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IS IT TOO LATE FOR (SOME ESC FINAL) LOVE? Looking back at Tel Aviv’s Saturday show, at long last

Hi guys! Jaz here. Before I begin this post properly, I wanted to apologise for being so AWOL since Eurovision and for taking an Alekseev-esque forever to get this final review up. The only way it could have been later is if I posted it closer to the final of Eurovision 2020 – and believe me, that could easily have been the case. Thanks to a lot of life stuff (some good, some bad and some that kept me inconveniently busy) I’ve had to prioritise other things for the past four weeks, and I couldn’t be on the ball with post-ESC discussions which I’m sincerely sorry for. I’m also sorry to announce that, since too much time has passed and because I’m still under pressure, I won’t be able to hand out any Eurovision awards this year. I’ve done so in some form every single year since 2009, so I’m pretty sad about having to abandon them – but I am planning to bring them back bigger (SO MUCH BIGGER) and better next year. By then you’ll be looking at a new and improved EBJ, because at the moment I’m also working on a complete revamp/rebrand of the blog to coincide – more or less – with its 10th birthday (!!!). I felt that an extreme makeover was due, and I thought this was the perfect time to make it happen. Please stay tuned for the unveiling (a costume reveal of sorts) and don’t give up on me if you’ve enjoyed my contest-driven content in the past. I’m still here, planning exciting Eurovisiony things for the off season, and I’m always available to chat on my socials. Follow me everywhere and/or subscribe to EBJ in the sidebar, so you know when I’m back on track and when you can check out my kickass new look and layout! Now, back to today’s post…

 

BREAKING NEWS: I’m still alive! My excuse for taking so long to get this grand final review done is that I pushed everything non-ESC in my life aside in the contest lead-up (since I couldn’t concentrate on anything else). And so, after the show I sadly had to spend some time attending to stuff like going to work, paying my bills and interacting with other human beings.

But I’m back on the blog now, with a supersized look at what went down on May 18. This was the final from top to bottom, feat. the controversial aftermath that’s left the contest with some loose ends. Are you up for attempting to read the whole thing? If so, get comfortable, brew yourself a behemoth cup of coffee, and I’ll see you on the other side of this Eurovision 2019 tsunami of typing. Catch me down in the comments where we can talk about all things Tel Aviv…if there’s anything I haven’t already mentioned by then.

 

 

That’s how you start a show! The star-studded flag parade

I don’t know about you, but I love the now-traditional ESC final flag parade/artist parade/whatever you want to call it. It gives all of the acts a pressure-free moment in the spotlight to say hey to the crowd, have a dance break or wordlessly advocate the destruction of capitalism. You know, the usual.

This year there were plenty of non-competing stars involved too, i.e. Dana International, Ilanit and Netta (of course). But the best guest was Nadav Guedj. No longer a teenager but still looking 30 like he did in Vienna at age 16, he asked us to let him show us Tel Aviv IN Tel Aviv, and it was magical. Thanks to KAN for making all of our dreams come true by bringing him back. I just wish we could have had the full three minutes of Golden Boy, since Nadav is the self-proclaimed King of Fun and all.

 

 

The automatic finalists bring their A-game

Now, on to the filling of this song contest sandwich. It’s a blessing and a curse having your spot in the final secured, and it sometimes feels like the Big 5/host country don’t have the same fight of the countries that made it through semis. I was pretty impressed this year, though…mostly. The first auto-finalist to take the stage was Germany, followed by hosts Israel, then the UK, France, Italy and last but not least, Spain. My ranking of their performances from ‘HECK YES!’ to ‘hmm’ might surprise you.

Spain Why did I love this? How did the tacky two-storey house manage to work? Why did the giant puppet not-on-a-string amuse, not confuse me? It must be the sheer power of Miki, his biceps and La Venda. This whole performance was OTT and not at all how I would have played it – but it was fun, created a party atmosphere and closed off the show in classic Eurovision style.

France Speaking of OTT, France could have taken Chanel’s advice and taken one thing off before leaving the house (or in this case, dropped one element of their staging before taking it to Tel Aviv) but again, I didn’t mind that much. Bilal has sass, stage presence and style pouring out of him. Combine that with the poignance of his two dancers and the home video slotted in at the end, and you’ve got a memorable and moving performance.

Italy For me, this live didn’t quite do justice to Soldi as a song, but that’s because the song is so good it’s better heard and not seen (not that I mind looking at Mahmood for three minutes). I would have preferred more of a ‘Sacha Jean Baptiste Does Switzerland’ approach to the visuals: edgy camera cuts, a restricted colour scheme and that screen ratio that gives things a music video look. But this is Italy and they never completely miss the mark.

Israel Say what you want about the song (and the possibility of Kobi being Sacha Baron Cohen in disguise) but this was a very classy presentation from Israel. After the bonkers-ness of Toy, it was a nice contrast to see them pull off something serious and sophisticated. There weren’t any plot twists, but a song being staged exactly as it sounds like it should be isn’t a bad thing.

Germany Call me crazy, but my opinion of Sister changed for the (slightly) better after Carlotta and Laurita had done their thing. Against the odds and my better judgment, I genuinely liked what Germany did with their staging, simple as it was. Chemistry and vocals were top-notch. This was not the definite last place performance I was expecting. Lucky I didn’t bet on it!

The UK Michael’s performance might be my least favourite of the auto-finalists, but it wasn’t bad. It just wasn’t anything special. It felt a bit half-baked as he wandered around the stage by himself for the first few minutes, and even when his backing singers materialised, it wasn’t a ‘wow’ moment.

 

 

Highlights of the first half

The honour of opening this year’s final went to Malta, which was going to be no mean feat for 18-year-old deer-in-the-headlights Michela. Chameleon was the best possible song to start with, but would being first cab off the rank scare her into underperforming? That was the question, and no way, José was the answer. Michela did an awesome job, even if she still lacked the confidence of former openers like Laura Tesoro and Imri Ziv.

Poor Albania was stuck with the cursed second slot (which was a waste of space for any country that wasn’t Germany, to be honest) but I was just happy to have Jonida in the final. As always, she looked stunning – Eurovision on Saturday night, flamenco competition on Sunday morning – and as always, she sang like an extremely impassioned songbird. Moody lighting! Fire! Writhing CGI bodies in a massive bird’s nest! This had it all.

Once again I had the pants charmed off me (not literally, but it was a close one) by the Czech Republic. Lake Malawi are fantastic live – with lead singer Albert delivering vocals almost as perfect as his teeth – and their simple-but-effective performance provided damning evidence that less is more. I couldn’t complain about any aspect of their three minutes, even if you held a confetti cannon to my head.

If you thought Sweden wasn’t going to make my shortlist of first-half highlights, do you even know me at all? Their staging was glorious, John was his usual charismatic self and The Mamas were fab. I would like some more fire from Sweden next year, and they’ll need it if they want to secure that seventh win Björkman in particular is so desperate for.

Everybody was switched on for the final, and that was extra evident with Cyprus. If you read my SF1 review you’ll have seen my Tamta roast (she wasn’t putting in any effort, her outfit was atrocious, etc) and while I stand by what I said then, I have to hand it to her – that Saturday night performance was AMAZING. Whatever was holding her back earlier in the week was no longer an issue, and she showed us all why she’s such a superstar when it mattered most. I actually came around on the crystal-encrusted bathing suit and crotch-high platform boots, so I guess I can’t stand by my initial comments on those. It’s not a great getup for grocery shopping, but for Eurovision? Sure.

The one to watch out for in this half was The Netherlands. And if there was anything amiss or missing in the semi – camera connection, descending lamps that dropped down a little too far, etc – it had been dealt with to make this a definite contender, if not the Fairytale-type runaway winner the odds were suggesting it could be. I still had the overwhelming desire to pick up that piano and throw it across the arena, but I couldn’t because a) I was at home in Australia and not inside the arena, and b) I’d have trouble lifting it, let alone making it airborne.

 

 

My favourite moments from a seriously stacked second half

Back when I reviewed Norway I said Spirit In The Sky was way too much fun to be left in the semi and miss out on the final top 10. Alexandra, Tom and Fred reminded me why with their sensational three-minute schlagerjoikfest (there’s a word I never thought I’d use, but I hope I get to use it again). I still wasn’t totally sold on the visuals, but the song is irresistible. And Alexandra is a Nordic queen who we need at Eurovision solo ASAP (no offence, boys).

The award for Most Improved Between SF and GF goes to…who else but Estonia? Victor’s semi performance at Eesti Laul was super ropey only for him to pull himself together for the final, and the exact same thing happened at Eurovision. Weird. Whatever the reason for the tune-up, the only thing wrong with Estonia’s performance on Saturday was that shot of a cameraman and the side of the stage that went on for a full three seconds. What is it with songs called Storm and things going wrong? Granted, a dodgy shot isn’t on the same scale as a stage crasher, but I’m starting to think this song title is cursed.

All references to how ridiculously good-looking Chingiz is aside (for the moment), Azerbaijan was well and truly back this year. If X My Heart was a half-hearted hop, Truth was a running leap across the Grand Canyon that landed safely on the other side. They may have been trying too hard with that tacky representation of Chingiz’ soul taking a quick vacay in the arena rafters…but apart from that, I have no issues. I would love to see Mr Mustafayev back at Eurovision in the future doing some of the flamenco-fusion he does so well. Preferably shirtless.

It was going to be hard for Serbia to stand out in such a competitive half of the final. In all honesty, they didn’t. But that doesn’t mean Nevena didn’t deliver absolute perfection. I love Kruna on its own, but the atmospheric staging, glamourous/edgy styling and phenomenal vocals were the salted caramel syrup and toasted coconut flakes on top (great, now I’m hungry).

I don’t know where Switzerland got that extra spark from, but it was in the air the whole time Luca and his ladies (and gentlemen) in red were dirty dancing their butts off on stage. This felt like a surefire podium finisher to me, or at least Switzerland’s most successful contest in (what feels like) forever. She Got Me was never going to be vocal jury bait, but it nailed the Eurobanger brief.

How can I not mention my homegirl Kate Miller-Heidke? With all the momentum she’d built during the week and all the talk of Australia potentially taking the trophy home, I was extra anxious during her performance. Would she deliver a knockout vocal again? Would the poles bend and not snap? Would she succumb to the pressure and accidentally fling her mic across the arena and concuss Jon Ola Sand? Thankfully, KMH sang beautifully and did not injure herself or the Executive Supervisor of the EBU. See, Australians can behave themselves when they’re overseas! Zero Gravity’s staging was and will remain iconic for a long time to come, so a big congrats to our delegation for making magic.

 

 

The best and worst of the interval acts

In hindsight, the 2019 show should have been called the Eurovision Interval Act Contest. If that were the case and we were awarding points to everyone who occupied the HOUR-LONG voting window, my douze would go to the Song Switch for sure. Conchita, Måns, Eleni and Verka practically blew the roof off Expo Tel Aviv (is that an inappropriate way of describing it?) with their respective reworkings of Heroes, Fuego, Dancing Lasha Tumbai and Toy. The most powerful rendition was Conchita’s; MZW gets the gong for Song I’ll Be Playing On Spotify Constantly; Verka by Eleni shouldn’t have worked but somehow it did (I could say the same for the strategically-placed stars on her bodysuit); and Verka herself took Toy to brilliant new levels of bonkers. I would happily watch an entire concert of Eurovision grads singing each other’s entries, especially if it culminates in a group song with yet another former winner like Gali Atari.

My other favourite interval act – which I had to YouTube later because Aussie broadcaster SBS cut it out to make room for an ad break – was The Idan Raichel Project with Bo’ee. I was already a big fan of Idan, so when I found out he was on the program it was like discovering Darin and Agnes were doing Malmö all over again (well, maybe not quite that exciting, but what is?). This guy moves me with his music like an Israeli version of Joci Pápai, and there was no chance I’d be unaffected by his Eurovision appearance. Any chance we can have him and his project represent Israel one day, KAN? You’d get most of my votes if you made it happen.

