with a chorus so instant it should be illegal. There’s an exotic Middle-Eastern flavour found in the memorable musical hook. The whole thing is densely packed and has been produced by someone who knows what they’re doing (always good). And it strikes the right balance between ‘not repetitive enough to follow’ and ‘so repetitive I want to rip my ears off.’ Even though the chorus is repeated as a way of transitioning to the explosive last 30 seconds, the instrumental break in-between keeps things fresh and leaves room for a kickass choreographed sequence on stage.

Speaking of on stage, Switzerland have recruited Sacha Jean-Baptiste to give them a grade-A presentation…which she’d better, because She Got Me deserves the best. Dodgy staging is the only thing that could drag this entry down as far as I see it (those Amsterdam vocals will be dealt with, trust me) and Baptiste has been questionable in her choices on occasion. But at the least, her involvement shows that Switzerland is super serious about Eurovision this year. Their song alone will whip the crowd into a frenzy á la Golden Boy, and I cannot see a scenario in which it fails to qualify (unlike their last four entries). I also can’t imagine anything other than a left-side scoreboard finish for Luca. She Got Me stands out from the crowd both in terms of man-bangers (including Estonia and Finland) and in general. For me, it’s the best of the Fuego follow-ups, which is high praise. I love everything about it and can’t wait for Switzerland to have a major change of Eurovision fortune.

 

In a line The surprise package of the year that makes sure you can’t sit still 2018 VS 2019 2019, duh! Predicted result SF 2nd-4th, GF 4th-6th My score 12 points

 

 

 

 

From zero gravity to dirty dancing, this round is over. ‘Already?’ I can hear you saying (even though you’re actually saying ‘At last!’). Yep, that’s it. But before I go, let’s have a look at the standings:

  1. Hungary (12)
  2. Switzerland (12)
  3. Romania (8)
  4. Australia (7)
  5. Georgia (4)

And after Round 1, I now have a top 10 that looks like this:

  1. Hungary (12)
  2. Switzerland (12)
  3. Cyprus (10)
  4. Romania (8)
  5. Serbia (8)
  6. Albania (8)
  7. Australia (7)
  8. Montenegro (5)
  9. Latvia (5)
  10. Georgia (4)

So Hungary takes the top spot from Cyprus, and Switzerland overtakes them too. Sorry Tamta.

 

Next time we’ll see where Croatia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania and North Macedonia factor in as far as I see it. Be there or…well, nothing will happen if you’re not there, but I’d love you to come back and check out the rest of my 2019 reviews. Follow me on my socials (all the usuals @EurovisionByJaz) to make sure you don’t miss a thing. And once you’ve done that, share your thoughts on today’s tracks down below – but be warned, if you badmouth Joci, it might be the last thing you ever do.

What a nice note to end this post on.

 

< Four weeks and counting!

 

 

 

 

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!!

 

 

 

 

And Now, For The Not-So-Beautiful Messes: The five biggest on-stage mistakes of Eurovision 2017

Didn’t see this coming in the wake of last week’s top 5 performances of 2017 countdown? Well, neither did I. Consider my face officially palmed.

I actually have the awesome Anita from Eurovision Union to thank for inspiring this companion piece to that post: a countdown of the countries that didn’t, in my opinion, get it all right in terms of their song’s staging and/or performance in Kyiv. I’ve deliberately not made this about the five worst performances, since there wasn’t a single country that I’d say got everything wrong (although one came close). Instead, I’ve singled out the elements in a handful of acts – dodgy vocals, horrifying costume choices, bad backdrops etc – that dragged them down…and in the case of a few, may have had a hand in their non-qualifications.

Have your say on the biggest stuff-ups of Eurovision 2017 in the comments. Remember, honesty is the best policy (and there’s no fun in 24/7 sunshine and rainbows, so get critical!).

Oh, BTW – you can (and should!) still vote in the People’s Choice polls of the 2017 EBJ Eurovision Excellence Awards. They’ll close in a few days’ time and the results will be revealed soon after that, so do your Eurofan duty while you have the chance!

 

 

 

#5 | Montenegro steers clear of OTT…for worse, not for better

I’m starting with something that was too inoffensive rather than too offensive, especially considering the source. From my very first listen of Slavko Kalezić’s Space, I was expecting to see it on stage in the campest and most fabulous fashion imaginable. I’m talking buff, topless male dancers who had marinated themselves in body glitter in the hours leading up to the show; galaxy-inspired visuals that alternated between dramatic (for the verses) and flamboyant (for the choruses; and plenty of overuse of the core Eurovision elements – wind and fire. I was confident in Slavko’s ability to make this dream of mine come true, given that he was to 2017 what Tooji was to 2012 – only Space didn’t require the reining in of camp that Stay did. So you can imagine my disappointment when he appeared on the Kyiv stage by himself, with only a mediocre costume change and his beloved Rapunzel braid for company. It’s not that he couldn’t command the stage on his own, because he strutted around like a boss and did the hairycopter with full enthusiasm. But when a song so obviously calls for one to go full gimmick on its ass, one should obey. Space needed more colour, more choreography and a crowd (of five other people) to be everything non-Eurovision fans think the contest is. Not so much to give it a shot at qualifying, since that was unlikely to ever happen (sadface), but just to make the most of the saucy, sassy lyrics; the fun, upbeat vibe; and Slavko’s larger-than-life personality.

 

#4 | Switzerland sugar-coats their staging of Apollo

I’ve got a job for you: take all of the 2017 entries that were chosen via a national final, and compare how they were staged initially to how they were staged at Eurovision. For the most part, you’ll notice that not many changed drastically, and those that did mostly improved on their presentation. Timebelle’s Apollo, then, is the exception and not the rule, because it went downhill between NF season and contest week. In fact, the only way Switzerland went up was by sticking Miruna at the top of a spiral staircase, which she eventually descended anyway (in stilettos, without breaking a sweat or any bones, which does deserve a high five). What we saw and what we heard clashed like crazy. Apollo benefited way more from the dramatic and modern NF staging, which could have been built on for ESC purposes. Yet that was discarded in favour of cheap and predictable background graphics, the inexplicable staircase (Why was it there? What did it add?), and an equally inexplicable yellow dress that I thought was less Beauty and the Beast inspired and more like the repurposed outer layer of a certain big bird who lives on Sesame Street. And let’s not forget more pastel shades than you’d find in the maternity wing of a major hospital. Overall, the look of this would have worked wonders for the right song (minus the tacky backdrop) but it took a good song and made it below-average. If I were Switzerland, I’d be contacting Sacha Jean-Baptiste right now to book her for Eurovision 2018.

 

#3 | Australia’s hit-and-missed high note

Contrary to what you might think, I don’t enjoy bringing this up in conversation time and time again. However, as patriotic and proud of Isaiah’s work in Kyiv as I am, I can’t deny that when we’re talking about the biggest broadcast boo-boos of the year, that notorious note he aimed for during the semi final HAS to be mentioned. I don’t recall ever hearing the guy drop a note while he was singing his heart out on The X Factor last year, so perhaps the grueling rehearsal and media schedule of Eurovision took its toll…or maybe it was a combination of nerves and trying too hard. Whatever the cause, to say that Isaiah failed rather than nailed that note – one accompanied by a pyro curtain, which is the international symbol for ‘This is the moment that’s supposed to win you over and secure your votes’ – would be an understatement. It turned out to be a moment that had me convinced Australia had just lost out on a spot in the grand final instead. Thankfully, because his jury semi performance was more X Factor and less cringe factor, Isaiah did slip through in a still remarkably high sixth place. He then went on to make up for the vocal mishap to end all vocal mishaps on the Saturday night, though it has to be said that the initial pyro note still wasn’t up to scratch. Whenever I watch either of his performances back in the future, my hand will be hovering over the mute button as the two-minute mark approaches.

 

#2 | Albania dresses Lindita up for a wacky wedding…WTF?!?

I could complain until the cows come home about all of the questionable costuming choices made by the 2017 delegations. Belgium? Should have worn the jumpsuit from the flag parade. Poland? Shouldn’t have worn white. Israel? What were they thinking putting him in a shirt when shirtless clearly would have been the best way to go? But right at the top of the heap – though at the bottom of the pile in terms of suitable sartorial selections – is undoubtedly Albania. I don’t know what kind of performance Lindita’s ‘Vegas showgirl meets drunken 3am Vegas bride’ outfit would be appropriate for, but it was just plain ridiculous when paired with World. I don’t get the thought process behind it, assuming there was one. It proved to be such a distraction that I couldn’t even concentrate on Lindita’s mind-blowing vocals, which hadn’t been an issue when she won Festivali I Këngës with the song formerly known as Böte. Unfortunately, this look wasn’t a one-off, as she wore something equally frightening (in nude, not white) on opening ceremony night. She obviously felt pretty and powerful on both occasions – she doesn’t strike me as a person who’d wear what she was told if she wasn’t 100% happy about it – but in my eyes, a black bin liner would have been a better choice both times. You know, like the one Croatia’s Nina Badrić wore back in 2012.