Then there was Netta, who popped up again in a subtle yellow number to perform Margaret’s In My Cabana. Or was it her new song Nana Banana? I can’t really tell the difference, but I always enjoy watching her do her thing.

The eyepatch-wearing elephant in the room at this point is Madonna, who was sickeningly overpaid to “perform” (a.k.a. attempt to sing and then have the crap autotuned out of her voice) Like A Prayer – a song of hers I do normally enjoy – and Future – a song of hers I don’t want to enjoy but find myself singing in the shower. If we’re going to compare her to the 26 acts that performed in the competition, here’s my verdict: her staging and costuming were elaborate and on point, but her vocals were not up to scratch. If we had to have about 57 interval acts, then I’d have preferred more affordable Israeli entertainment…or an extended Song Switch with Salvador Sobral doing his best job of Hey Mamma by the Sunstroke Project. A girl can dream.

 

 

Jaw-dropping jury results + televoting triumphs and tragedies

About six months after Malta opened the show – thanks to that excessive voting window – it was finally time for the results to filter out, starting with the points from the juries. You guys know what went down, so I’m not about to rehash the whole sequence…but here are a few things that stuck out to me.

The big shock success with the juries was North Macedonia. Maybe I should have seen it coming (I had been trying to figure out who the Austria 2018 of 2019 would be, but couldn’t land on anyone) but nope, my jaw was on the floor as big points rolled in for an equally-surprised Tamara over and over again. Proud is hardly one of my favourite entries of the year, but I couldn’t help having my heart warmed by such butt-kicking from a country that hadn’t even qualified since Baku. It’s terrible that Tamara and her team were robbed of knowing North Macedonia won the jury vote during the broadcast…but more on that in a minute.

Italy and the Czech Republic also found favour with the juries to an extent I didn’t expect. Obviously Mahmood was a jury winner in Sanremo, but I wasn’t sure the professionals would warm to the urban style of Soldi at Eurovision. That 4th-place finish said otherwise, and I was damn excited about it! I’m also thrilled for Lake Malawi, who must have come across as flawlessly to the jurors as they did to common folk like myself watching the following night. I thought the Friend of a Friend lyrics, if nothing else, might turn them off – but perhaps it really hit home that sometimes, noisy neighbours sound like YOU AND ME WHEN WE’RE MAKING LOOOOOOVE.

In terms of countries I thought would fare better than they did on the jury vote, The Netherlands and Australia come to mind. Duncan’s 3rd place is nothing to scoff at of course, but I figured if he couldn’t win the jury vote he’d have to be runner-up at least. The actual result cast some brief doubt on whether his televote score would be enough for The Netherlands to win. Kate Miller-Heidke’s 6th place was also fine, but I think some jurors might have seen her performance as novelty rather than the incredible show of talent and lady-balls that it was.

Like multiple winners before him, Duncan missed out on topping the class where the juries were concerned. See how devastated he was about that?

Serbia and Israel also did worse than I’d predicted. The host country got an especially raw deal (something we’re used to seeing at this point) with 12 points and 12 points alone from the “Belarusian jury”, which we later found out should have been a big fat zero. Poor Kobi.

After all that, it was time to move on to the televote and see how the new point-presentation method would pan out. It was confusing, it was heartbreaking here and there, and it gave us moments like these:

  • The Czech Republic receiving 7 measly public points. What was that about? I’m even more shocked by this than I am by their jury score. All I can think is that Lake Malawi’s early running order position paved the way for 23 other songs (well, minus the UK and Germany) to memory-block them into almost nothingness. FOR SHAME, EUROPE (not Australia because we gave them 2 of those 7 points).
  • Norway’s spectacular three-digit, winning – as we found out later, grr – score that more than made up for the lack of jury love for Spirit in the Sky and had Alexandra crying adorable tears of joy. If only KEiiNO had been left until last á la the “old” results sequence, ramping up the tension and letting them celebrate that televote win on camera instead of later when it dawned on them what had happened.
  • That now iconic ‘I’m sorry…’ to Germany as they scored absolutely nothing. On the one hand, it’s an achievement to rack up zero points from 40 countries, especially on more than one occasion. On the other, I do feel sorry for S!sters, who delivered the best performance possible and deserved at least a handful of points for their trouble. Having said that, I didn’t have a reason to vote for them, and I guess nobody else did either.
  • Sweden and The Netherlands being set up as the last two standing when in fact, they were not. Some people got the same enjoyment out of watching John Lundvik’s soul be destroyed that they got out of Benjamin Ingrosso’s 21 points last year, but celebrating a comparative failure is pretty mean-spirited IMO – and the new system ensuring it would be fixated on quite frankly sucks.

As a last word on this, I’m going to beg the EBU to revert back to the perfectly tense and dramatic 2016-2018 televoting sequence. It wasn’t broken, so there was no need to fix it. And that way we can avoid the on-screen devastation of cinnamon-roll Czechs, vulnerable teenagers from Malta and Swedes fooled into thinking they’re one of the two remaining contenders when they’re actually not even close. All of the above was PURE EVIL, even if it did make great TV.

 

 

Thoughts on the final scoreboard and this year’s winner…actually, wait a second!

Because which scoreboard am I supposed to discuss here? Just when we and the Eurovision acts themselves had come to terms with who finished where, mistakes became apparent. If we thought that one Danish juror ranking backwards in 2016 was bad, we were wrong.

The biggest ‘oops!’ has to be the Belarusian “jury” points – put together based on their allocation pot after the actual jurors weren’t able to, in the words of Chingiz, shut up about it – being delivered backwards. Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to how the hell that happened, but as a result, Israel ended up with 12 points when they should have received 0, and Malta was denied a douze point celebration. And that’s the tip of the iceberg in terms of what was affected by this monumental f%$k-up. You know it all by now, but Sweden moved up to 5th place, bumping Norway down to 6th; North Macedonia moved from 8th to 7th (oh, and they actually WON the jury vote); Cyprus moved from 15th to 13th; and a bunch of other countries swapped places too. WTF?!?!

Then it was revealed that, thanks to the possibility of three jurors voting backwards, Poland and Lithuania could have qualified to the final over Belarus and Denmark in their respective semis. Obviously, any truth to this can’t change anything, but that just makes me feel extra bad for the implicated countries. Lithuania might have been the most severely screwed over. An issue with the Italian televotes was dismissed, one that would have put Jurij in 10th place…but if the Russian juror alleged to have ranked backwards did do so, it would also have put Jurij 10th. He then would have tied with Leonora, and on (my) countback it seems Lithuania would have been sent through to Saturday instead. My GOD. This whole situation is messier than my bedroom, and it’s going to be hard to trust the initial results next year in the Netherlands – though you’d think this reflects so badly on the EBU, they’ll do anything to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Speaking of the Netherlands, let’s move on to happier topics (and from now on I’m talking about the altered, correct version of the scoreboard). A big belated congratulations goes to Duncan from me, for grabbing the first Dutch win in 44 years with a song that may not have been my preferred winner, but is undeniably worthy (and if you’re about to deny that, just imagine me drowning out your voice by blasting the ‘DOOOOOON’T DEEEEEEEEENYYYYYY’ part of Face the Shadow). Arcade is Amar Pelos Dois all over again for me: a beautiful ballad feat. a pitch-perfect, pared-back but still atmospheric performance that I wasn’t personally emotionally invested in, but I knew it was The One anyway and could accept that. Especially since it means I may well be off to the Netherlands next May, a place I’ve always wanted to go and a place I’m sure will host the shiz out of the ESC, if their JESC efforts are anything to go by. Also I really, really like stroopwafels – so if I do go to Amsterdam/Rotterdam/wherever, I’ll probably be eating them for every meal.

Other results that put a spring in my step in spite of the disastrous Post-Eurovision Depression were Italy finishing 2nd, their equal-highest placement since 1990 (though I was surprised they hit those heights with a good but not great performance…see below); Switzerland scoring their first top 5 finish since 1993; Sweden scoring their 7th top 5 result of the decade; Australia squeezing back into the top 10 after last year’s blip; and the Czech Republic doing pretty well for themselves even with the handicap of that disgustingly low televote score. I’m not going to dwell on the “losers” of the night, but I will say this: for the love of Jessica Garlick, PLEASE get your act together BBC. Something’s got to give and it has nothing to do with erasing Brexit from the memory of the voting public. As Leonora keeps telling us, don’t get too political…because it’s stupid.

As happy as I am with a lot of the final results, there are some that still don’t sit quite right with me. Was it just a weird contest and nothing would have made sense no matter what happened? Maybe. But I’m talking Italy’s 2nd place (which performance-wise, doesn’t feel as slick or iconic as Fuego, Beautiful Mess, Sound of Silence…I could go on); Russia’s 3rd place (which feels a little unearned, and my gut feeling is that bronze position deserved to go to Switzerland); Australia’s 9th place (call me biased, but with such a statement performance and so much pre-final momentum it seems like we should have ended up a bit higher); and a few placements further down that I’ll sit and stew about quietly because I’ve already said too much. If you’re as confused by some of the outcomes as I am, then let’s both hope 2020 brings with it a more straightforward Eurovision in every possible way.

 

 

Okay – believe it or not, I think I’ve said everything I wanted to say about this year’s dramatic, slightly disastrous (in hindsight) Eurovision final. I know it took me a few weeks longer than everyone else on the planet, but it’s better to arrive late to the party than to not turn up at all.

I still have some 2019 coverage to come here on EBJ, and then I’ll be moving on to some top-notch off-season content if I say so myself. That will include a Best of the Decade series, where we celebrate all that the ESC has gifted us throughout the 2010s…and boy, has it been generous! I hope you’ll drop by for some of that goodness. Remember to subscribe in the sidebar and/or follow me on my socials (also in the sidebar because CONVENIENCE) to make sure you don’t miss a thing.

In the meantime, hit up that comments box with your personal highlights and lowlights of Tel Aviv. Whatever you’re thinking, if it’s Eurovision-themed I want to hear it. If it isn’t, I’ll have to pass. Sorry.

 

Until next time,

 

 

 

 

 

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

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 4 feat. Armenia, Belarus, the Netherlands, Norway + Russia

Hello again, if you’ve been here before…and welcome if this is your first time dropping by! I’m Jaz, and these are my Eurovision 2019 reviews. If you’d like to catch up or need a refresh on the countries I’ve covered so far, check out Rounds 1-3, ASAP:

  • Round 1  Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Montenegro + Serbia
  • Round 2  Australia, Georgia, Hungary, Romania + Switzerland
  • Round 3  Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania + North Macedonia

All up-to-date? Awesome. I’ll get going with Round 4 then, featuring Armenia, Belarus, the Netherlands, Norway and Russia. In this bunch is the bookies’ favourite, the bookies’ second favourite, a former Junior Eurovision co-host, a powerhouse vocalist and KEiiNO (look, they’re hard to describe in just a few words). It’s a mixed bag, but I was feeling generous when I reviewed them and may have handed out some very high scores. Want to know who got what? Well, there’s only one way for you to find out!

See what I think of Srbuk, Zena, Duncan, KEiiNO and Sergey’s songs for Europe (slash Australia slash the rest of the world) and share your thoughts in the comments.

 

 

Armenia + Eurovision = a bit of a sore point for me after my precious Qami did a DNQ in Lisbon. I do understand how it happened (though I will argue that it’s an amazing song until the day I die). But that was the first time ever a song in my top three hasn’t made the final. I’m used to songs I love finishing last in the final, but the Sevak situation was a fresh kind of hell I’d prefer not to experience again. Fortunately it isn’t going to happen with Armenia this year since a) Walking Out has a way better chance of qualifying, and b) I’m not super-duper invested in it to start with.

Don’t get me wrong, I do like it. I didn’t know what we were going to get from Srbuk once we finally got it, besides something along the lines of Half A Goddess. The ESC entry didn’t end up sounding like that at all, but that’s testament to this lady’s versatility. Walking Out is more of a soulful power ballad with an edge, but almost all of its attitude comes from Srbuk herself and her cracking vocal performance (literally…watch your windows towards the end). She tells a story with her voice as she swaggers through the song, letting frustration and anger build during the verses and then venting it in the chorus. Speaking of the chorus – with a few anticlimactic ones in the 2019 contest, it’s great to have something explosive from Armenia that’s bound to be sung along to by everyone who’s ever wanted out of a relationship (or anyone who’s just feeling angsty). It’s the centrepiece of the song, as it should be. But Walking Out doesn’t reach its climax with the chorus. That happens in the last thirty seconds thanks to Srbuk’s screeching. Impressive, in-tune screeching which makes the song a lot more memorable. You know what they say: go hard or go home.

As Armenia has gone hard, I don’t think they’ll be going home early this year. Qami’s staging must have been a misstep because I do trust them to stage the heck out of a song like this. Based on the music video, I’m expecting something powerful and artistic with an emphasis on strong choreography. And of course, a troupe of attractive men wearing tuxedo jackets over their bare torsos would be a welcome addition. Shirtless men involved or not, there’s no doubt Srbuk will start the SF2 party off with a bang (too bad Maruv can’t provide the bang for SF1). And assuming she nails her vocals for the jury shows and the broadcasts, this will have major woman power. I know I said I wasn’t obsessed with Walking Out, but I still think it kicks butt. You go, girlfriend.

 

In a line An attitude-packed theme song for pissed-off spouses and other angry people 2018 VS 2019 2018 – you know I’m qrazy for Qami Predicted result SF 5th-9th, GF 8th-14th My score 8 points

 

 

 

 

Like Armenia, Belarus will be looking to recover from a somewhat surprising (until we’d witnessed the performance) DNQ in Tel Aviv. The only similarity between ZENA and Alekseev, since she doesn’t have flowering plants penetrating parts of her body and won’t shake like a leaf on stage, is the scent of national final rigging they share. I know there may be no truth in the rumours, but like last year it seems only one act had a chance of winning the 2019 Belarusian NF. And that was ZENA, whose name I apparently have to type in capitals even though it looks like yelling. Junior Eurovision fans will recognise her as one of 2018’s co-hosts, and her experience presenting such a big show on such a big stage – in English – has helped a heap with her ESC journey.

Oh god…did I just use the term ‘journey’? Forget that, please. At sixteen, ZENA is confident performing to a crowd and to cameras; she can sing and dance at the same time (not flawlessly on both counts, but I’ll come to that); and she has no trouble with English pronunciation, which is a bonus when you’re singing a song as wordy as Like It. I thought Italy was supposed to be master and commander when it comes to maximum words per minute, but Belarus takes the title this year. The wordiness is one of the things I really like about Like It. This is such a fun song, and an underrated one in the fandom as far as I can see (which is about as far as my Twitter timeline). It’s catchy, energetic and age-appropriate without being too youthful to have adult appeal. The frantic verses are thankfully broken up by the more minimalist pre-chorus and chorus, the latter being so simple you could lip-sync it in your sleep…which isn’t a bad thing. And the whole song is catchy as heck. I wouldn’t be shocked if Zara Larsson came out with something like it (title pun intended).

On the downside, it’s a better studio song than it is a live song, but ZENA’s performances so far have been far from disastrous and just need polishing. She is one of those vocalists who can struggle until they get to belt out a big note. She handles those better, but who could blame her when there’s barely time to breathe during those verses? Apart from some vocal coaching, I’d also like to see some development in the staging come Eurovision rehearsals. It wasn’t bad at Eurofest, but kind of basic and could easily be amplified to match the much bigger event/stage space in Tel Aviv. All in all I see potential in this package, and I’d love to see it qualify. Sadly, though, I don’t think I’ll have any spare votes for Belarus by the time I’ve voted for my other first-semi favourites.

 

In a line Yes I’m gonna like it, yes I’m gonna like it 2018 VS 2019 This is a tricky one, but 2018…I think Predicted result SF 9th-13th, GF 16th-20th My score 10 points

 

 

 

 

The Netherlands have been pretty hot Eurovision property since 2013, when Birds (inexplicably) gave them their first top ten result in years – and paved the way for a string of successes including Calm After The Storm’s second place. Sure, Trijntje Oosterhuis-gate was an exception, but the less we mention that the more we can pretend it never happened. After a solid if divisive showing last year in Lisbon, the Dutch are back on form in 2019…and then some. We’re talking about the current and longstanding odds leader here: The Voice of Holland alumnus Duncan Laurence (who was coached on the show by none other than Ilse DeLange) and Arcade. To cut a long story short, this song is so good I didn’t even notice Duncan was butt naked in the music video at first – which for me, a straight woman with an eye for a sculpted male behind, says a lot.

To NOT cut a long story short, here’s the specifics of why I think Arcade is amazing. Starting out sparsely but creating an atmosphere fast is musically uncommon, but this song does it with ease. It’s arresting from the beginning, with the first line alone enough to send shivers down my spine. Then Duncan drops in with his delicate vocals – lighter than air but carrying the weight of loss and hopelessness at the same time – and tells us an emotional tale without a trace of the contrived, cheesy lyrics Waylon crammed into Outlaw In ‘Em. Everything that leads up to the chorus is fragile and beautiful, and then the chorus comes along and Duncan gets to let the pain loose while packing a punch of his own. It’s all ethereal and floaty and full of feelings, and stops you in your tracks (unless you’re a soulless cyborg). And on top of that, the metaphor that runs through the song actually makes sense. An arcade à addictive games à pennies in slots à winners and losers…well, it makes sense when you listen to the song. Unlike, for example, Malta’s cannibal/animal/miracle mish-mash of WTF from 2018.

We will have to wait until rehearsals start to know whether The Netherlands can win Eurovision 2019, but so far so good. That includes Duncan’s live performances, when he’s delivered a falsetto that has had me falling to the floor. There are certainly less obstacles on his way to the win than there are for the other favourites: Italy might not have the mass/jury appeal they need, the Swiss EiC performance raised doubts, and Russia is trying way too hard to their detriment. All of those countries are more likely to rank highly with juries OR televoters, not both – whereas the Netherlands has televoting appeal and jury boxes ticked. That’s thanks to a stunning song, an attractive and likeable performer (who we know has been blessed in the butt department) and the chance to use Arcade’s atmosphere to create a spellbinding stage show. Given that the man behind both CATS and Walk Along – who is somehow the same man – is in charge of this entry’s presentation, there’s a hit-or-miss risk. But with all the hype and Duncan’s status as favourite, I can’t imagine the delegation stuffing this one up. Amsterdam 2020 is a definite possibility.

 

In a line A ballad so beautiful, I could cry 2018 VS 2019 As much as I adore leopard print, it’s got to be 2019 Predicted result SF 1st-3rd, GF 1st-3rd My score 12 points

 

 

 

 

The 2019 selection season was full of surprises, and it often wasn’t the favourite act who took home ESC representation rights. In Norway, however, KEiiNO – made up of MGP returnees Tom Hugo and Alexandra Rotan, feat. the Norwegian Jon Henrik Fjällgren – won to the shock of nobody. Only Alexander Rybak could have beaten them (even if he’d taken part with a song called ‘That’s How You Play A Recorder Really Badly’ that lived up to its title). Spirit In The Sky is another light-and-fluffy entry from Norway, but it arguably has a bigger fanbase than That’s How You Write A Song did. I like both songs a lot, but while Rybak’s was a guilty pleasure I’m happy to own my enjoyment of KEiiNO’s.

It’s a banger, folks. A banger with JOIKING. It’s as if the aforementioned Jon Henrik Fjällgren teamed up with Jessica Andersson and Martin Rolinski for Melodifestivalen. Only this is Norway, and believe it or not, I can stop talking about Sweden for long enough to discuss a different country. So, Spirit in the Sky: what an epic combo of modern and traditional sounds it is! Tom kicks things off with a mysterious pre-verse verse (if that’s a thing) before Alexandra takes the lead and brews up the dancefloor filler chorus we just know is coming. Then Jon Henrik Fred gets joiking and makes Norway’s mark on Eurovision 2019 tattoo permanent. There are a handful of musical styles at play here – pop, dance, a touch of schlager and those ethnic elements – but they all work together as well as Tom, Alexandra and Fred. In this trio, nobody in particular carries the performance or outshines the rest of the group. Kind of like O’G3NE, but without the mind-boggling harmonies and sisterly synchronicity.

Lack of harmonies and blood relations isn’t going to stop KEiiNO from outdoing O’G3NE in the Eurovision final, I suspect. Their song is too catchy and iconic to finish outside of the top 10. I realise that the second semi has Norway performing between the deadly serious, straight-faced drama of Albania and the delicate, moving Netherlands…and some fans understandably think Spirit in the Sky will taste cheap and tacky in that sandwich. Personally I think it’ll be a breath of fresh air after a run of intense, down-tempo ballads, and it will stand out. I don’t expect another semi winner from Norway this year (and TBH I’m still not sure how it happened last year) but I am expecting a comfortable, deserved qualification and a result on par with Grab The Moment or Monster Like Me.

 

In a line Sensationally Scandinavian ethno-dance-pop 2018 VS 2019 2019. This is how you write a song Predicted result SF 4th-6th, GF 7th-10th My score 10 points

 

 

 

 

I think we all knew that this day would come: the day Sergey would return to Eurovision to avenge himself after 2016, The Year Russia Should Have Won According To Russia (and the televote). On the plus side, 2019 isn’t looking too much like 2016: Ukraine is no longer competing, Australia is at risk of a DNQ and sadly, Måns and Petra are nowhere to be seen. On the other hand, once again there are songs that might squeeze into the winner queue ahead of Russia based on Russia showboating and trying desperately hard to win. God knows – though he might have told Philip Kirkirov – what Sergey is going to have to do on stage this time to eclipse everybody else’s staging, but we certainly need to brace ourselves.

About the song…well, great expectations were heaped on Russia, I know. We all figured Sergey wouldn’t make a comeback with any old entry and would want to win, and with great expectations come inevitable tweets from Eurofans complaining about how underwhelmed they are. But really, a dated but dramatic and earwormy song elevated by impressive staging was Sergey’s M.O. in Stockholm, so we should have seen Scream and Kirkirov’s promise to knock our socks off coming. I’m glad the song isn’t a stylistic carbon copy of You Are The Only One. Instead it’s a big, theatrical ballad that belongs in a Broadway musical, and it’s bound to let Lazarev show off his spectacular set of pipes (because the man can sing) rather than keep him busy dancing and climbing up/falling off unclimbable walls. The instrumentation is grand and beautiful and makes me wish we could have a forty-piece live orchestra just for the occasion. I like the chorus, especially that ‘OH OH OHHHHHHHHH’ bit, which gives me goosebumps. And I appreciate the message of the song and how it more or less advocates men being allowed to cry. I totally support that.

But there are cons to those pros. Sergey may be in tears on May 18th, but not trophy-lifting tears. Behind all the drama of this track is little substance. It’s much ado about nothing. And I have trouble getting past the lyrics, which are so clichéd and excessively rhymey they sound like a poem I might have written in my diary when I was a pre-teen. I still see Scream as a possible winner, but I’d be disappointed if it did take the prize (let’s pretend Russia hasn’t won before with a returning male artist whose victorious song wasn’t as strong as their previous top three entry). Considering how statement the song is, Sergey’s talents and how impactful the stage show will be, Russia may be there or thereabouts, but the whole thing screams (HA) 2nd place max to me. There are plenty of better, more contemporary and less desperate-FTW songs competing, and if Russia did win it would be like it only happened because Sergey had an IOU. Should they do it, I’ll be happy for the man himself since I fell in love with him a little in 2016 (I went to his press conference where he was super sweet and humble and tripped up the stairs when he came in which was too cute). But Scream as a winning song? Net.