 

#1 | Spain’s…well, everything 

Many of us fans felt sure about two things prior to this year’s contest. One, that Italy would walk it, and two, that Spain would finish dead last. We may have been wrong about the former, but the latter did its predicted duty. Poor Manel – he had a terrible time at Objetivo Eurovisión thanks to The Mirela Incident, and then couldn’t prove anyone wrong by defying our ESC expectations of him. You might wonder why, if you’re unacquainted with both Do It For Your Lover and his rendition of it in Ukraine. Well, the song was weak to start with – great for roaring down the road in a convertible on a summer’s day en route to the coast, but too much of a repetitive flatliner to stand up in a song competition. It could have been saved by some genius stage concept, who knows…but Spain had the total opposite up their hibiscus-patterned shirt sleeve. The surfer idea was good in theory, but the execution was on par with High School Musical 2, if High School Musical 2 had been lumped with a production budget of $100. Low-quality graphics – including a Kombi van that kept on rocking without any danger of anyone knocking, an overhead shot of Manel and his band on surfboards that they just didn’t pull off, and a general air of over-casualness – made the package pretty unappealing. The fact that it was an entire verse before anyone turned around to face the camera/audience was also a turn-off. And just when we thought Spain might scrape enough points to NOT finish 26th, Manel’s voice decided to re-break at a pivotal moment, which sealed the deal. I’m sorry for seeming extra bitchy about this (you must be craving sunlight after all this shade I’ve thrown) but I’m being cruel to be kind. Both Manel and Spain deserve a LOT better.

 

 

Do you agree with any of my picks, or do you think I’M the one making the mistakes? Which competing countries of Eurovision 2017 made the wrong decisions when it came to putting on the best possible show?

 

Next time…you’ve voted (I hope) and now the EBJ Eurovision Excellence Award winners – People’s Choice + my personal choices – can be made public. First up, I’ll be handing out (pretend) trophies in the categories of The Artists and The Songs – followed by The Performances, The Show and The Results. The celebration of Kyiv’s bests and worsts will continue, and you’d be as crazy as Lindita Halimi’s costume designer if you missed it!

 

 

 

JAZ JUDGES EUROVISION 2017 | Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Macedonia, Malta + Switzerland

Two weeks, people. TWO WEEKS!!! That’s (roughly or exactly, depending on when you’re reading this) how long we have to wait until the first semi final of Eurovision 2017.

That’s 95% wonderful in my mind, with the remaining 5% a result of a) me freaking out because it’s almost been an entire year since I attended my first live contest, and b) me freaking out because I have five more rounds of song reviews and (hopefully) some predictions to post here on EBJ in such a short space of time. SEND HELP.

Today is judgment day for Lindita, Hovig, Triana Park, Jana Burčeska, Claudia Faniello and Timebelle. And before you ask, yes, my mum has come back again to help me review their ESC entries! So without further ado – ‘ado’, as you probably know by now, is code for ‘Jaz-rambling’ – let’s get this party started.

*moonwalks, stacks it on a stray sock and falls to near-death*

 

 

My thoughts Anything I say about an Albanian Eurovision entry usually begins with ‘Well, the Albanian version was mysterious and unique and generally great, but the English version…’ – you get my drift. And FYI, Lindita’s World (or The Song Formerly Known As Botë) will be no exception. I really liked the version of the song that won the American Idol alum Festivali I Këngës, because it was so intense and interesting. English – and I know it’s only because I can understand it – has a way of making most of that disappear, particularly if the English lyrics are lame. That’s what it’s done to World, although no change of language could make Lindita herself less of a vocal powerhouse. The melody is still nice and dramatic, and that money note she belts out for what seems like ten straight minutes is still a staggering ‘wow!’ moment. But with Albanian off the menu, the song sounds plain vanilla when it used to be covered in chocolate sprinkles. I understand countries wanting to use English to communicate with more people, but when an artist can invest emotion in their vocal performance like Lindita can, sticking with their native tongue wouldn’t hold them back. Imagine Hungary’s Origo, or even the chorus of 1944, in English. Things wouldn’t pack the same punch with those two songs, would they? I don’t think so. World, to someone who never knew it as Botë, is probably a decent enough power ballad. But even so, I hope Lindita is prepared to fight for a spot in the final, because she’ll be lucky to get there otherwise. 6 points.

My mum says… Someone has a serious set of lungs! I’m guessing you all know the particular part of this song that made me sure of that. As for the rest of (the) World…well, I wasn’t a huge fan at first. It starts off slowly and sounds sort of old-fashioned for a piano ballad. But when it turns from piano ballad to power ballad, the situation improves. I got swept up in the emotion and passion Lindita projects once she gets fired up, which made me appreciate the song more. 6 points.

Albania’s score 6.00

 

 

My thoughts As hilarious as it would be to see Hovig carried out on stage by a giant and carefully positioned on a fake rock at Eurovision, it’s a different Gravity to Zlata’s that he’s packing in his suitcase: the Thomas G:son kind. And holy Rag’n’Bone Man rip-offs, it’s amazing! I like to think of it more of an homage to Human rather than a textbook case of plagiarism. It’s also an example of a song that’s better than the last one the artist tried to get to Eurovision with, which often isn’t the case (though I do dig Stone in A River too). From the second that mechanical, hypnotic beat kicks in at the start, I’m hooked. Simply-worded verses lead to the biggest earworm of a chorus in this year’s contest (one that’s instantly memorable thanks to clever rhyming), and both are perfectly suited to Hovig’s strong, slightly gravelly voice. The potential for epic staging is sky-high here, so I hope Cyprus has taken advantage of that and not left the poor guy to just stand centre stage in a spotlight. I do think the song is good enough to shine without gimmicks, but an edgy lighting scheme or some Loïc Nottet-style dancers (slash Cirque du Soleil acrobats, given the possibilities for tricks suggested in the music video) would set the scene and give Gravity the atmosphere it deserves. Either way, I don’t have much more to say about it other than this: if Minus One managed to qualify, then Hovig should too. Oh, and Gravity kicks astronaut ass. And regular, 9-to-5 worker ass. Basically, all ass. 10 points.

My mum says… I liked this straight away – there was no waiting for something exciting to happen. That beat (and the strange sounds that accompany it, which I suspect may be an alien mating call) piqued my interest instantly. There’s great energy all the way through, and the lyrics are interesting enough in their own right to prevent potential boredom. Gravity makes for a refreshing change from the usual love song style, and I wouldn’t mind hearing it again right now! 8 points.

Cyprus’ score 9.00

 

 

My thoughts Latvia has come a long, long way since Cake To Bake. Sure, that was sweet (pun intended) but you have to admit that what they’ve sent to the ESC since then has been in a whole different league of contemporary pop awesomeness. Just when we thought that was all down to Aminata’s involvement, along came Triana Park with Line, the third installment in a trilogy of fantastic Latvian tracks (and sequels are supposed to suck!). It’s just SO COOL. Everything from the silky-smooth electronic production to the minimalist, non-cliché lyrical content, bare-bones instrumental hook, and lead singer Agnese’s unique voice and constantly-changing look (the woman is a hair, makeup and clothing chameleon) is what I want to see more countries ship off to the contest. Basically, a package that even the most seasoned ‘Eurovision is crap’ troll would find appealing, or at least very hard to take the piss out of. There is something stopping Line from being one of my favourite songs of the year – maybe the fact that it is quite flat and repetitive (though that’s typical of the genre), or just the fact that I happen to enjoy other entries more. But in terms of measuring up to Love Injected and Heartbeat, it definitely does. The live performance is not as slick as the studio version, which wasn’t an issue for Aminata or Justs, so I don’t think Triana Park will be jury high-flyers. Televoters will go more gaga over Line, I think, so we’ll see if that’s enough to nab Latvia another left-side result on the Saturday night…assuming they make it that far. They sure as heck deserve to. 8 points.

My mum says… This isn’t (totally) my cup of tea. I enjoyed the catchy chorus, but I found the rest of the song monotonous and far too repetitive. It didn’t do much for me at all. The lead singer’s voice didn’t seem to have the same power and appeal as any of the other singers I’ve heard so far. If I’m not the target audience for Line, though, it’ll probably do well because it certainly sounds current. 4 points.

Latvia’s score 6.00

 

 

My thoughts Macedonia was one of two countries that really surprised me with their 2017 song, because I was expecting something totally different to what they delivered (I’ll tell you now that the other one was Belgium, but you’ll have to wait and see if I was pleasantly or not-so-pleasantly surprised by City Lights). I’ll confess that I didn’t even have the chance to have a cursory glance at Jana’s musical background/career to date before Dance Alone pirouetted into the picture, but even if I had, I doubt I would have seen such contemporary, radio-friendly pop coming. Not from her or from Mace-Dona-donia! This song is super polished; modern, as I mentioned, but brings the eighties back in a way that Ruffus would approve of; and seems to have been lifted straight from a Spotify playlist called ‘Music To Get Ready For A Night Out To’. It’s unfortunate that, after such a show of ethnicity in Stockholm with Kaliopi, there’s no trace of traditional sounds to be heard here, but given Kaliopi’s failure to even qualify for the final, I don’t blame Macedonia for pinballing in a different direction. With infectious hooks throughout, simple but effective lyrics and a charismatic performer, there’s nothing wrong with Dance Alone. Perhaps that’s my problem, because as much as I like it, I can’t force myself to fall in love with it. It’s so perfect in a plastic-package kind of way, I feel disconnected from it and can’t muster up any strong emotions when I hear it (love, hate or the irresistible urge to dance). There’s always a song competing in Eurovision that I know is a good-quality one, but it ends up in my ‘meh’ pile anyway. I guess this is the 2017 version. 6 points.

My mum says… After listening to this, I might have to make the pavement my catwalk too! It’s a cool pop song that had me moving to the music very quickly, and I can’t deny that’s a sign of something being up my alley. The whole thing is infectious (in a good way – no need for face masks) and I can’t think of anything to complain about. Well done, Macedonia. 8 points.