 

In a line A big, bold comeback that shouldn’t win by default 2018 VS 2019 2019, unless Sergey also gets an ill-advised mountain prop to sing on top of (or would that actually work for this?) Predicted result SF 2nd-5th, GF 2nd-4th My score 8 points

 

 

 

 

And that’s my five for today judged and scored! Stand by for me to change my mind on said scores at least three times before the contest arrives. At the moment, they look like this:

  1. The Netherlands (12)
  2. Norway (10)
  3. Belarus (10)
  4. Russia (8)
  5. Armenia (8)

Surprise, surprise – the favourite to win is also my favourite of these five. Sorry for being so predictable.

Now, an update on my overall ranking for anyone who’s interested (if you’re not, just make like Finland and look away):

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

Hungary is holding on to my top spot, but how much longer will that last? Can Belgium, Greece, Iceland, Poland or San Marino take them down a place…or five? Will I ever stop asking annoying rhetorical questions? Find out during my next round of reviews.

Make sure you don’t miss a thing by following me @EurovisionByJaz across all the usual socials. And don’t forget to let me know how you’d rank today’s ESC 2019 entries in the comments.

 

 

Love love, peace peace!

 

 

 

 

THE JESC 2018 REVIEWS | Round 2 (Armenia, Georgia, The Netherlands, Portugal + Russia)

Hello again, and thanks for stopping by to check out the next round of my JESC 2018 reviews! I’m not going to keep you in suspense this time (humour me as I pretend that you were in suspense at all) because I want to get straight into the compliments and criticisms. Constructive criticisms, of course…I don’t want to scar these kids for the rest of their lives.

Up for judgment today are Levon, Tamar Edilashvili, Max and Anne, Rita Laranjeira and Anna Filipchuk. Keep reading to find out what I think of their songs and how I think they’ll do when it’s time for those precious points to be handed out.

Don’t forget to leave your personal rankings and opinions in the comments so I can high-five you (in my head) or agree to disagree…

 

 

Never let anyone tell you that Eurovision events aren’t educational! Between JESC (e.g. Serbia teaching us foreign languages in 2006) and ESC (e.g. Norway teaching us how to write a song in 2018), there’s a whole lot of learning going on for fans. Now it’s Armenia’s turn to enlighten us, and in Minsk they’ll be teaching us how to spell the name of their representative Levon…or L.E.V.O.N, in case you still weren’t sure. I’m not a massive supporter of song titles that are solely/include the name of the artist (it’s the musical equivalent of Ivan from JESC 2015 wearing his own face on a t-shirt in the Bulgarian postcard), but this is one of my favorite Junior Eurovision countries we’re talking about here, and there’s not much I won’t overlook when it comes to Armenia in this contest.

L.E.V.O.N is everything we know and I love about Armenian JESC entries, in a slightly weird and very wonderful package. It’s energetic (relentlessly), catchy and memorable – not on the same level (or should I say L.E.V.E.L?) as People of the Sun or Tarber, but a big step up from the majestic but awfully performed Boomerang from last year. The spelling bee chorus is kind of genius, giving those of us who don’t speak or understand Armenian something to sing along to and remember. Levon has loads of personality on stage, which makes up for him not being the best singer on the planet. His NF performance was pretty bare-bones, but I expect Armenia to amp it up for contest purposes and present us with a slick and fun stage show, as they always do.

If that’s the case, can this win JESC 2018? I‘m going to say N.O.P.E, but it could be there or thereabouts. At this point there are a couple of countries I expect to outdo Armenia, with the obnoxious, in-your-face style of this song being a possible handicap when it comes to the jury vote. But even so, I never underestimate Armenia’s ability to succeed on the power of kick-ass staging alone. Complementing an effortlessly awesome track like L.E.V.O.N, great presentation might not score them their second-ever win…but it could see them slip into the top five for the ninth time. It’s definitely in mine – I L.O.V.E it. 12 points.

 

 

When I think of the most successful and impressive Junior Eurovision participants, Georgia is always among them. After all, they’re heading into this year’s contest off the back of a second place in 2017 and a win in 2016 (so if the pattern continues, they’ll be taking home a bronze medal from Minsk). For me – and prepare to be scandalised – Voice of the Heart was better than Mzeo, but they were both magical…which leaves Georgia with a lot to live up to in 2018.

Your Voice (which may or may not be the same as the voice of the heart) is in keeping with the more mature entries they’ve sent recently – i.e. a million miles away from Bzz…, Funky Lemonade and Gabede. Tamar’s song doesn’t put the ‘junior’ into Junior Eurovision to the extent that those did, but it’s still youthful. Is it enjoyable too? I think so. Starting out soft before swiftly building up to a big, banging chorus with a slightly EDM-esque beat – and squeezing in some English lyrics along the way – it’s an interesting and dynamic addition to the Class of ’18. Georgian has never sounded as powerful as it does in that chorus, helped in large part by Tamar’s INCREDIBLE vocals. Seriously, what do Georgians feed their children that makes them such amazing singers? Based on the live vocals provided at JESC in the past, I’m expecting this girl to blow us all away live on stage – and she needs to nail that money note towards the end to not undo any good work she does beforehand. I’m pretty confident she can. You can’t watch this contest for sixteen years without realising that Europe is a hotbed of ridiculously talented child vocalists who can hit notes performers twice their age couldn’t hit with a monster truck.

All in all, this is a super solid effort from Georgia that I really like, if not love on the same scale as I loved Voice of the Heart. I think it’s missing that special something that makes a winner a winner, but a top 10 result is both deserved and likely for Tamar. And as I’ve already implied, I am so excited to see her sing this live. Bring on the 25th! 8 points.

 

 

How do you follow on from the tour de force of Fource? The Netherlands’ answer: don’t even try. It could be argued that Russia, for example, is sending a Wings sequel to JESC 2018 – and they’re not doing themselves any favours given that, like most sequels, it’s not as good (I’ve explained exactly why in the Russia review below). The Netherlands, on the other hand, has kept a safe distance from anything resembling a boy band armed with infectious radio pop…knowing they probably wouldn’t do as well as 4th if they sent something similar so soon. Instead we have Max and Anne, one of two boy-girl duos competing this year, and their sugary-sweet musical friendship bracelet Samen.

Judging by that description you might think I’m not a fan of this song. But don’t worry, I’m not about to start a protest outside AVROTROS demanding they ‘BRING BACK FOURCE!’. Yes, Samen is very sweet, but I mean that in a complimentary way. I actually really, really like it. It’s a nice mix of power ballad, piano pop and anthemic singalong song that practically compels you to turn your phone torch on and wave it above your head in time with the music. The language mix is tastefully done, and Max and Anne are vocally great together – not to mention (though I’m about to) their believability as a couple of kids singing about the strength of their friendship. For all I know they met five minutes before the Dutch final, but they make me believe they’re BFFs and that’s what matters.

There’s not a lot that can be done staging-wise with a song like this, but I don’t think it needs a bunch of bells and whistles. It stands out based on being a down-tempo ballad and the boy/girl dynamic. Having said that, it may be a little too vanilla compared to other songs that are more like ice-cream sundaes with whipped cream, nuts and a cherry on top. Also, a brunette female soloist in a white dress has won JESC the last two years running, and they say things come in threes (so pay attention to the costumes come rehearsal time). But after their big success last year – a public voting win and a solid top five result – I’d like to see the Netherlands do well again. It depends on a lot, from the running order to the live performance, but it’s not impossible. 10 points.

 

 

If you thought San Marino was the country most obsessed with shoehorning social media into Eurovision songs, a) think again and b) stand back, because here comes Portugal! It’s kind of ironic that their two consecutive social network-themed JESC songs have been pretty dated in sound and style. Youtuber and now Gosto De Tudo… both seem to belong in Junior Eurovision contests past – circa 2004-2008. I almost wish we could bring back Portugal’s initial few entries from 2006 and 2007 (which were more mature but still childlike enough) to compete now.

Rita could certainly do with a song more suited to her voice, and to be honest, her age – Mariana Venancio just about pulled off this sort of cutesy throwback pop last year, but as a teenager Rita could do with something more like Dancing Through Life or I Am The One (courtesy of Macedonia and Belarus in 2017). Maybe I’m just too old and cynical to appreciate a song like this nowadays. Then again, I don’t think JESC juries and voters do either based on the lacklustre results of similar songs (I’m thinking of Montenegro 2014 and Macedonia 2015). As a rule, they’re inoffensive (i.e. boring) with a hint of cheese – there’s never many exciting moments, vocal or musical, to get excited about. Gosto De Tudo definitely fits that profile, right down to the cheesy clapping and the fact that not even its performer sounds particularly interested in singing it. Everything about it reminds me (if you don’t mind me comparing this to just one more song) of Andorra’s debut ESC entry Jugarem A Estimar-Nos – and we all know how well that went down in Istanbul.

In a nutshell (in case you hadn’t guessed) I just don’t like this very much. It feels lethargic and under-baked, and there’s no way it can stand up and compete against…well, the majority of its competition, in all honesty. The only saving graces are a touch of catchiness, the Portuguese (one of my favourite musical and spoken languages) and Rita herself, who is very sparkly and charismatic even though I feel like she knows this song doesn’t show off the best of her talents. I don’t think I’ll be listening to it much after the contest. 4 points.

 

 

Russia is a powerhouse country no matter what they’re competing in, apparently (more so if there’s an ice rink or gymnastics equipment involved, but musically too). They are, after all, the current JESC titleholders thanks to Polina Bogusevich and her Wings (one of my 2017 faves and a song I was super happy to see win). It kind of seems like their mentality this year was ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ – meaning Unbreakable is pretty similar to Wings. In fact, Anna’s pre-chorus is almost identical to Polina’s verses. But whatever. I’m a big fan of both.

A cookie-cutter power ballad that also has a lot in common with Australia’s (fingers crossed they’re positioned far apart in the running order), Unbreakable doesn’t try too hard to be anything amazing, but it ticks all the boxes on the checklist of Song Qualities That Jaz Needs In Her Life. The production is as polished as you’d expect from Russia, the verses are strong and the chorus is a statement piece. Once again we have a Russian first half and English second half, but I’d argue that Unbreakable’s English lyrics are less awkward and make more sense than Wings’ English lyrics (I’m still confused by ‘floating angels reaching up the sky’). Where Russia 2017 really overshadows 2018, however, is in the singing department. Anna is adorable, but she just doesn’t pack the vocal punch Polina did, and at the NF there were a bunch of weak moments that the backing vocals couldn’t compensate for. Obviously she’s not competing against Polina (so I should stop comparing them) but she is up against other impressive singers from Australia, Kazakhstan and Malta, etc. Even in studio her vocals aren’t mind-blowing, which could let her down with the juries.

I think it’s safe to say that Russia won’t win two contests on the trot, but I personally do really like this song – and with Russia’s ability to splash cash on staging, I’m looking forward to seeing how they’ve upgraded the presentation for JESC. At this point, I reckon a respectable 6th-9th place is within reach. 10 points.

 

 

That’s today’s five tracks covered. Time flies when you’re being critical of children, in my experience. Here’s my final ranking for this round of reviews:

  1. Armenia (12)
  2. The Netherlands (10)
  3. Russia (10)
  4. Georgia (8)
  5. Portugal (4)

So it’s Levon who spells his way into the top spot, followed closely by Max, Anne and Anna. Apologies to Portugal, but I’m sure someone out there would give you douze points, Rita.

Maybe it’s you? Hit up that comments section with your scores for these JESC songs. I know you want to!

 

NEXT TIME With 10 countries down and 10 to go, it’s crunch time for Australia, France, Malta, Poland and Wales. The girl power is strong, but do the songs follow suit? Don’t miss my next post if you want to know what I think.

 

 

 

SHINE BRIGHT! Jaz’s JESC 2017 Reviews, Round 1 (Cyprus, Georgia, The Netherlands + Poland)

Gamarjoba, Eurofans who do double duty as Junior Eurofans (if you don’t, then this is your warning to back away from this blog for a while). I’m 72% sure I just greeted you guys in Georgian, which is my way of getting into the spirit of Tbilisi’s first Eurovision event.

There’s less than two weeks until Junior Eurovision 2017, when adorable child/vocal powerhouse Mariam Mamadashvili will hand over the title of reigning contest champ to another pint-sized singing sensation (or four, if The Netherlands wins). That means it’s beyond time for me to start reviewing all sixteen songs competing on the 26th! So let’s breeze past the fact that I haven’t posted since the end of August (my bad…my very, VERY bad) and get this party started.

I’ve pulled four countries out of the special EBJ hat I keep in my closet for such occasions, and they are Cyprus, hosts Georgia, The Netherlands, and Poland (bet you didn’t see that coming. It’s not like I stuck them in the title or anything). Keep reading for my thoughts on Nicole Nicolaou’s I Wanna Be A Star, Grigol Kipshidze’s Voice of the Heart, Fource’s Love Me and Alicja Rega’s Mój Dom. Spoiler alert: one of them just might be my favourite entry of the year.

By the way…I didn’t have time to get an EBJ Junior Jury together this year, but I still wanted to be able to average out the score for each song based on a few factors. I’ve gone simplistic by awarding a standard EBU-regulation point score (1-8, 10 or 12 points) to both the song itself (how I rate it personally) and the artist performing it (their vocal skills, personality on stage etc). The average of those two scores will be each country’s final score. As always, I’ll post a mini ranking at the end of each review round + the full ranking alongside my pre-show predictions just before the contest. Share your own mini ranking in the comments to let me know which entries are hot and which are not in your opinion (but don’t be too mean because we are talking about kids here).

Now let’s go.

  

 

Watch it here

Last year…George Michaelides’ Dance Floor finished 16th (second last). I had a lot of blues to dance away in George’s parallel universe where the world is a dance floor after that.

The 2017 verdict Cyprus has transitioned from George’s cutting-edge but unsuccessful ethnopop to oh-so-2005 – but probably more of a point magnet – ethnopop with Nicole. Her catchy (to say the chorus of I Wanna Be A Star is an earworm would be an epic understatement), super-predictable (a blindfolded 2012-edition Donny Montell would have seen that key change coming) song comes via three-time ESC act Constantinos Christoforou – and given that he seemingly represented Cyprus with the adult version of the same song back in Kyiv in 2005, THAT MAKES SO MUCH SENSE. I guess I should stop going on about how dated IWBAS is, because that’s not a totally bad thing. After all, it means Cyprus is doing what Belarus did last year by bringing back a slice of vintage JESC for us all to feast on (although the Belarusian hoverboards would clearly have never featured in a Junior Eurovision circa 2004). I always appreciate a throwback in a contest that has grown up a lot recently, with a lot of the songs having the potential to double as ESC entries if a few lyrical changes were made. This throwback is a classic kid-spirational anthem with Cyprus stamped all over it, and the high energy + hooks = party time for three minutes. I definitely like it – while definitely not loving it – but I do wonder if Nicole has the charisma and live vocal ability to pull it off onstage. If it doesn’t look young and fun and if it doesn’t sound perfect, the result could be cringeworthy. In the end, I see I Wanna Be A Star outperforming Dance Floor, but only by a few rungs on the leaderboard ladder. I’m thinking 12th-14th, prior to making my official predictions…

Song score 7

Artist score 6

Final score 6.5

 

  

Watch it here

Last year….Mariam Mamadashvili’s Mzeo became Georgia’s third JESC winner in ten years of competing. They seriously need to start putting some effort in (#sarcasm).

The 2017 verdict Host entries – at least when they’ve become host entries via their country winning the year before, which isn’t always the case with JESC – have a lot of pressure placed on them to follow in the footsteps of a peak result…or at least not embarrass themselves by failing miserably off the back of a peak result. Whether they’re hosting or not, Georgia is always a country to keep an eye on when Eurovision’s younger sibling drops by, and they’ve proven yet again that they know how this contest works with Grigol and his Voice of the Heart. It’s a more mature song and vocalist combo than usual, and for the third time in a row the lyrics are 100% Georgian (YAASSS for having full confidence in your native language!). It’s almost like a child-friendly version of Versace On The Floor by Bruno Mars – in fact, the structure and 90s R&B sound are so similar I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that it was directly inspired by that track. As such, since I’m a mahusive fan of both Bruno Mars and 90s R&B, VOTH is parked so far up my street it’s actually on someone’s front lawn. It’s not my favourite (or even second favourite) song in the 2017 comp, but I dig everything about it. Great melody, great build into some spectacular vocal runs that I hope to heck Grigol can replicate live, and an easy-listening feel that begs for atmospheric staging feat. spotlights and LED stars. In terms of measuring up to Mzeo, I don’t expect it to, but I am hoping for a decent 5th-8th finish. And when the audience inevitably claps their butts off for this host entry, I will be doing the same thing from my sofa (while simultaneously sobbing because I’m not in Tbilisi with them *sniff*).

Song score 10

Artist score 10

Final score 10

 

 

 

Watch it here

Last year…Don’t pretend you’ve forgotten about Kisses and Dancin’, or that you’ve forgotten the dance moves. I know I haven’t. As irresistible as it was, it didn’t crack the top 5 in Malta – Kisses finished 8th.

The 2017 verdict Variety is the spice of life (apparently) so the Dutch bounce from girl group to boy band is worth a fist bump. We can expect Fource to be choreographed to within an inch of their pre-pubescent lives at JESC, and if their NF performances are anything to go by their vocals will be pretty tight (unless somebody’s voice breaks at the worst possible moment) – but that’s where the similarities between Kisses and Dancin’ and Love Me come to a screeching halt. Love Me, strangely enough, isn’t as instantly loveable as last year’s song, but after a few listens I’d say it’s just as high-quality. It’s more grown-up, and something you’d hear on mainstream radio if it was entirely in English. The chorus is so simple you don’t have a choice but to belt it out along with the boys (so the English that is used has been used very well) and the instrumental breaks are made for slick, crowd-pumping choreography á la the precision kind I mentioned before. Overall, the song’s energetic, modern and strikes a good balance between youthfulness and sophistication. It’s definitely in the middle on the maturity scale, but even so it reminds me of Macedonia’s too-mature-for-JESC entry last year, Love Will Lead Our Way (I guess when your song has ‘love’ in the title, maturity makes sense). I’m only talking in terms of style, but given Macedonia’s less than impressive result in 2016, that is a worry. Is Love Me dynamic enough to be in it to win it? Not quite, but I’m not discounting these guys. The Netherlands don’t always get the points they deserve at Junior, but when they’re on point anything is possible. Fource’s is a performance I’m extra psyched to see because if it’s cohesive, as the only group act in this year’s contest they’ll stand out for the right reasons.

Song score 8

Artist score 10

Final score 9

 

 

Watch it here

Last year…Poland returned to JESC for the first time since 2004, reaching 11th place (a big leap from their losing streak of 2003/2004) with Olivia Wieczorek and Nie Zapomnij.

The 2017 verdict I wasn’t sure whether to create an air of mystery around this one or just lay all of my cards on the table right away. Eventually (after .5 of a second) I decided to go for the second option, and tell you that the suit of my cards is hearts all the way because OMG I LOVE THIS!! It is stunning. From the first time I heard that tinkly piano intro, I knew I’d found something special – the one song (because my other faves will have less trouble doing well) that I’d be supporting like a woman possessed. Like Georgia, Poland has opted to leave English out of their entry in favour of exotic, unpronounceable-to-the-untrained-speaker Polish, and it’s used in a melodically spine-tingling ballad that sounds more than a little Balkan at times (scoring major love points from me). I also must mention that masterpiece of a key change which, for a split second, makes crystal-clear vocalist Alicja sound like she’s out of tune until you realise she was just transitioning to a powerful second chorus in a way that would challenge singers twice her age. Speaking of Alicja – she may need to work on her charisma and stage presence a teensy bit, but she does emote enough to give Mój Dom the feels it needs to not look like an adult’s song being sung by a teenager. If someone can give her a shot of confidence and a Cinderella-style costume makeover before she steps on the Junior stage, Poland will have achieved perfection. Unfortunately, they aren’t a sure thing for success. I’m hoping this song will be another Tu Primo Grande Amore (or at least come close) but it could just as easily fall by the wayside, a.k.a. the low side of the scoreboard. My fingers will be crossed – once I’m done voting for it – in the hope that other people get the goosebumps I do when I hear it.

Song score 12

Artist score 8

Final score 10

 

 

And Round 1 is DONE! You’ve got to love Junior Eurovision for making the review caseload way lighter than the adult contest does (reviewing 4/16 songs makes you feel much more accomplished than reviewing 4/42 songs).

With the first four JESC 2017 entries criticised (as nicely as possible) and scored by moi, here are the current standings:

  1. Poland (10)
  2. Georgia (10)
  3. The Netherlands (9)
  4. Cyprus (6.5)

So Grigol just misses out on getting a high five from me in favour of Alicja, whose song I’ve bumped ahead because it’s a little more magical. Will Poland manage to beat Georgia, The Netherlands and Cyprus in the actual contest? Probably not…but a girl can dream.

Before we find out for sure the weekend after next, I want to find out something else from you:

 

Once you’ve voted, come on down to the comments and let me know how you’d rank the rest of this random, out-of-the-EBJ-hat bunch who are prepping to shine bright in Tbilisi. You know you want to! It’ll help pass the time between now and Round 2 feat. Albania, Italy, Macedonia and Portugal J

 

Until then…

 


 

 

JAZ JUDGES EUROVISION 2017 | The Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands + Poland

Hello again, and welcome to another episode of me putting the Eurovision 2017 entries I adore up on a pedestal, and tearing the ones I hate to shreds. Fun times (unless you love the songs I can’t stand)!

Another six songs are up for some serious judging today, via me and – once again – my mum. Being the crazy lady that she is (it’s hereditary), she has voluntarily come back to have her say on The Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Lithuania, The Netherlands and Poland. So are you ready, Martina, Koit & Laura, Levina, Fusedmarc, O’G3NE and Kasia? Too bad if you’re not, because it’s time for you to be reviewed in 3, 2, 1….now.

 

 

My thoughts I’d never complain about a contest that has a lot of musical variety – after all, forty-plus ballads/dance tracks/Hard Rock Hallelujah rip-offs wouldn’t be fun to watch or listen to (or  be much fun for the producers trying to create an entertaining running order). So in terms of that, a nice little jazzy number from the Czech Republic helps with the whole ‘celebrating diversity’ motto of the 2017 comp. But that doesn’t stop My Turn from being the most boring song in the line-up by a mile. I just don’t think it has a lot to offer – the melody isn’t very catchy or exciting, there’s nothing about it that stands out and makes it memorable (I’m actually struggling to recall how the verses go right now) and I’m not a massive fan of Martina’s voice either – though I expect she’ll sound pretty much studio-perfect on the Kyiv stage. Speaking of the stage…not even an Azerbaijan 2013 level of staging genius would pimp out this entry enough to push it into the qualification zone, IMO. Dead last in the semi isn’t a dead cert, but it’s hard to imagine the juries or televoters lavishing attention on My Turn when there’s the likes of Blackbird and Amar Pelos Dois (for the former) and I Can’t Go On and City Lights (for the latter) surrounding it. Then again, I didn’t think the Czech Republic would qualify last year, so I’ll prepare to stand corrected just in case. 4 points.

My mum says… This is a bit naff. It’s got a nice chorus and seems simple to sing along to, but I get the feeling two or three run-throughs would be enough for me to get bored of hearing it! Martina has an unusual voice – I wasn’t sure if it was a female or male voice at first, and I guess that makes things interesting. But the bottom line is that I won’t be too bothered if don’t hear her song again anytime soon. 4 points.