Macedonia’s score 7.00

 

 

My thoughts I am so horrified by Malta’s downgrade from Walk On Water to Breathlessly (albeit a downgrade from a Swedish-made song to a Maltese-made song, which is not the horrifying part) that I can’t even contain myself enough to write a suspenseful intro that keeps you wondering WTF I think of Claudia’s entry for a line or six. When I first heard it, she’d already won – MESC was one national final I had to sacrifice acquainting myself with until it was over (thanks, adult commitments). I actually couldn’t believe that Malta had willingly chosen to send such a dated, dull and overly-dramatic ballad to Eurovision, straight after serving up slayage with Ira Losco. Over time, my despise has turned to tolerance (so long as I’m in a generous mood) but Breathlessly is still right near the rear end of my overall ranking. It’s something that belongs in the credits of a mid-1990s romantic drama movie starring Kevin Costner and Julia Roberts – not a highly competitive song contest in 2017. If that’s not enough to turn you off, how about the creepy lyrical content seemingly written from an unhinged stalker’s perspective? ‘I’ll be watching you, breathlessly’? Watching me call the cops! Okay, so maybe I wouldn’t do that to Claudia, who seems like a cool person, does the song justice vocally and looks stunning in the music video. But not only does she deserve a better song to go to the ESC with, she’s had better songs to go to the ESC with. It’s too bad her time has finally come with an entry that will struggle to break free from the semi final. 4 points.

My mum says… ‘Terribly ballady’ were the words that came to mind when I was listening to Claudia go on and on and on, feeling like a psychiatrist she should be paying by the minute. The subject matter of the song doesn’t seem that sad and miserable, but it made me feel really down in the dumps which is NOT how I like music to affect me. If there was more variety in the mood or the lyrics, it’d be better, but Breathlessly flatlines. I don’t think I’ll bother firing up the defibrillator and trying to revive it. 3 points.

Malta’s score 3.5

 

 

My thoughts There’s one thing I have to get out of my system before I talk about Timebelle’s Apollo, and that is the all-important subject matter of how FREAKING BEAUTIFUL (I hope Robin Bengtsson hasn’t trademarked that phrase) lead singer Miruna is. If she just stood on stage for three minutes doing nothing but batting her eyelashes at the camera, I wouldn’t be able to look away – and I say this as a straight female. She can sing and stuff too, I know, but…hashtag hottie. Right, I’ve said it. Now, The Song! Apollo, for me, is a step up from Timebelle’s last Swiss NF entry Singing About Love (although they are once again singing about love). Sure, it could have been a minor radio hit five or ten years ago, but I don’t think this sort of ballad style dates too badly. I really like every element of it, even in 2017 – the tune, the dynamic way that softer verses build up to big, dramatic choruses, the lyrics (which are simple but not too simple, and just about cliché-free)…and how’s ‘I’ll follow you, Apollo’ for a lyrical hook? Well, you might think it sucks, but I think it makes the song even more instant. Overall, it’s memorable enough – and will be well-performed enough – to squeeze into the second semi’s top 10, but that’s not a given. ‘Enough’ isn’t always enough (if that makes any sense) in a competitive environment, and I can see why Switzerland might miss out just as easily as they could slip through to the final. Either way, they’re guaranteed to improve on Rykka’s result from last year (lest we forget the blue perm and boob-smoke). 7 points.

My mum says… Now here’s a ballad I can get on board with. It’s uplifting, easy to sing along to and just poppy enough to put some pep in your step. The steps taken when following Apollo, obviously. I think Malta should take notes during the lesson Professor Switzerland delivers in Ukraine! 8 points.

Switzerland’s score 7.5

 

 

18 down, 24 (possibly plus-one, if I decide the flame is indeed burning) to go! Here’s the ranking after today’s reviews:

  1. Cyprus (9.00)
  2. Switzerland (7.5)
  3. Macedonia (7.00)
  4. Latvia (6.00)
  5. Albania (6.00)
  6. Malta (3.5)

I’m happy to announce Hovig as the winner of this round. Will he find himself on top – or at least close to the top – of any other upcoming leaderboards? I can hardly stand the suspense. I don’t think there’s a lot of suspense in wondering what will happen to last-placed Malta, but then again, the ESC always manages to provide us with some shocks (you haven’t forgotten about Greta-gate already, have you?).

How would you rank the entries my mum and I judged this time? Let us know in the comments. I love knowing who agrees and disagrees with my opinions so I know who I’m buying a birthday present for – and who I’m so NOT – this year…

If you’re enjoying the Jaz + Mrs. Jaz Judgments so far, then stay tuned for the next installment. We’ll be taking on some big hitters in the form of Bulgaria, France, Italy, Romania, Serbia and Sweden. The bookies rate (some of) them very highly, but will we? Look out for our thoughts on Kristian, Alma, Francesco, Ilinca & Alex Florea, Tijana and Robin to go live if you want to find out!

 

Until then,

 

 

 

SELECTION SEASON 2017 | Melodifestivalen madness + six Swiss songs, one winner!

In case you hadn’t noticed, today’s Saturday – but not just any old Saturday. It’s the first Saturday of February, and that means that a big ball of national final brilliance is about to bounce down on the basketball court that is the Eurovision selection season.

Did that make sense? All I meant was that Frantic February™ is here, and I’m freaking excited about it. I’m guessing you are too if you’re reading this!

What’s even more exciting than a busy Saturday night for NFs is an entire weekend of pre-ESC song contests, and that’s exactly what we’re getting. But be warned: with mostly heats and semis taking place over the next two days, only one more Eurovision entry will be chosen.

Here’s this weekend’s schedule:

  • 4/1 Hungary’s A Dal – heat three (feat. Benjámin Pál + Gigi Radics)
  • 4/1 Lithuania’s Eurovizijos – heat five (feat. Sasha Song, Edgaras Lubys + Mia)
  • 4/1 Sweden’s Melodifestivalen – semi final one (feat. Boris René, Dinah Nah, Charlotte Perrelli + Ace Wilder)
  • 4/1 Ukraine’s untitled NF – semi final one (feat. SKAI, Monochromea + Arsen Mirzoyan)
  • 5/1 Latvia’s Supernova – heat one (feat. Katrīna Cīrule + Lauris Valters)
  • 5/1 Switzerland’s Die Entscheidungsshow – the final (feat. Ginta Biku + Timebelle)

You guys know I’m a one-woman band who cannot physically cover all of the above, so I’ve got to be more selective than SVT’s Melfest screening process. Right here, right now, I’m singling out the national finals from Sweden (obviously) and Switzerland (believe it or not) to review and predict. Let’s get into it!

 

 

How Swede it is: Marvellous Melodifestivalen has arrived!  

Like every other epic event that takes place each year (e.g. Eurovision, Junior Eurovision, September 1st when most people carry on as normal but the collective ESC fandom sits up a little straighter) Melodifestivalen comes around very slowly – but once it’s here, it feels like we were discussing the start of the previous year’s edition five minutes ago.

And so, right on cue, the Holy Grail of national finals (in my Sweden-obsessed opinion) is back for 2017. Based on what’s being served up in tonight’s first semi – which will go live from Gothenburg’s Scandinavium in just a few hours – it’s back with a bang. That makes for an extra happy Jaz, since I’ve booked myself a butt-space in Friends Arena for the final. IS THIS EVEN MY LIFE?!?!?

Talking about tonight, though…opening the comp is one of the surprise successes of ’16, Boris René. Closing will be newcomer Nano. In-between the two are Dinah Nah, Charlotte Perrelli, Ace Wilder and many, many more. Well, actually just two more, but I’m too hysterical to not exaggerate. Who’s with me?

 

Semi Final 1: 

  1. Her Kiss by Boris René
  2. Amare by Adrijana
  3. One More Night by Dinah Nah
  4. Road Trip by De Vet Du
  5. Mitt Liv by Charlotte Perrelli
  6. Wild Child by Ace Wilder
  7. Hold On by Nano

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Pretty much all bases (aces of bases?) are covered in this kick-off heat, with retro-pop, hip-hop, dance, acoustic, straight-up pop and EDM on offer. Who will rise to the occasion, scoring themselves a ticket direkt till finalen or to Andra Chansen…and who will fall at the first hurdle? It might take some serious song scrutinisation to figure that out (after which I’ll still be super-duper wrong).

 

My top four 

In performance order, BTW.

    • Her Kiss – This is less contemporary than Put Your Love On Me (RIP litter box) but you can’t tell me that it wouldn’t shoot straight to #1 on the charts if Bruno Mars was behind it. Don’t underestimate Boris’ ability to bring it into the now via an energetic and charismatic performance.
    • Amare – Adrijana’s debut won’t be everyone’s cup of kaffe, but I have a thing for the Swedish language in an urban, rap-oriented context. It just works, hence why I loved Behrang Miri’s Det Rår Vi Inte För and why I love this.
    • Wild Child – At 34, Ace is technically a wild woman. She’s also not the strongest of singers, so perhaps it’s a good idea for the verses of this song to be spoken/shouted. Surprisingly, I’m digging the sound of Wild Child so much, it may turn out to be my favourite of her three Melfest entries to date. They’ve all been different, but have always had real ‘Ace’ attitude, and this is no exception.
    • Hold On – SVT know just when to throw a curvy enough curveball to convince us that they aren’t that predictable after all. It was assumed that the last song on stage would be Ace’s, but they’ve made it Nano’s instead…and I TOTALLY GET IT. It gives me goosebumps, even before the beat kicks in and the chorus explodes. Sure, it’s very reminiscent of Feel The Love by Rudimental, but you know what? That song is the bomb, and I think this one is too.
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He’s my current favourite, but can Nano ‘Hold On’ to his status as the bookies’ favourite and win his heat?