The Czech Republic’s score 4.00

 

 

My thoughts I’ll get right to the point on this one: if Koit and Laura’s duet accurately depicts what being lost in Verona is like, then drop me off there without access to Google Maps! I LOVE this song, just as much as Koit’s 1998 entry Mere Lapsed and a million times more than the weak-as-water Let’s Get Loud by Laura’s Suntribe in 2005. Verona seems to borrow sounds from three or four different decades – mostly the 1990s and the 2000s – which doesn’t leave it feeling super fresh, but the infectiousness of all of its elements, the instant hook and the fact that it wasn’t written in the traditional A-B-A-B-C-B song structure (the song is as lost as Koit and Laura, but in a good way that keeps you wondering where it’ll end up) wins me over anyway. It’s a little dated, but in a way that works – more nostalgic than stale. The singers themselves sound great together and when they’re doing their solo duties, but their chemistry leaves a bit to be desired. It might have been the Eesti Laul staging that was a little off, but I hope there’s not a Chanée and N’evergreen situation happening behind the scenes…or a reverse scenario in which Koit and Laura are great mates IRL, but can’t channel the necessary emotions to give an authentic, appropriately-tortured performance. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt, because we haven’t (correct me if I’m wrong) seen a live version of Verona since it won the NF. It’s done well in the OGAE poll so far which makes me happy, but that’s not always a reliable indication of what will succeed in the actual show. Still, I think Estonia – after a shocking trip to Stockholm that saw Jüri Pootsmann finish last in the first semi – has the power to propel themselves into the final, and onto that sought-after left side of the scoreboard with this pairing. 10 points.

My mum says… Once I stopped wondering why ‘two silly boats in the sea’ had been considered a wise lyrical choice by Verona’s writers (after Jaz informed me that the lyric is ‘two SAILING boats’, which I must admit makes more sense) I started to enjoy Estonia’s entry. I wouldn’t say it’s fantastic, but I like the sound, the beat, and the way Koit and Laura’s voices complement each other. It’s definitely more than musical wallpaper, so I think it should do well in competition. 6 points.

Estonia’s score 8.00

 

 

My thoughts Let’s do the math: in the past two years, Germany has sent two absolute gems to Eurovision, only to f%*k up the staging of both (to different degrees) and fall utterly flat in the final. If that’s the way the universe is working, then by rights Levina’s Perfect Life should be staged flawlessly and be super-successful on the scoreboard…even though it’s a bit of a snoozefest. Of course, Deutschland could just as easily be heading for their third wooden spoon on the trot (undeserved in each case) which would mainly upset me because Levina seems like an awesome person whose (perfect) life should be filled with sunshine and rainbows and puppies. Plus, the girl can sing. It’s just too bad that the song she ended up winning Unser Song with is a non-event. It starts out as a Titanium homage – which teases you with the prospect of it turning into a proper dance banger – only to veer off into plod-along territory and stay there. It’s almost like Perfect Life doesn’t know what type of song it wants to be, so it’s ended up as a compromise between a ballad and a club track that’s too down-tempo to compete with other in-betweeners like Sweden and Macedonia. I can’t realistically see anyone picking up their phone and taking the time to vote for it, and I also don’t think it’s going to stand out as something spectacular that the juries would freak out about. That doesn’t bode well for Germany. They really need to find their groove again, or have a Belgium-style turnaround. Try it in 2018, okay? 6 points.

My mum says… This is more my style. I was mouthing the words of the chorus by the end, and when that happens without me even realising, I know I’ve found a favourite – or at least a song I wouldn’t change stations on if it came on the radio. Perfect Life is definitely radio-friendly. I like Levina’s voice and the lyrics, plus the fact that she’s obviously happy with her lot. I think many of  us could learn some lessons from her…or at least from whoever came up with the song’s concept. 7 points.

Germany’s score 6.5

 

 

My thoughts I think we know which country Georgia passed the bonkers baton on to after last year! Funnily enough, I’d probably be saying the same thing if Get Frighten had won in Lithuania. What we’ve got instead is less novelty but way more untamed, and it’s nothing like the Game of Thrones-inspired military march song I thought Fusedmarc would present me with, back before I heard Rain of Revolution for the first time (it just goes to show that you can’t judge a song by its title). I’m not even sure how to categorise this entry, which is almost a positive attribute when you consider how ‘different’ that makes it. Part electropop, part funk with a rocky edge, it’s not as offensive to me as it seems to be to most other Eurofans – I really like the beat and melody of everything leading up to the choruses, and the chorus itself has a pretty high sing-along factor. I also dug the staging of the song at Eurovizijos, and if they’ve decided to keep those visual effects for Eurovision, they’re sure to look epic on that LED-laden stage. But vocalist Viktorija lets a little too loose with her big notes, and that equals a messy listen (those screechy ‘YEAH YEAH’ bits being the main culprit). And it has to be said – by me, apparently – that she gives off some crazy vibes (in a psychotic, escaped mental patient sort of way, which ain’t ideal). The overall package is something that, once unwrapped, I wouldn’t try to return for store credit…but I can understand why other people would. So I’m safely predicting Rain of Revolution to go absolutely nowhere in its semi, which is a shame after Donny ‘Modern ESC Legend’ Montell did so well for Lithuania in 2016. 5 points.

My mum says… Lithuania’s taking us all back to the 80s whether we like it or not, by the (literal) sound of it. I’m not sure I do like it. Rain of Revolution is a song that seemed like it was going to become something better than what it began as, but it never did. I’ll give a few ticks of approval for the nostalgic feel and the energy of the beat, but that’s it. 5 points.

Lithuania’s score 5.00

 

 

My thoughts O-M-G3NE, I was excited when these ladies were announced as the Dutch reps for the year (as they’re JESC alums, I followed their Voice journey and have watched their audition for the show about 500 times). They’d been rumored before and their selection was bound to happen sooner or later, but I was happy to have it sooner. That, of course, was prior to Lights and Shadows being chosen and then released. So did I change my mind when it came out? Well, no…although I do think the trio have been saddled with a song that’s far too focused on being a vehicle for their voices rather than a current, competitive contest song. There’s a lot of emotion attached to O’G3NE’s entry because a) it was co-written by their father, and b) it was co-written by their father about their seriously ill mother. That should allow them to really feel what they’re singing rather than just parrot the lyrics pitch-perfectly, which they can do without trying anyway – their harmonies are incredible. However, heartstring-tugging aside, the song is a throwback with Wilson Phillips comparisons that won’t stop cropping up. IMO that’s not totally terrible, since I get a kick out of the rousing 90s feel of it. And even though it’s a very wordy song, I find it pretty easy to sing along to, and very catchy. It definitely stands out, and last but not least, we can bet on the performance being flawless, with the vocals being the shining beacon of jury bait. I just don’t know if it’s going to be a big success, a flop, or finish somewhere in between the two. I wanted O’G3NE to come strutting in to the contest with a surefire hit – i.e. a killer pop song circa 2017 (not 1997) that highlighted their vocal abilities without sacrificing musical fabulousness. I can’t say they’ve done that (DAMNIT!), but there’s a lot I do like about Lights and Shadows. And I’m still excited to have this girl band back in the Eurovision family. 7 points.

My mum says… Sigh. I could happily listen to these girls harmonising all day long. When they’re harmonising to Lights and Shadows, I instantly get the Wilson Phillips feelings that I’ve been told loads of others have too. There’s also a bit of B*Witched in here, making the song/singer combination very 90s indeed. That girl group style is one I usually enjoy, and this is no exception. Though I’d be surprised to hear something like it on the radio, I’d willingly play it again for my own listening pleasure. 10 points.

The Netherlands’ score 8.5

 

 

My thoughts Poland has been pretty hit-and-miss with me since they came back from their Eurovision vacation in 2014 (with a bang). There actually seems to be a pattern forming with my attitude towards their entries: My Słowianie, yes; In The Name of Love, not so much; Color of Your Life, yes. Do you see where I’m going with this? If not, let me cut to the chase: I’m not a huge fan of Flashlight. I had a favourite in the Polish NF that I thought had a better chance of winning (Isabell’s Swedish-written, Kygo-esque Voiceless, FYI) so Kasia took me by surprise when she won instead, with what’s a perfectly okay, gothic and melodramatic ballad. It’s just not the sort of ballad that rubs me up the right way. I feel like it would have fit in better at Kyiv in 2005, though it also reminds me of Lithuania’s Nomads in the Night which popped up three years later in Belgrade. I wish it reminded me more of Poland’s entry that year from Isis Gee, which IS the sort of ballad I prefer. Flashlight has a reasonable chorus – I wouldn’t call it catchy, however it does have some staying power – but I honestly can’t remember how any other part of it goes, and I’ve listened to it just as often as I’ve listened to the likes of Cyprus and Montenegro – two far more instant songs. It’s not memorable or modern enough for me, and I suspect for the contest in 2017 either. I wouldn’t give it zero chance of qualifying, because it might well go through…but if so, I expect it will die in the final. On the plus side, I’m guaranteed to love whatever Poland sends to Milan the as-yet-unidentified host city of Eurovision 2018. 5 points.

My mum says… It’s funny how something so dramatic can fall so flat! This didn’t do anything much for me, and I’m having trouble thinking of the melody too. It sounds like it’s trying to be something spectacular, but it never hits the heights to make that happen. Kasia’s voice is another great one that I’d say deserves a better song to show it off. 5 points.

Poland’s score 5.00

 

 

Aaaaand we’re done for the day! The ranking for this round of reviews looks like this:

  1. The Netherlands (8.5)
  2. Estonia (8.00)
  3. Germany (6.5)
  4. Poland (5.00)
  5. Lithuania (5.00)
  6. Czech Republic (4.00)

Forget two heads being better than one – three is obviously better than two, if O’G3NE’s win over Koit and Laura is any indication (though that was mainly my mum’s influence). You’ll have to hang around until all 42/43 (will I review Russia? I’m not sure at this point) songs have been crossed off the to-do list to find out which country will top our full ranking…and which one will bring up the rear. After that, Eurovision itself will decide whether terrible taste runs in my family or not.

Next time on Jaz Judges Eurovision 2017, I’m rolling out the red carpet for Albania, Cyprus, Latvia, Macedonia, Malta and Switzerland. Drop by if you don’t want me to dance alone! And before that, as always, leave your thoughts + feelings on today’s reviews in the comments. Do you think the Netherlands will do the best out of this bunch in Kyiv, or does OGAE poll darling Estonia have the edge? Perhaps we’ll find ourselves in Prague next year and you’ll be saying ‘I told you so’. Let us know below!

 

 

 

 

 

THE EBJ JUNIOR JURY REVIEWS | Australia, Israel, Macedonia, The Netherlands + Serbia

This is (almost) it – we’re just about to arrive at JESC weekend, people! With all of the 2016 acts in Valletta and rehearsing like mad, it’s still impossible to predict who will win the contest in two days’ time. But that’s what makes the countdown that much more exciting.

As there aren’t many digits left in that countdown, I need to move right along with the Typically Jaz™ pre-show ramblings. On the schedule today? The fourth and final round of the EBJ Junior Jury’s reviews, feat. Australia (can I be impartial? You’re about to find out), Israel, Macedonia, The Netherlands, and Serbia.