 

The rest

  • One More Night – I’m a little disappointed in Dinah, because this song is right out of Dance Tracks for Dummies (whereas Make Me La La La was in a league of its own). It’s still catchy and well-produced though, and her hair is still pink enough for me to forgive her. Hashtag hair heaven.
  • Road Trip – This is Samir & Viktor meets JTR, and I can get on board (pun intended) with that combo. It’s silly but not too silly, so rather than being a novelty song, it’s a fun contender. And it does make me want to go on a road trip, so…mission accomplished, I guess.
  • Mitt Liv – I don’t get all the hate on this one. No, it’s not bringing us the Charlotte Perrelli we know and love (and once were a little scared of. Remember 2008?) but I think there’s something charming and calming about her stripped-back, not-in-it-to-win-it approach to Melfest this time. There’s a song just like Mitt Liv in basically every Deltävling 1, and it never goes anywhere – but that doesn’t mean it’s horrendous.

  

‘No more stalling’, I can hear you guys saying. ‘We know what you think of the songs, but where the heck are they headed?’. Well, friends, here are my attempts at predicting exactly that. Prepare to laugh until you’re gasping for breath.

 

Who’s going direkt? Ace Wilder and Nano. I haven’t picked Ace because she’s a predictable finalist – she’s not really, since for all I know Sweden is sick of her popping up and yelling at them. I just don’t think she should be under-hyped, and Wild Child is a standout in this semi in terms of instant, infectious pop music. Nano has the advantage of performing in a position that has only proven unlucky for two acts since the introduction of the semi system to Melfest. He also has a sensational song up his sleeve that may leave Ace Wilder in second place of the seven.

Who’s off to Andra Chansen? Boris René and De Vet Du. Boris will do a great job of setting the tone for the evening with the irresistible Her Kiss, and I’m fairly confident (or am I just hoping because I LOVE him?) that he can mimic his AC -> final journey this year. De Vet Du are a classic ‘Not Quite Direkt Material But Good Enough For A Second Chance’ act. Need I say more?

 

I will be saying more during the show, so visit me on Twitter (hint hint) to check out my (hopefully hilarious) comments, and to see my updated predictions after all seven songs have been performed. In the meantime, what are your thoughts on Melfest’s first semi? Which two acts will be the first to book their own bit of butt-space in the Friends Arena green room, and who’ll have to fight their way out of AC to get there? Let me know down below.

 

That’s Saturday’s most exciting event taken care of. YES, I SAID IT. If you want to argue about it:

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Now, let’s wing our way over to Switzerland and see what they have in store for us on Sunday evening.

 

 

An (almost) all-female final for Switzerland…but which woman will win?

The Spice Girls would be psyched about the Swiss NF (‘the Swiss NF’ is easier to type and pronounce than Die Entscheidungsshow, let’s face it) because it is positively packed with girl power! The boys backing up Timebelle’s lead vocalist Miruna are it on the non-female front.

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  1. The Fire In The Sky by Nadya
  2. Cet Air Là by Ginta Biku
  3. Two Faces by Michèle
  4. Gold by Freschta
  5. Exodus by Shana Pearson
  6. Apollo by Timebelle

I hate to say this, but I always have low expectations of Switzerland. They can be relied on to choose the cream of a very average crop, but the fact that their line-ups are so frequently sub-par is disappointing.

Thankfully, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the standard in 2017. There’s one song I’m not keen on, but the other five range from good to great to ‘SHUT UP AND TAKE MY DOUZE POINTS.’

 

My top 6  

  1. Apollo – Timebelle’s last Entscheidungsshow entry Singing About Love was a super cute pop-rock number, but I like this pop ballad better. Is it the most original thing I’ve ever heard? Nope. Jessie J might have released something very similar five years ago. Still, it ticks all the boxes for a song of this style, and the tried-and-tested formula still works. It’s extremely enjoyable.
  2. Two Faces – It’s about time someone tried to get to Eurovision with a song about baking sweeteners and table seasonings! Okay, so there’s more to Michèle’s song than sugar and salt. Including a bit of a youthful, edgy, Zara Larsson vibe. The cool factor is high and the originality is too.
  3. Cet Air Là – This is such a mish-mash of genres, languages and time periods, it should be a disaster. But, unnecessary la la las aside, I really like it. The ethnic instrumental parts make it exotic, and the French chorus is like a sexier Loin D’ici. Eurovision 2006 meets Eurovision 2017.
  4. Gold – Adele called, and she wants her B-side back, Freschta. That’s not an insult, because I like this too. I’m simply saying that it’s no Someone Like You or Hello. But I appreciate Gold for what it is, which I’m going to label ‘rawthentic’.
  5. Exodus – Shana’s song is 80% decent, 20% not-so-much. Majority rules. And I definitely wouldn’t say no to a dance if it came on in the (Euro) club.
  6. The Fire In The Sky – This one’s too dated and melodramatic for my taste. Georgia let something like it win their NF, but I’m hoping Switzerland doesn’t follow in their dreary footsteps.

Measuring the quality of this final in Melfest terms, I’d say that it’s not as across-the-board awesome as the semi we looked at before (Sweden is no stranger to producing heats that outdo the concluding chapters of other countries’ NFs). But Switzerland have three or four excellent potential Eurovision entries at their disposal. Which one – if any – will they go for?

It’s time to decide.

 

Who SHOULD win Timebelle or Michèle. I’d also be interested to see Ginta on the ESC stage (she’d stand out, that’s for sure). For mass appeal and the best shot at success though, Timebelle is the smart option. For the sake of sending something cool and unique to Ukraine, that’s where Michèle fits in. The ball’s in your court, Switzerland. Hit it in whichever direction you want!

Who WILL win Timebelle. What can I say other than I think their timebelle has come? I think Michèle may be too offbeat FTW. My underdog pick is Freschta.

 

In your mind, who should and will go to Kyiv on behalf of Switzerland? Will Rykka’s squatting make an unwanted comeback when they get there (it’s no Macarena, but it may have caught on)? The comment box is waiting for your opinions, and so am I! I’m not curious – I’m just plain nosy.

 

I’m exhausted after all that rambling, so I’d better go have a power-nap before Melodifestivalen starts (at the perfectly civilised hour of 3am my time…but I willingly set my alarm earlier than anyone ever should at this time of year). Whether you’ll be joining me watching that magnificent beast get underway, or you’re tuning into Hungarian, Lithuanian or Ukrainian shows instead, have fun. I’ll see you when Frantic February’s first weekend is over and we have even more stuff to ramble about!

 

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REVIEWS | The EBJ Jury Judges Eurovision 2016 (Part 2)

Yes/ja/oui, et cetera – it’s already time for another round of reviews here on EBJ! And since this second installment isn’t much less epic (a fancy way of saying ‘ridiculously long’) than the first one, I’ll make this intro fast…by stopping it right here. You guys know how these posts go.

 

 TODAY’S EBJ JURORS
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Remember, you can reacquaint yourself with the 2016 EBJ Jury at any time via the meet and greet page up there *points in the appropriate direction*. Today’s reviewers = my mum (she’s back!), Fraser from ESC TMI, and yours truly – meaning it’s an all-Aussie, all-awesome affair. We’ve had our say on the Eurovision entries from Belarus, Cyprus, Georgia, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland. Our excessive compliments and/or abusive tirades are in, as are the scores from all of my other slaves…er, I mean helpers. So now I present to you the entire EBJ Jury’s assessments of IVAN, Minus One, Nika Kocharov & The Young Georgian Lolitaz, Francesca, Frans* and Rykka. Which act will emerge victorious? And will they knock France off the top of our leaderboard? If you want the answers to those questions, plus a whole heap more, then read on!

 

*Am I the only one who thinks Francesca and Frans should hook up purely because their couple name writes itself? I’m dying to use #Franscesca in a tweet or two (hundred).

 

 

 Belarus

Mrs. Jaz The beginning of this song caught me off guard (even though I didn’t know what would follow it). As interesting as it is, that intro sounded strange to me, and not in a good way. As Help You Fly continued, I was also unsettled by the high note-filled choruses that IVAN is so fond of – choruses that could be his downfall if he doesn’t nail them at Eurovision (if he’s even a millimetre out of tune, it could be painful for everyone with functioning ears). However, on the whole, I quite enjoyed Belarus’ entry. It’s catchy and radio-friendly, and would be easy to sing along to, if I knew any of the lyrics! I’m told that IVAN’s slightly disturbing wish to perform starkers with wolves will not be granted by the ESC powers that be, and that’s definitely the best part of this package…so to speak.

Fraser Howling, wolves…ooh, this is Eurotastic! I do love how projections can make any song look super professional. IVAN has a fabulously expected, deep Eastern European pop voice – one that, in most other countries, would not be used for this style of song. Somehow it all seems to work. The song is easy to sing along to, and not bad as a bit of background music. I’m struggling to see how Help You Fly has anything to do with wolves…but hey, this is Eurovision, so who cares! Belarus have not made it through to the final for a few years, but if IVAN presents this naked on the Eurovision stage surrounded by wolves, maybe they will. That’s their best chance.

Jaz It seems that taste in music doesn’t totally run in my family, given that I do like the intro of Help You Fly – a song that I named the one I’d least like to win the Belarusian final a while back. Clearly, I’ve come around since then. If you’re wondering what’s up with IVAN’s wolf obsession (especially when an eagle obsession would make more sense), then that intro at least incorporates a howl into HYF, and sets an intense, mysterious and minutely-ethnic tone for the rest of the song, which sits on the right side of the rock genre. Initially, I found the chorus irritating, and couldn’t even remember how the verses went. But after listening to it a time or two recently, I’ve found myself appreciating it for what it is – a solid Eastern European rock effort, with lyrics that manage to be inspirational without inducing any gagging (which is always good). It’s a little too lethargic to trouble its semi’s top 10, so I’m not sure it’ll qualify. But if IVAN gets to grips with the knowledge that the naked + animal thing ain’t going to happen, and intensifies his NF staging (the background graphics there were edgy and complementary), you never know. Failing that, he might burst (not naked) out of a giant disco ball, and subsequently straight into Saturday night. It worked for Alyona Lanskaya, didn’t it?

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 6
  • Fraser 4
  • James 5
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 5
  • Mrs. Jaz 7
  • Nick 1
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 5
  • Wolfgang 1

Belarus’ EBJ Jury score is…4.8

 

 

Cyprus

Mrs. Jaz ‘Coz this is thrillerrrrr….thriller night!’ Oh wait – it isn’t? Well, it sure sounded like it at the start. Though that is where any resemblance to Michael Jackson’s music ended, because this track is only okay, in my opinion. I preferred Belarus to Cyprus. Alter Ego is pretty catchy too, and it has a good beat, but it’s rather repetitive and not as instant. I think I’d need further listens to appreciate it, but as I got bored halfway through this one (I zoned out and did some online shopping during those last 90 seconds) I’m not too keen to hear it again. If Jaz wants me to give it another go, she might have to use some force.

Fraser Well, this is a bit of a surprise. Everything about Minus One’s Alter Ego is against my normal style of music, but there is something that’s a bit ‘easy-listening soft rock’ that I like about this. Wolves are big this year – maybe Minus One and IVAN can do a naked mashup with wolves, or re-enact ‘Dances With Wolves’ on the stage. Naked. Please? Actually, looking at the video, it’s probably best if they all keep their clothes on. Honestly, I think Cyprus may have a chance of getting through to the final with this song. It’s catchy enough to sing along to, and that may just get them somewhere.

Jaz Thomas G:son strikes again! Though it must be said, Alter Ego isn’t his best-ever Eurovision effort. Then again, neither an uplifting power ballad nor a club banger (the kind of songs he does best) would have suited Minus One, who’ve bounced back from a defeat in the 2015 Cypriot NF to represent the island in Stockholm. What the band and G:son have created is a song that ticks a lot of boxes, but still seems to be missing something – something that says ‘Vote for this!’. It’s all just a bit…flat. Having said that, it does have a great driving beat, and a two-part chorus that adds variety. The Killers-slash-Nickelback vibe also has appeal (no, I don’t mind Nickelback. You got a problem with that?) and I particularly enjoy the ‘Howlin’ for youuuuuuuuu’ part (SVT should just change the ESC slogan to ‘Come together…with wolves’ already). In summary, I suppose I’m in two minds (or perhaps I’m thinking one thing, and my Alter Ego is thinking another). This track is more than halfway up on the good-quality song scale, but I also believe it doesn’t pack enough punch to reach the highest heights. Ultimately, I’m happy that it doesn’t send me to sleep like Cyprus’ entry did last year, but I’m not exactly impressed by it.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 7
  • Fraser 2
  • James 7
  • Jaz 6
  • Martin 7
  • Mrs. Jaz 5
  • Nick 4
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 7
  • Wolfgang 5

Cyprus’ EBJ Jury score is…5.7

 

 

Georgia

Mrs. Jaz Wow – what a throwback! You’d never guess this was the Georgian entry based on how Brit-pop it sounds. Oasis would be proud to have Midnight Gold as one of their own hits if the Gallagher brothers weren’t such…well, you can insert your own insult here. The song’s clearly not cutting-edge, but I like that Georgia have taken a deliberately retro route rather than an accidentally stale one. The result is something that stands out (though maybe not for the better in the eyes and to the ears of many Eurovision fans). If I may channel Austin Powers for a moment, I’d say it’s pretty groovy, baby!

Fraser Immediately this sounds like some average 90s Brit-pop band is making a comeback. There is nothing that sounds remotely Eurovision about it. I’m bored already. I think Noel Gallagher is on bass guitar, and his talents are better used elsewhere. Did I mention I’m bored? Sorry Georgia, this is not your year.

Jaz I try not to feel guilty about fangirling over ANY song – why should you feel bad about liking what you like? But…if I could call anything a guilty pleasure this year where Eurovision’s concerned, it would have to be Georgia’s Midnight Gold. As it’s far from being a fan favourite, I have a strong feeling that I’m not “supposed” to enjoy it. And I’d be lying if I said I expected it to succeed, or even get out of its semi. But I really, really like this song! What’s even weirder about that is the fact that alt-rock is a genre I hardly ever choose to listen to any other time. Apparently, though, it can be slotted into the ESC line-up and I’ll fawn over it like it’s Måns Zelmerlöw attending a nude party thrown by Sir Ivan of Belarus. Everything about the song is close to bizarre and certainly edging towards bonkers territory – and I love it. The catchy guitar riff, ambiguous zero-cliché lyrics, and general freshness of the genre in the Eurovision context have well and truly won me over, folks. And I refuse to be ashamed about it! I’m letting my freak flag fly, and quite possibly a Georgian one too.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 10
  • Fraser 1
  • James 2
  • Jaz 8
  • Martin 4
  • Mrs. Jaz 7
  • Nick 6
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 8
  • Wolfgang 1

Georgia’s EBJ Jury score is…5.3

 

 

Italy

Mrs. Jaz I’M IN LOVE. This is gorgeous, and makes me want to get married again just so I can use it as my wedding song. Obviously I had no idea what Francesca was on about until the English chorus kicked in, but I figured it was something romantic, and I guess I was right (although the Italian language can make any subject matter sound romantic…this could have been an ode to conjunctivitis and I’d still be swooning). The melody, plus her combination of crystal-clear and raspy notes (she’s got a great range) made me feel the emotion of her words without even trying. I’d willingly listen to this one again, at my fantasy second nuptials or not.

Fraser Italy can do no wrong. This is fabulous. Maybe it’s just that anything sung in Italian sounds hot! Francesca’s voice is youthful, modern, and soothing. I fell in love with this song after San Remo, and it has grown on me more and more ever since. I’m not sure there was a need to add in the English lyrics halfway through the song, as it was good regardless – but it is competing in Eurovision, and you need to make sure you get votes from as many people as possible. I expect that this will finish within the top five songs this year.

Jaz Oh, Italy. What would Eurovision these days be without you? A lot less classy, that’s for sure, and in the case of 2016, that lack of class would be accompanied by a lack of spine-tingles, and a lack of exclamations such as ‘Oh no, I’ve got something stuck in my eye *sniff*’. No Degree of Separation is, put simply, stunning. My only criticism – which I’d like to get out of the way so I can carry on gushing – is that it wasn’t an instantaneous goosebump-producer for me, like Grande Amore was. It took a few plays of the 100%-Italian version for me to fall in love, but the song did pique my interest straight away, as elegant Italian piano-pop always does. And now, with the (barely) bilingual version off to Stockholm, I have high hopes for Italy once again. Francesca’s choice to insert an English chorus and make it known by its English title for ESC purposes will pay off, I reckon. That second chorus adds an element of understanding to a song that was already seeping with sentimentality. The fragility of Francesca’s voice is perfectly paired up with the themes and style of the song. The structure of it is dynamic without shoving itself down anyone’s throat. I’m besotted, basically (in case you couldn’t tell). With an entry that reminds me of Gabrielle Aplin’s version of The Power of Love, and suitably ethereal/off-beat staging, I think Italy could and should do very well with this. But I am a teensy bit biased.

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

Italy’s EBJ Jury score is…9

 

 

Sweden

Mrs. Jaz I get the feeling I’m not supposed to find that ‘no’ at the end of Sweden’s song amusing, but I did anyway. And, after all, I spent most of the three minutes thinking ‘Clearly, he’s not sorry!’, so it’s a relief that he admitted it. I did quite like this one. It’s interesting, and that made me pay attention rather than drift off daydreaming (or online shopping). If I Were Sorry is a bit repetitive – let’s just say I had no issues with working out its title before I was told what it was. But lyrically, it grabbed my attention, and I think Frans’ unique accent is an asset.

Fraser Well, well, well…what happened to schlager? It appears that Sweden has grown up and moved on. Maybe I should too? From the first time I heard this song in the field of Melodifestivalen entries, I knew it was going to be the Swedish representative. It wasn’t my favourite song in the field, but it’s a song of today. With a pared-back, youthful and emotional song, Frans will have a huge following of teenage girls which will automatically get him some votes. But I hope the rest of Europe get IIWS too. It didn’t do as well as some others with the international juries in Melodifestivalen, which was surprising. I guess we will have to wait and see how Frans goes on the huge Eurovision stage. My fingers and toes are crossed for him!

Jaz A minute ago, I said I was biased about Italy. Well, now it’s time to talk about our hosts with the most – so hold on to your underpants, because a tsunami of bias is headed your way! There’s a reason I knew, the second Heroes won Eurovision 2015, that 2016 HAD to be the year I trekked across the globe to attend my first contest. I. LOVE. SWEDEN. In and outside of the ESC (though the outside mainly refers to Melodifestivalen). That’s not to say there haven’t been times when I’ve disliked their entries (La Voix, I hate with a passion), but for the most part, the country can do no wrong in my eyes. So, despite my earlier desires for Oscar Zia or Molly Sandén to represent Sweden, I am a fully-fledged Frans fan. If I Were Sorry is in the mould of Sweden’s recent host entries – i.e. just You – in that it’s more organic, less precise, and simplified in comparison to the stuff they send when they’re competing on foreign ground. But there’s no doubt Sweden are still in the race with this, as the Spotify streams and betting odds are testament to. I don’t think Frans will deliver his country the seventh win Christer Björkman is hoping for (I’m sure he can wait until 2017 or 2018) but what I’m hoping for is a strong top 10 finish with this very-2016 toe-tapper. I can’t see the IIWS staging changing much from ye olde Melodifestivalen times – so the song and its presentation are really going to need to capture the public and the juries when it counts, as they captured the Swedish public and (some of) the international juries back in March. The song is certainly endearingly sweet and quirky enough – not to mention unique enough in the 43 – to find that favour. Perhaps my plan to scream the roof off the Globe Arena whilst wearing a shirt with Frans’ face on it will have a positive effect on the outcome?