 

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So, Alexa, Shir & Tim, Martija, Kisses and Dunja – if you happen to be reading – let’s see what the EBJJJ thinks of the songs you guys are competing with on Sunday…

 

 

australia

My thoughts As an Australian, I try to be objective when reviewing our ESC or JESC entries, and I’m pretty sure I can do it this time. It might be unfair to assume this after only two attempts, but I don’t think Australia really ‘gets’ Junior Eurovision. Apparently we get the absolute crap out of the adult contest (and I reserve the right to brag about that at every opportunity). But our mediocre result with Bella Paige’s My Girls, and the fact that we’re sending something just as “uplifting” and pseudo-inspirational to Valletta – perhaps not learning from our mistakes – is evidence that JESC may not be our thing. Alexa’s We Are seems like the result of what a few ill-informed people considered to be the ultimate contest song for kids. I don’t know if that’s actually the case, but the cheesy and clichéd lyrics, and the been-there/heard-that pop ballad style (yes, it really is My Girls all over again) give that impression. The song coasts along, doing a semi-decent job for what it is – and Alexa definitely sings it beautifully – but it doesn’t stick, and it has pretty much zero x-factor. It isn’t terrible; I was just hoping for an improvement on 2015 rather than a carbon copy. As Einstein once said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result…so unless Alexa can pull off a performance that ticks every box – feat. perfect graphics, costumes, props and vocals – I think Australia is destined to get bogged in the sand of the average result range. How can Tania Doko, the woman largely responsible for this 90s masterpiece, also be largely responsible for We Are? PS – Is anyone else put off by the lyric referencing driving? Alexa’s not even old enough to get her learner’s permit, let alone to use operating an automobile as a meaningful metaphor in her music.

My score 6

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 4
  • James, UK – 5
  • Joshua, Australia – 3
  • Matthew, Ireland – 6
  • Michael, Australia – 7
  • Penny, USA – 6
  • Rory, Ireland – 7

 

 

israel

My thoughts In a move that has officially crowned them the Azerbaijan of JESC, Israel kept us waiting as long as possible before unveiling their second-ever Junior song, following on from 2012’s Let The Music Win. We could even call Shir & Tim mini Ell & Nikki, but that’d only be because they’re a female-male duo (not because Shir struggles to sing live, which I’m sure she doesn’t). Follow My Heart wasn’t exactly worth such a wait, but I’m a fan of it anyway. What it has working in its favour includes: a) a mystical, minimal beginning that builds into something packing a punch; b) excellent use of English that emphasises the title and makes the song more interesting; and c) two voices that work well both separately and together. I feel like this is the sort of song that will thrive on being performed live, with audience and artist interaction making it more of an audiovisual spectacle. There’s room for really interesting stuff to be done with the staging too, so I hope the Israeli delegation and the Maltese techies will do it justice. Look what atmospheric staging did for Made of Starsin Stockholm! I appreciate Israel trying a different tactic for this comeback, and I think it could pay off…but a lot needs to go right at the right time for that to happen. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for Shir & Tim though, as their song has the potential to grow on me and become one of my favourites of the year.

My score 7

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 6
  • James, UK – 4
  • Joshua, Australia – 10
  • Matthew, Ireland – 3
  • Michael, Australia – 8
  • Penny, USA – 7
  • Rory, Ireland – 2

 

 

macedonia

My thoughts More so than any other country that competed in JESC 2015 and is about to compete in JESC 2016, Macedonia has proven that a lot can change in a year. They’ve completely turned the tables on last year’s Pletenka – one of those ‘Junior of Yesteryear’ kid-pop songs that was enjoyable, but inevitably finished last – and recruited a girl with a more mature look and mature voice to sing a considerably more current tropical dance track. I really, really like Love Will Lead Our Way, and will probably drop the other L-bomb on it any day now. It takes the radio-friendly nature of Ireland’s entry and combines it with the youth and fresh feel of Armenia’s song to produce something infectious and fun, while still taking the contest seriously. Like Israel, Macedonia has used English cleverly for the title of the song – a title that goes on to be repeated throughout and becomes a memorable hook to reel us all in. The phrasing of both English and Macedonian in the chorus is simple but effective, making it feel like you’re listening to one language rather than two. The icing on the cake is that on-trend riff that makes me want to hit up a beach party in the Bahamas (the intended destination may have been the Balkans, but too bad). Oh, and did I mention that Martija is super-duper pretty, and that the camera loves her? Well, she is, and it does. I will admit that LWLOW probably plateaus too much to give it a winning edge, but if it doesn’t catapult Macedonia out of the bottom five and closer (or into) the top five, I will be 110% done with 2016. Love it! *drops the big L-bomb as promised earlier*

My score 10

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 1
  • James, UK – 8
  • Joshua, Australia – 10
  • Matthew, Ireland – 6
  • Michael, Australia – 12
  • Penny, USA – 7
  • Rory, Ireland – 8

 

 

netherlands

My thoughts I’m not ashamed to admit that I LOVE how The Netherlands take on JESC. They don’t always finish at the top of the scoreboard (they actually haven’t had a top five finish since 2011), but their entries are consistently competent, polished and enjoyable. They’re also usually radio-friendly teen pop – think 2014/15 – or old-school Junior musical balls of energy, á la the unforgettable Double Me from 2013. This year, the Dutch have stayed true to type with the incredibly catchy Kisses and Dancin’ by Kisses (who clearly have something in common with Water of Life by The Water of Life Project). It’s the closest thing you’ll find to fairy floss in this year’s buffet, so if you have a sweet tooth, this is probably in your personal top five. I do, and it’s definitely in mine! It reminds me so much of Belgium’s Get Up!, sent to Junior all the way back in 2010, and that was a song I was obsessed with at the time (not so much these days since it’s not exactly a timeless classic, but temporary gratification is better than none at all, right?). Both songs have a similar subject matter and call to get up and/or dance that I find irresistible, but this one is even more infectious. The mix of Dutch and English is better here too. Throw in a carefree nature, positive vibes and instant memorability, and this becomes a serious competitor without taking the contest too seriously. What we’ll get as a result (keep in mind that I haven’t watched any of the rehearsals) is a feelgood, smile-provoking performance that may not have the legs to lead the pack, but should make Shalisa’s second-last place last year a distant memory. It was the televoters who led to her downfall, while the juries bumped her up – so with only juries to win over and a song that is much more childlike than Shalisa’s, it’s hard to say how high Kisses can go. But given that we are talking about Junior Eurovision, and that we have kids juries in play, I’d like to think they have an audience in the voting population who will clap-clap along with them and send some double-digit scores their way.

My score 8

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 7
  • James, UK – 6
  • Joshua, Australia – 5
  • Matthew, Ireland – 8
  • Michael, Australia – 8
  • Penny, USA – 6
  • Rory, Ireland – 4

 

 

serbia

My thoughts Serbia is another country that has pinballed in a different direction, after trying something dramatic (that could have passed as an adult Eurovision entry with an age-appropriate singer) at JESC last year. Flamboyant hand gestures and massive money notes are out; hoverboards and sassy summer sounds are in, via Dunja’s U La La La. Lightening things up was a move that’s likely to pay off – even I can see that, despite this song not being one of my favourites. Dunja is a girl with grunt in her voice and more attitude than most of the other artists combined, and the song is a perfect fit for her personality and vocal talents (in studio, at least). It’s youthful, catchy, and a good combo of contemporary pop and vintage JESC kid-pop (the kind I get a kick out of because it brings back memories of when I discovered mini –Eurovision). As I said, I’m not head-over-heels in love with it, although if I tried out Dunja’s hoverboard I would definitely end up head-over-heels. But I do think it holds its own as one of the ‘fun’ songs on offer, and that it stands out style-wise. Serbian really shines in an urban-sounding song, and I respect the fact that there’s no English awkwardly inserted at the start, in the middle or at the end – it’s that native tongue all the way through, making U La La La one of just three entries to stick with a language other than the most accessible one possible. I’m not saying that will benefit or disadvantage Dunja, but I admire it no matter how she scores. I don’t really have anything else to say about this, other than ‘I last listened to it five days ago and the chorus is STILL stuck in my head’, which has to count for something.

My score 7

The EBJ Junior Jury says…

  • Dara, Australia – 8
  • James, UK – 7
  • Joshua, Australia – 10
  • Matthew, Ireland – 6
  • Michael, Australia – 12
  • Penny, USA – 12
  • Rory, Ireland – 5

 

 

Now, with those sentences about/scores for Serbia dealt with, I finally get to say this: seventeen down, zero to go! The ranking for this round is as follows:

  1. Serbia (8.37)
  2. Macedonia (7.75)
  3. The Netherlands (6.5)
  4. Israel (5.87)
  5. Australia (5.5)

Serbia takes out the top spot this time, with fellow ex-Yugo Macedonia snapping at their heels (or hoverboards – take your pick). The Netherlands didn’t kiss or dance their way beyond the halfway point, sadly, but they’ve got a good chance of doing so in the actual show (and the actual show, I’ll admit, matters a little bit more than the EBJJJ ranking). Israel and Australia *is outraged despite not loving the song* bring up the rear.

Stay tuned, because this weekend – just before the contest kicks off – I’ll be unveiling the Junior Jury’s complete 17-song ranking for you to feast your eyes on (and probably disagree with in a major way). I’ll also be posting my predictions for upper crust, bottom crust and filling of the scoreboard sandwich – i.e. which country will end up where once all of the esteemed jury members (and Jedward) have had their say. These predictions are going to be so hilariously inaccurate, you won’t want to miss them.

While you’re waiting, let me know which of today’s reviewed entries is your favourite – or which one makes you want to invest in a very high-quality pair of earplugs. Does one of these five have what it takes to win Junior Eurovision 2016? If so, say so – I need all the help I can get in finalising those pesky predictions…

 

Get ready to #embrace, everybody!

 

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

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

 

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

 

 

Albania

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

Albania’s EBJ Jury score is…5.33

 

 

Estonia 

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

Estonia’s EBJ Jury score is…7

 

 

Germany

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

Germany’s EBJ Jury score is…7.78

 

 

Lithuania

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

Lithuania’s EBJ Jury score is…6.55

 

 Netherlands 

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says… 

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

The Netherlands’ EBJ Jury score is…5.55

 

 

San Marino

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

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

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

The EBJ Jury says…

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

San Marino’s EBJ Jury score is…2.44

 

 

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

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

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

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

Sense the sarcasm, guys.

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

 

Until next time,

 

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TIME-WARP TUESDAY | Sha-la-lie, sha-la-la(aaagh!!)

Where + when Oslo 2010

What Ik Ben Verliefd (Sha-la-lie), written by Pierre Kartner and performed by Sieneke

Sometimes, the song I select for Time-Warp Tuesday is one that I love so much, I’d marry it if I could (and I just can’t help getting my PDA on right in front of your faces). On other occasions, I decide on one I despise so I can figure out which of you share my opinion and which of you I will no longer be on speaking terms with. THEN there are the times I unveil an entry half of us have forgotten even existed, because it’s always nice to rediscover how much love, hate, or indifference you have towards a particular track.

Today, though, I’ve gone for none of the above (making that intro pretty pointless).

In 2010, the Netherlands sent a song to Eurovision that I neither love nor hate – and I definitely hadn’t forgotten about it. I do have strong feelings about this little ditty (no, I haven’t evolved into someone’s grandmother since my last post…’ditty’ is just an appropriate way to describe it) but the main reason I picked it is because, lyrics aside, it could pass as a Christmas song. And Turkey ‘n’ Pudding Day is right around the corner (I am yet to wrap a single thing, so expect me to sign off quite quickly today).

As someone who’s not the biggest fan of Christmas music – i.e. you’d have to pay me a large amount of cash and/or bribe me with copious quantities of Nutella-filled donuts to get me to sit and listen to any without complaining – that’s a downside, rather than an upside, to Sieneke’s Ik Ben Verliefd. But there are positives to be acknowledged here: a) the song is cute and endearing, so hating it with a passion would be like hating an adorable puppy with a slightly irritating bark; b) the staging and prop choices were bang-on, so what we saw matched perfectly with what we heard; and c) Sieneke sang like a champ. Parceled up as a package, this Dutch entry checked box after box, and could have been successful on the scoreboard…

…had it competed at Eurovision circa 1967.

That, right there, is the trouble with Ik Ben Verliefd, and it prevents me from feeling much liefde at all for this track. I swear it could have challenged Puppet On A String’s victory back in the day, but it had zero chance of advancing anywhere in 2010. I guess that’s what happens when you recruit the guy who penned The Smurfs theme to write your ESC entry, in a decade that doesn’t remotely resemble the Swinging Sixties.