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 7
  • Fraser 12
  • James 6
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 8
  • Mrs. Jaz 7
  • Nick 7
  • Penny 8
  • Rory 1
  • Wolfgang 7

Sweden’s EBJ Jury score is…7.3

 

 

Switz

Mrs. Jaz Very nice, Switzerland. I like this a lot. I was lured in from the abrupt beginning all the way through to the end, and I loved the sound of Rykka’s voice throughout. Her diction is beautiful. I’m a ballad fan if said ballad fits my definition of ‘decent’, and Last of Our Kind definitely does. It sounds like it should be the theme to a romantic drama movie or something – as in, what Ellie Goulding’s Love Me Like You Do was to Fifty Shades of Grey (not that I’d know anything about that). Backing an intense scene between two extremely attractive leads, the song would shine.

Fraser Rykka is a surprise for me. Her song feels like a step back into the end credits of a movie from 1989 (I know she even says that, but it really does). It’s a really nice song that I find myself singing along to in the car. The only thing is, I don’t always understand all of the lyrics she’s singing – maybe it’s just her accent. The recorded version is a lot stronger than the live of course, but I really hope that Rykka has a lot of practice before May. If her performance is on point, she may just sneak through to the final. BTW, if she could do something about those eyebrows, it would be greatly appreciated.

Jaz Each and every year, the Swiss NF is made up of a handful of mediocre songs (and often one or two that start with ‘r’ and end with ‘ubbish’) plus one that is slightly less mediocre than the others (but is still crappier than the crappiest Melfest entry of that year). The latter always wins, but I don’t always dig it. Where am I going with this? Straight to the shed for a shovel, peeps, because I totally dig The Last of Our Kind. It’s one of several Sia-esque songs heading to Stockholm, and that gets it an automatic ‘YAAAASSSS!’ from me. The melody and lyrics we hear before that first chorus are stunning, and overall the song is like a particularly ethereal dream that I don’t want to wake up from. I do think that the verses are stronger than the choruses, perhaps because they’re less repetitive (you and whoever you’re singing to are the last of your kind, Rykka…we get it). But there’s nothing wrong with a little repetition – and nobody’s going to forget the song title fast, that’s for sure. I’d love Switzerland to succeed with this, but I’m not entirely confident they will. Still, I have total confidence that they made the right choice by selecting Rykka as their representative…and let’s not forget what happened the last time a Canadian stepped up to fly the Swiss flag (although a tense battle for the win between Switzerland and the UK is super unlikely in 2016). While Fraser has all of his digits crossed for Sweden, I’ll have mine crossed for Canada…slash Switzerland.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 6
  • Fraser 10
  • James 5
  • Jaz 10
  • Martin 7
  • Mrs. Jaz 8
  • Nick 4
  • Penny 5
  • Rory 1
  • Wolfgang 12

Switzerland’s EBJ Jury score is…6.8

 

 

With a slightly above-average score for Switzerland locked in, that’s six more songs I can now file away under ‘Reviewed’. As you might have noticed, there wasn’t a massive difference of opinion between the three of us critiquing today – but survey those scores again, and you’ll see basically every number from 1-12 pop up at least once. That variety has left us with these results: 

  1. Italy (9)
  2. Sweden (7.3)
  3. Switzerland (6.8)
  4. Cyprus (5.7)
  5. Georgia (5.3)
  6. Belarus (4.8)

Close, but not close enough! If you’ve forgotten the results of Part 1 (or have dropped by randomly and didn’t see them at all) then I can reveal that Francesca has failed to overtake France on the EBJ Top 43 table. But she’s topped this round of reviews, so that’s something – maybe I’ll send her a congratulatory card.

Next time, two British bloggers will join me to discuss Albania, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, the Netherlands and…San Marino (there’s SO much to say about San Marino). Feathers and curse words will (probably) fly, so you won’t want to miss that.

In the meantime, let us know what you think of our winner and of our losers. Do you agree that No Degree of Separation is a stunner, or are you anti-Italy this year? Is the Georgian entry just bonkers enough in your opinion, or way too cray-cray for your taste? If you’re thinking it, type it in the comments. My mother would really appreciate it.

 

Hej då!

 

 2015sig

 

 

Time-Warp Thursday | Switzerland’s nul-point nightmare

Good morning/afternoon/evening/whatever, peeps! Welcome to what would be a Time-Warp Tuesday for regular people, but at the hands of Jaz has turned into a Time-Warp Thursday, as I am yet to stick to my New Year’s resolution of getting my s%#t together. Today’s trip back in Eurovision time will land us in the 1990s, when everything was awesome, no arguments. OR WAS IT? Perhaps not, for a certain Swiss miss who won the right to represent her country amidst the euphoria (*insert the Loreen reference of your choice here*) of newfound fame, only to crash and burn at the hands of the press and a universally unimpressed continent. This is a story that I feel compelled to rehash after reading Nul Points by Tim Moore for the billionth time recently, and I apologise in advance if it gets a little heavy and/or rant-like. I’m not just about the fluff, guys!

 

Birmingham 1998 | Switzerland | Lass’ Ihn by Gunvor Guggisberg

If you were under the impression that Dana International was the most controversial competitor of 1998, I’m here to tell you that…well, yeah, you’re right. But when it comes to who was the most scandalous, Switzerland’s Gunvor wins hands-down – though I doubt that’d be any consolation of sorts after her failure to squeeze a single point out of any of the twenty-four countries eligible to vote for her.

Hers was a classic rags-to-riches tale (only with a few minor twists and a lot more tap dancing that Cinderella could ever have managed in those glass slippers). Gunvor came from humble beginnings to become a seven-time Swiss tap-dance champion, before spending her teenage years working to help support her newly-single mother and younger sister. Secretary duties gave way to stardom when she won not one, but two TV talent shows, and being snapped up to compete in Switzerland’s ’98 national final soon followed. It was this sudden buzz about a Miss Guggisberg that attracted media interest – most of all from a tabloid that would only serve to big her up, wait until she felt the effects of fame, and then tear her down at the most inopportune moment.

From that point, there was more drama in Gunvor’s life than in a soap opera and more diva-like behaviour than Dana International could dream of demonstrating. I’ll give you the short version: everyone starts gushing over hot new singer; singer is lavished with attention by the press who label her ‘the new Céline Dion’; singer gets big head and begins taking advantage of her status via spending sprees and serious attitude…and then, the revelations begin. A fortnight before the Birmingham contest took place, celebrity mag Blick made a swift turnaround on the good publicity they’d given Gunvor leading up to May 1998, dropping bombshells left, right and centre re: her frivolous financial habits and participation in saucy photo shoots. Anyone with vocal chords then proceeded to pop up and make a choice remark about the girl who had so recently been Switzerland’s sweetheart. But things were about to get worse.

On the morning of the ESC final, Blick laid all of their sordid cards on the table, exposing Gunvor’s alleged period as a provider of “services” in a fancy brothel. You can argue that she got what she deserved – someone who demanded expensive shoes and clothes on the regular only to return them in less-than-perfect condition (among a host of other misdeeds, if Blick was to be believed) could do with being taken down a peg. But whether that’s your point of view or not, you have to admit it took guts for Gunvor to even show her face on stage that night. Not only did she follow through, but she did it by channeling some of that attitude that gave her a bad rep off stage, but gave her time on stage a bit of grunt as she urged a friend to ‘let him go at last’ – ‘him’ being a sleazy womaniser. There’s very little in her face that says ‘I’m not enjoying this a whole lot, but I’m bloody well going to do it anyway’, which is what you’d expect once you know what went down only hours before.

Considering most of her awful press was contained within Switzerland, or drowned out by Dana’s death threats, Gunvor probably didn’t step out on stage thinking she’d come away with no more points than she’d started with. Really, Blick couldn’t be blamed for her most bottom of bottom-scoreboard finishes. The tabloid may have crushed her confidence and sent her post-ESC career into the toilet (where derisive chat-show hosts, tearful interviews and bankruptcy awaited) but to the unsuspecting, non-Swiss voters, it was the package of song and performance that somehow had nobody dialing her number.

Looking at a lot of the infamous zero-pointers, it’s puzzling as to why they ended up with nothing. Most of the time, even the most horrific or bland entries scrounge up something. In Gunvor’s case, I can’t be alone (although I know music is subjective) in thinking that, in a contest of multiple boring ballads, hers was not even close to being the worst entry on offer. Hungary’s A Holnap Már Nem Lesz Szomorú? Worse. Slovakia’s Modlitba? Worse. Belgium’s Dis Oui? Much worse – and yet that assault on Europe’s ears came 6th with 122 points (if you feel the way I do about it, you’ll be just as shocked). Here’s a recap of 1998 if you want a refresher.

Lass’ Ihn is a decent song. Sure, there’s cons – i.e. it’s veering into vanilla territory, and features a violin solo that doesn’t totally belong – but it’s catchy and not lacking in power. It was well performed too, against the odds, with just a few sound issues taking away some shine. I don’t think it should have been with the likes of the Netherlands, UK and Malta in fighting for the win against Israel, or anything; it’s just a shame that the negligible phone-ins for Switzerland (I assume at least one person in Europe voted for them) didn’t translate into a single point. One tiny mark of appreciation that may have given someone who desperately needed a shred of dignity to hang onto precisely that.

For me, this entry is mid-table, even taking into account the questionable dress Gunvor was wearing. After all, there were many unfortunate fashion choices on show in Birmingham, even by 1998 standards: take the mucus-coloured evening gown/business suit that didn’t stop Chiara from taking Malta to third place, for example. The reality of Eurovision is that not every song can succeed…and one of them must come last. But losing with nul points is an infrequent phenomenon that’s often hard to explain. Switzerland’s zero in the 2004 semi-final is somewhat understandable, but that same fate six years earlier in the final is a bit of a mystery to me.

I can’t help feeling sorry for Gunvor, who may have left most of the scandals behind today and has recently-released music to her name, but who will likely never forget her very public rise to fame and fall from grace. I wonder if she’s recovered enough to tune in to the contest these days, or even to watch her performance again and wonder, Linda Martin-style, ‘Why me?’.

 
Love or hate ‘Lass’ Ihn’ or have an explanation for the nul points? Let me know below.

 

Retro Rankings | Istanbul 2004

If you’re like me, under the impression that Malmö’s Eurovision could not possibly have happened more than a few months ago, think again…and then collapse in shock when you realise we’re just over four weeks away from contest 59. Here’s hoping there will actually be a stage for this year’s contestants to perform on by then. Right now, all eyes are on Amsterdam’s Eurovision In Concert, which will give us more of an insight into who’s going to nail and who’s going to fail the show proper. But since I’m not currently en route to the Netherlands (and not bitter at all about that *grumbles very bitterly indeed*) I have the opportunity to continue on my quest to cram in as many posts as possible before the big event.

My reviews, predictions, and mini-series of Malmö flashbacks are soon to come, but today I thought I’d head back in time to contest 49, which took place ten whole years ago in Istanbul. I’ve done some Retro Rankings in the past (which you can check out here) and I thought it would be interesting to choose the 2004 contest this time around, not long after ranking 2014 for the first time. Back then, 36 countries competed, six of whom have since opted out of the ESC. The quality of songs was pretty low IMO, but among the hideous and sleep-inducing entries were some absolute gems. Without further ado, here is how I rate all 36 a decade later.

Just one thing…I haven’t commented on all of the songs, so if you want a reason for the position of one I’ve left ambiguous, just ask. Also, here’s a recap of the Class of Istanbul for those of you who need a pre-ranking refresher.

 

Now, my rankings. For real this time.

 

1. Serbia & Montenegro/ Lane Moje by Željko Joksimović – 2004 may have been a crappy year, song-wise, but it did introduce me to what would become my favourite Eurovision entry OF ALL TIME! Sorry to put that so aggressively. ŽJ’s first and best contest foray is hauntingly beautiful on the first listen and equally so on the 567, 869th listen (which is around about where I’m up to) and I’ve never come across anybody who doesn’t agree with that to some extent. If you happen to be that person and make it clear to me, I may get violent.

Serbia and Montenegro were more than all white.

Serbia and Montenegro were more than all white.

2. Ukraine/ Wild Dances by Ruslana – Despite my love for the above, I would never dream of questioning whether Ukraine deserved their one and only win to date. In fact, this has to be one of the most deserving winners ever. Even if we cast the perfect performance, costumes and whip-cracking aside, the song itself is still a flawless example of ethno-pop/rock. Ruslana knew how the ESC should be done (and she’s also available to be hired for parties as a Xena impersonator, FYI).

3. Turkey/ For Real by Athena – The relaxed approach many host countries take with their entries (with the pressure to win off/desire to win again nonexistent) often results in effortless success, because they’re not trying too hard. When Turkey hosted, their entry was chill, quirky and fun, but energetic enough to get the crowd going like no other. I’m actually having to clamp my mouth shut as we speak to stop myself from bursting into that chorus. Up, I wanna bring you up…

4. The Netherlands/ Without You by Re-Union – In the first year of televised semis, the Netherlands made the final with this cruisy sing-along song (and nothing short of Anouk got them back there). It didn’t do much once Saturday night came, ending the evening in 20th place, but I’ve always had a soft spot for it. It may be humble (meaning many viewers would have used it as their toilet break) but it provided some sweet relief from the more extravagant efforts.

5. Austria/ Du Bist by Tie Break – In case you didn’t know, I love a boyband. Naturally, for me, Eurovision + boyband = JACKPOT. Prime Minister, Eden, Blue…I’ve squealed hysterically over them all. So it is that as lame as Du Bist was on a fancy stage in a mahusive arena – and as lazily as the three guys were dressed for such an event – I still give it the thumbs up.

It wasn't Casual Friday, but Tie-Break clearly didn't get the memo.

It wasn’t Casual Friday, but Tie-Break clearly didn’t get the memo.

6. France/ A Chaque Pas by Jonatan Cerrada

7. Albania/ The Image of You by Anjeza Shahini

8. Spain / Para Llenarme De Ti by Ramón

9. Belgium/ 1 Life by Xandee – Eurodance magic, that’s what this is. Not once have I watched/listened to it without doing the dance steps Xandee and her backup duo/lady and gentleman lover (that hip rolling bit gives everything away) bust out at the beginning. Because YOLO – which is coincidentally what the 2014 version of this song would be called.

10. Slovenia/ Stay Forever by Platin

11. Germany/ Waiting For Tonight by Max

12. Iceland/ Heaven by Jónsi

Before there was Greta and Jonsi, there was Just Jonsi. And his finely sculpted cheekbones.

Before there was Greta and Jonsi, there was Just Jonsi. And his finely sculpted cheekbones.

 

13. Poland/ Love Song by Blue Café

14. Norway/ High by Knut Anders Sørum – Norway had the unfortunate honour of being last in the ’04 final, and not for the first or last time, I have to wonder why. High was far from Wild Dances amazeballs territory, but it was much less yawn-worthy than a bunch of other finalists, and had an anthemic quality that worked well in the arena.

15. Latvia/ Dziesma Par Laimi by Fomins & Kleins

16. Belarus/ My Galileo by Alexandra & Konstantin

17. Romania/ I Admit by Sanda Ladosi

18. Russia/ Believe Me by Julia Savicheva

19. Bosnia & Herzegovina/ In The Disco by Deen – Before B & H brought us such spellbinding masterpieces as Lejla and Bistra Voda, they had this to offer. There’s quite a contrast there, you might say. I don’t hate this – it’s a bit of a guilty pleasure, and I think of it as the rich man’s version of Hungary 2009 – but I much, much prefer the Bosnia & Herzegovina that gave us class…not ass.

"See my vest, see my vest, plus my bronzed and hairless chest..."

“See my vest, see my vest, plus my bronzed and hairless chest…”

20. Sweden/ It Hurts by Lena Philipsson

21. Greece/Shake It by Sakis Rouvas

22. Estonia/ Tii by Neiokõsõ

23. FYR Macedonia/ Life by Toše Proeski

24. United Kingdom/ Hold On To Our Love by James Fox – Just looking at this written down makes me yawn. Like so many entries the same year, the UK’s was perfectly nice, but extremely boring. Adding to my pain is the fact that their NF that year had at least three better options, including one of my favourite NF songs EVER from a boyband (!) called Hyrise. Hashtag if only.

 25. Cyprus/ Stronger Every Minute by Lisa Andreas

26. Malta/ On Again…Off Again by Julie & Ludwig

Ludwig's attempts at serenading Julie didn't go so well...

Ludwig’s attempts at serenading Julie didn’t go so well…

27. Croatia/ You Are The Only One by Ivan Mikulic

28. Denmark/ Shame On You by Thomas Thordarson

29. Israel/ Le’ha’amin by David d’Or – I’m sorry to say that when David opened his mouth to sing his first note, it marked the first time I laughed out loud at anything Eurovision-related (which says a lot since Year Lordi was the first contest I saw). There are decent elements in this song, but that voice! I just can’t take it seriously. It’s a case of what I now refer to as ‘The Curse of Cezar’ – only it didn’t work out so well for non-qualifier David.

30. Finland/ Two To Tango by Jari Sillanpää

31. Monaco/ Notre Planète by Maryon

32. Ireland/ If My World Stopped Turning by Chris Doran – And the ‘Why Bother?’ Award for Most Pointless Attempt to Win Eurovision goes to…Chris Doran! Let’s have a round of applause, if you’re not unconscious. Brian McFadden of Westlife fame (here I go again with the boybands) co-wrote this snoozefest, and because I know he’s capable of writing way better stuff, I blame him entirely for this faux pas.

33. Andorra/ Jugarem A Estimar-nos by Marta Roure

34. Portugal/ Foi Magia by Sofia

35. Lithuania/ What Happened To Our Love by Linas & Simona

36. Switzerland/ Celebrate by Piero & the Music Stars – Piero and his music “stars”* remain the only act to have received zero points in a semi final, and there’s no confusion as to how that happened. Celebrate was like a low-grade JESC entry, only performed by adults dressed like children, which made it so much worse. The lyricist clearly had the reading comprehension skills of a four-year-old.

The Swiss Wiggles just never took off.

The Swiss Wiggles just never took off.

 

* While they were onstage, their star status was easily challenged. But they did give a decent a cappella performance in the green room which was worth at least one point.

 

I’ve had my say, so now it’s your turn. Do you think I’m crazy putting the Swiss on the bottom and that Piero should be Celebrate-ed instead? Did Ruslana whip-crack her way into your heart, or do you think Wild Dances was overrated? Whatever your opinion on the entries of Istanbul, let me know below!

 

NEXT TIME: Malmö gets the full recap treatment as I look back on the stats, results and best bits of Eurovision 2013.

 

Mediocrity, Melodifestivalen and UMK: Welcome to February!

Madonna once said “Time. Goes. By. So. Slowly.” You can hear it for yourself on that dodgy yet somehow appealing song she did a few years ago that sampled ABBA. But let me tell you, she was a lying harlot, because literally one minute ago it was New Year’s Eve (well, not literally…but bear with my exaggeration) and now, it’s freaking February! I’ve had to change my calendar already, and that is not what I call a leisurely passing of time.  

On the plus side, February is going to make up for the pathetic showing January put on, national final-wise. The next four weeks are packed with preselections, beginning with this Super Saturday we’re about to experience. That means I won’t be posting the retro ranking I promised at the end of my last post just yet, but I plan to squeeze it in amongst all of the NF reviews and predictions that are coming your way via moi this month.

Firstly, it’s time to check out the main events of this evening, direct from Finland, Switzerland, and (saving the best for last) Sweden. Get excited, guys!

 

Who will Finnish first in the Finnish final?

UMK-2014

During its warm-up period of advancements and eliminations, Finland’s UMK has sent a whopping FOUR WHOLE SONGS packing. Eight remain in with a chance to succeed Team Ding Dong in Copenhagen.

  1. Something Better by Softengine
  2. Hope by Hanna Sky
  3. God/Drug by MIAU
  4. Going Down by Lauri Mikkola
  5. Shining Bright by MadCraft
  6. Sängyn Reunalla by Mikko Pohjola
  7. Top of the World by Clarissa feat. Josh Standing
  8. Selja by Hukka Ja Mama

Up until yesterday, I hadn’t listened to any of the Finnish songs, wanting to make the result a brand-new discovery. But having heard only good things about the finalists (bar the odd snarky comment) I couldn’t resist stopping by Youtube and feasting my ears on one of those handy recap videos made up of thirty-second snippets.

My verdict? Well, any seasoned ESC fan knows you can’t judge a song by one listen of an excerpt. That’s why I’m still holding out hope that I’m more impressed by the full song that wins than I was by any of the snippets. Don’t get me wrong, there was some promising stuff in there – but you UMK followers out there had me thinking I was going to be blown away by each and every one, darn you.

The songs that did appeal to me on snippet alone: God/Drug, Sängyn Reunalla and Top of the World. I’ve seen some of these crop up in the fandom (i.e. on social media/in blog comment sections) as favourites, and there’s a 50% chance one of them will win, so…happy face?

Truth is, I don’t have the authority to predict UMK 2014. But since I distinctly remember saying ‘meh’ to a snippet of Marry Me this time last year, that may be irrelevant.

Those in the know – what do you think? Who’s got the goods to represent Finland in Denmark?

 

Swiss-appointment in Die Grosse Entscheidungsshow  

Moving on to tonight’s second final, I must give you a warning: prepare yourself for a rather bitchy Jaz.

In all my history as an NF follower, I have never been impressed by the Swiss line-up, but I’ve always been able to console myself with the few musical gems present. Unfortunately, things have taken a turn for the even worse this year, because Switzerland is bringing us what I believe to be the worst national final line-up of ALL. TIME. I don’t even think Kanye West would interrupt me to disagree.

I actually miss Piero and his music stars. Oh dear god.

This year’s final is making me miss Piero and his music stars. Oh dear god!

For years I’ve been wondering what Switzerland’s problem is. Why have we been getting stuff on a par with The Wiggles’ Big Red Car year after year, save a couple of brief, shining examples of semi-decent music? This year, each Swiss broadcaster even had to go through an ‘Expert Check’ stage to whittle down their submitted list of songs to the best of the best (or so we were led to believe) and yet, the six songs remaining are a woeful bunch, IMHO. Perhaps the ‘experts’ in question thought their role was to sniff out any signs of potential Eurovision success and destroy them. If so, that misinterpretation has left us with these:

  1. Au Paradis by Christian Tschanz – gravelly-sung, inoffensive (read: boring) guitar pop. The only saving grace is that, since it’s in French and I hardly know any, I have no idea if the lyrics are up to the cringe-worthy standard of the English-language entries.
  2. Together Forever by 3 For All – okay, so the accordion riff is catchy, but everything else, title and group name included, is pure Swiss cheese. It makes me sicker than the thought of Engelbert Humperdinck in a mankini.
  3. La Luce Del Cuore by Nino Colonna – not awful, but forgettable. The kind of song that wouldn’t make it past the first evening of San Remo.
  4. I Still Believe by Yasmina Hunzinger – I hope you’re hungry, ‘cause here’s another hunk of Swiss cheese! This is 2014, and I think it’s beyond time for the rubbish ballads about believing and achieving and having faith and uniting as one to be shelved. Or preferably, binned.
  5. Une Terre Sans Vous by Natacha & Stéphanie – this actually borders on being nice, but that doesn’t stop it from being bland. If it goes to Copenhagen, expect it to be everybody’s toilet break song.
  6. Hunter of Stars by Sebalter – last but not least, a more alternative version of boring guitar pop. Some of the lyrics make no sense, which I happen to prefer over lyrics that encourage us to join hands and all that crap. Send this, Switzerland. Why not?

So yeah, you could say I’m disappointed in the Swiss. Last year’s Grosse Show at least had the likes of Carrousel, Jesse Ritch and Melissa raising the bar. This year, I can’t express enthusiasm for any particular song to win, and that makes me sad.

I can say who I think will win, and that’s 3 For All, Yasmina or Sebalter. Do you agree? Am I being too negative, or do you think Switzerland should just stay home and think things over this year?

 

Saturday’s saving grace, straight from Sweden

My Swiss rant is out of the way, so let’s get on to the good stuff. Melodifestivalen has arrived!

Call it a cliché, but Melfest has long been my favourite NF. The standard is always high (unless they’ve won Eurovision the year before) and it always attracts a great mixture of big names and relative unknowns. Last year Melfest provided my top ESC-related moment of the year when Robin Stjernberg emerged from Andra Chansen and won. I’ll never forget the look on his face when it dawned on him what had happened.

You could say Robin was taken by surprise...

You could say Robin was taken by surprise…

Winning saw him represent Sweden in Malmö Arena last May, and fittingly, that’s the location of tonight’s first semi final, which will begin and end with two of the aforementioned big names.

The eight competing songs were released earlier this evening. Here’s the running order.

  1. To The End by YOHIO
  2. Aleo by Mahan Moin
  3. Bröder by Linus Svenning
  4. Casanova by Elisa Lindström
  5. Bedroom by Alvaro Estrella
  6. Songbird by Ellen Benediktson
  7. Bygdens Son by Sylvester Schlegel
  8. Survivor by Helena Paparizou   
They're a handsome bunch, but are their songs as attractive?

They’re a handsome bunch, but are their songs as attractive?

It’s all about the soloists tonight, but – let’s not kid ourselves – mainly YOHIO and Helena. They may be getting a lot of love, but they’ll also be judged harshly on their previous efforts, YOHIO for Melfest 2013 and Helena for Eurovision 2001 and 2005. Did To The End and Survivor impress, or did the newer-comers leave the old-timers in their dust? Well, here’s my top 4.

Aleo this ain’t no cookie-cutter ethno-dance track, which means it’s not as instant as the Allez Ola Olés of the world, but I like that it keeps veering into unexpected places.

Bröder I expected heavy metal and death growls from the pierced and tattooed Linus (yes, I know what they say about books and covers and judging and whatnot) but this is actually really nice. There are heavier parts that allow him to get rough, but generally it’s quite nice. There’s some emotion in there that got me.

Bedroom hands down my favourite of the semi, this is a ridiculously catchy dance track that wouldn’t be out of place on the radio anywhere, if it weren’t for the risqué subject matter. I really hope this goes through, but that depends a lot on whether Alvaro can pull off a decent live vocal. If he can’t, it could be a train wreck.

Survivor how could I say no to Helena? Again, I had expectations that were defied, because this is not a schlager-scented club banger. It’s more of a pop ballad, with a strong chorus and verses. It doesn’t scream “WINNER!” but it should do her well.

Now, for prediction time…half of these semi-finalists will advance in some way as normal – the top two to the final, and the third and fourth-placers to Andra Chansen (which, as we now know, is not at all a sign they can’t possibly go on and win). This seems like an easy semi to predict as far as the finalists go, but we’ll see how what happens. This is what my gut is telling me:

To the final: YOHIO and Helena.

To Andra Chansen: Linus and Alvaro.

I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the favourites got bumped to Andra. Melodifestivalen has been both incredibly predictable and shockingly random in the past. Either way, it’s good to hear the show back at the usual standard, as indicated by this first lot of entries. I don’t think SVT will be in it (a.k.a. Eurovision) to win it again just yet, but it seems they’d like a stronger result than last year’s.

 

The tasty leftovers: what else is happening tonight?

This is a Super Saturday and a half, folks. Finland, Switzerland and Sweden aside, here’s what you can be watching while your non-Eurovision fan friends go out and socialise.

Heat 1 of Iceland’s Söngvakeppnin

Heat 2 of Hungary’s A Dal

Semi 1 of Latvia’s Dziesma

Show 8 of Lithuania’s Eurovizijos Dainu Konkursa

For a comprehensive list of what’s on, when, and where you can tune in, visit the guide over at Wiwi Bloggs. 

 

No matter what you choose as your Saturday night viewing, I hope you enjoy it. And don’t go too hard – the rest of February’s weekends will be just as busy, so you’ll need some energy for those. I know I’ll have a great time posting this ASAP then going to bed because I can’t be bothered getting up at 3am to watch a wonderful but highly predictable Melfest semi (which would be my NF of choice, obvs). Maybe I’ll dream of the day Switzerland becomes an ESC force to be reckoned with? 

 

What are you watching tonight? Who should win where? And, if you’re reading this post-Saturday night…OMG, what was up with that result?