Not that we can blame Mr. Kartner for every flaw in this plan. Whose fault was the horrendously vintage styling of Sieneke? She was seventeen at the time, but looked like she could have been the mother of a seventeen-year-old in that lacy jumpsuit-type arrangement. Girl was Nadav Guedj-ing before we knew that was a thing.

(Yet she still looked better than Trijnte Oosterhuis, our reigning Barbara Dex Award winner. The BDA went to Serbia in 2010, which I think was thoroughly undeserved. Why should you be punished for bringing back the bowl haircut and manufacturing ball gowns out of bubble wrap?).

Anyway…how badly would you say Sieneke was dressed in Oslo? Or, if you’d prefer to discuss something less fashion-oriented, what’s your verdict on Ik Ben Verliefd as a competition song? Is it retro and fun, or does it remain just as dated and kitschy as you (probably) thought it was at the time? Let me know below.

I’m heading off now to do that wrapping I mentioned earlier. While I’m doing it, I’ll be sending many festive vibes your way to make up for this TWT pick completely draining you of Christmas cheer.

In case I don’t post again pre-Friday (highly likely), God Jul, ladies and gents. May the best gift of all, for us all, be a great song from Albania on the 27th. Because national final season is about to kick off, and that’s the real season in which to be jolly. So go and be jolly already!

 

xmassig

 

JESC 2015 Judgments feat. the EBJ Junior Jury | Armenia, Montenegro, The Netherlands and Serbia

Zdraveĭ, guys! That, for anyone wondering, is what Google Translate has informed me ‘hello’ is in Bulgarian (meaning there’s a good chance it actually translates to ‘I can see your underpants’ or something like that). But it’s the thought that counts, and I’m definitely thinking I’d rather say hi than say anything in reference to your underpants…unless Måns Zelmerlöw is reading this, of course.

Ahem. Moving right along now. Believe it or not, Bulgaria’s first Eurovision event – Junior Eurovision 2015, obviously – will take place in just over two weeks’ time. As such, I need to kick my pre-show coverage into high (or, really, any) gear. Today I’m doing just that by unveiling installment numero uno of my JESC reviews for the year.

But these aren’t just my reviews. As I did for EBJ’s ESC reviews earlier this year LINK, I’ve put together a globe-spanning jury who are ready to slide all seventeen songs competing in Sofia under their musical microscopes (I shipped one out to everybody, which got very expensive) in order to determine which ones deserve douze points, and which ones…well, don’t (let’s leave it at that. Someone has to think of the children!). Each of these JESC Judgment posts will see three ESC and/or JESC fanatics (including yours truly, as I wasn’t prepared to relinquish complete control) comment on and score each entry – revolutionary, I know. Before we get down to the nitty-gritty of said commenting and scoring, allow me to introduce the first trio of jury members.

 

TODAY’S EBJ JUNIOR JURY

EBJJJ 1Lukman Andi Uleng ‘What do you get when you mix sugar and spice and everything nice with a teaspoon of Eurovision? Well, it makes me, Lukman Andi Uleng! I’ve been following the most fantastic show on Earth since 2001, when my sister asked me to watch the show with her on SBS. Funnily enough, I became the Eurovision fan, while she despises it! I’ve also been watching the Junior version since it first started in 2003, and to this day, still follow it. I remember the early days when it used to have a strong focus on colours, cuteness and tackiness, and the children themselves would be the main composers of the songs. Junior Eurovision is about fun, letting the talented children of Europe show the world what they can do. I guess it’s a great platform for their future in the entertainment industry. My favourite Junior Eurovision songs ever include Te Traigo Flores by Antonio José, Te Doy Mi Voz by Dani Fernández, and Planet of the Children by Krisia, Hasan and Ibrahim. I’m so excited that Jaz invited me to review some of the Junior Eurovision songs selected for 2015!’

Jaimie Duncan Jaimie is a Eurovision tragic who longs to own a wind machine of her own (there are days when a pedestal fan is just not enough). She finds the idea of Junior Eurovision simultaneously appealing and unsettling, and tends to drink and yell at the television when watching it – and sometimes when reviewing the songs as well.

Jaz ‘Surprise, surprise – it’s ME! You’re probably aware that I devote almost as much brain-space to Junior Eurovision as to its older, wiser sibling, and have done since I stumbled upon them both in 2006. As someone who nearly had a breakdown when JESC went through its rough, could-be-cancelled-at-any-minute patch a few years back, I got ridiculously excited seeing it bounce back and become bigger and better than…well, maybe not ever, but it’s pretty awesome these days, right? If I could magic any non-competing country into the competition this year and for the future, it’d be Spain. They rocked at JESC from 2003-2006, and left on a high…meaning they could return on a high too. See you in 2016, amigos?’

 

 

So now you’ve seen our incredibly attractive faces and know our names, go ahead and check out what we think of the JESC 2015 efforts from Armenia, Montenegro, the Netherlands and Serbia. Don’t worry, Mika, Jana, Shalisa and Lena – we haven’t been too hard on you…

 

 

 Armenia15

Lukman Armenia is one of the powerhouses of Junior Eurovision, and their entries are always catchy, fun and a bit out-of-the-box. Mika is such a big personality and a born star, and if the Armenians can stage a wonderful, exciting and suitable performance as they always do, he will finish on the first half of the scoreboard. I admire the entry as it is age-appropriate, compared to some younger singers singing songs more suitable for adults. The song itself is cute and cheeky, and more of a song to watch than to listen to. The verses and choruses are not the most memorable and not the most original; however, the song is about spreading love, fun and happiness. A serious contender for the win? Well, maybe not…but it will definitely be one to watch. Good luck Mika! 6 points.

Jaimie Has everyone seen 10-year-old George Dalton’s viral cover of Trap Queen yet? If you haven’t, watch it – it’s a weirdly mesmerising, Scott Bradlee-style reimagining. It’s also deeply disturbing when you consider that the original Fetty Wap song is about a girl who cooks meth, not apple pie. I have to admit that when I first heard Armenia’s JESC entry, my first thought was ‘Oh look, it’s the Armenian George Dalton. Except cooler. And with a love gun. Wait… what?’. The music video is hard to decode (where is the first location? Dr Love’s Evil Lair? Some sort of call centre? Santa’s Workshop? Why are they wearing 60s sci-fi costumes?. I feel I should learn this dance. At least the guy driving is grown up. OMG, THAT’S WHAT ARAM MP3 IS UP TO NOW? Should we be encouraging the shooting of love-nerf from a moving vehicle? Uh, you do know what happens when dogs “fall in love” right? Oh, he’s a motivational speaker. Or a supervillain. That makes so much more sense. God, this is weird.) What the video does offer is some clues about staging which could be a completely fabulous little retro revival as long as Mika leaves the love gun at home. Coming from a default position of finding JESC just a little creepy, I worry about how much I love this song…and what that says about me as a human. 10 points.

Jaz Armenia certainly know what they’re doing when it comes to JESC, and they’ve demonstrated that they mean business yet again by relegating Aram Mp3 to chauffeur status in Mika’s music video for the happy clappy Love. To put things simply, I like this song – I like it a lot. I wouldn’t say I feel the Love just yet, but this is the kind of effortless, retro-mod pop that a) puts me in a great mood, and b) tends to succeed at Junior Eurovision (see Russia 2006 or 2010 if you’re after a prime example). Mika is adorable and in possession of inordinate amounts of sass and swag for a kid his age. I have no doubt that he’ll have more than a pint-sized amount of stage presence to carry him through in Sofia. And, as Lukman said, Armenia never fail to put on an impressive performance, so expect top-notch costuming, props, lighting and choreography to accompany him. With all of that at their disposal – plus a catchy, fun track that is weaker than their previous, but is also competing in a far weaker field – Armenia could be dangerous to all sixteen of their rivals (though that’s partly due to the fact that they’re armed with those love guns). 8 points.

EBJ Junior Jury Score 8.00

 

 

Monte15

Lukman Let me start by stating that Oluja is a decent song and has a wonderful story in the video clip. I just feel that the song is a teeny bit outdated, and not particularly suited to Jana. The melody isn’t memorable, and there is just no hook. The chorus could be a bit stronger and a little more likeable. I really hope they have a strong and fun routine planned, which could help the song out. I would have loved to have heard some Balkan instruments in the song, or even stronger instrumentation. Sadly, as it is, Oluja has no ‘wow’ factor, but I’m sure Jana’s vocals will be awesome on the night! 4 points.

Jaimie So, the story of this song appears to be quite simple (I have to base this on the video clip as I am hampered by language here). Two kids, having run away from a folk festival of some kind, play a completely inept game of hide and seek which ends when the girl nicks the boy’s scarf and runs off with it, presumably to more fully embrace her new life of crime. Flash forward, and the boy, having grown a staggeringly majestic set of cheekbones, is still moping about the countryside missing his scarf. The girl, having grown into a Dolly magazine model and renounced her life as a criminal mastermind, runs into him in a field. He’s so pleased at having his scarf back, he hugs her, not realising she’s plucked his wallet out of his pocket. It’s a classic romance. It’s also boring and forgettable, and cannot possibly move into the top half of the board without this girl’s organised crime connections fixing the vote (possibly having been bribed with the scarf). 5 points.

Jaz Lucky it’s Throwback Thursday, because Jana’s Oluja is one heck of a #tbt to the JESC days of yore – not that I mind much. I had a feeling Montenegro were going to BRING IT on their second shot at Junior, so in that sense, I was disappointed when this cookie-cutter, half-hearted attempt at ethno-pop dropped. But it’s amazing what a second listen can do! I still think Jana is putting as much energy into her vocals as Maša & Lejla did into their performance in Malta (i.e. not much at all…is Montenegro suffering from a sugar shortage or something?) which detracts from the sunny vibrancy of the melody. Nor do I think her song makes the most of its almost-three minutes (is that extended instrumental break necessary?). However, I don’t mind having a dance to it at this point. Oluja really does reek of JESC circa 2005, and though that’s fine by me because I loved (and still love) those contests, it might not help Montenegro improve on last year’s mediocre result. I’m interested to see how this is presented, and how Jana comes across live (will she have to have a Loïc Nottet-style lie down halfway through because she’s so lethargic?). My fingers will be crossed that it’s at least competent on both of those counts. 7 points.

EBJ Junior Jury Score 5.33

 

 

Nether15

Lukman Shalisa is a very talented singer with great stage presence. I really like the verses, which sound really lovely to the ear. Unfortunately, I don’t find the chorus as strong. I appreciate it is beautiful, but it’s not catchy and not too memorable. Despite the chorus not being catchy enough I appreciate that the song is high quality, contemporary and filled with lots of emotions, feelings and passion. I hope she sticks to singing whilst playing the piano because it may give her the edge, and also shows off what she can do! 6 points.

Jaimie Eh. I don’t hate it. I don’t “love” it as much as the Armenian song. Shalisa looks like a young Natalie Portman which is intriguing, and I like her hat. Million Lights is pretty clinical. It provokes no feeling. It’s safe and pleasant. It’ll probably win. 6 points for the hat.

Jaz The Netherlands is another one of those countries that seem to ‘get’ JESC without always proving themselves to have the same understanding of the ESC. Year after year, they send something polished, well-produced and contemporary to mini-Eurovij, and 2015 is no exception. Million Lights is a pretty ballad with Rihanna-esque r & b influences, sung beautifully by Shalisa (who’s emanating Emilija Đjonin vibes)…but it’s not the total package. It’s a song that seems to get lost in itself, with awkward switches from Dutch to English and vice versa contributing to the choruses being hard to single out; and it doesn’t really build up to much – not enough to demand votes, anyway. I’m not sure it’s cohesive or memorable enough to squeeze onto the left-hand side of the scoreboard. It is melodically douze-worthy, though, and I enjoy all the different bits and pieces within. This is a genre that’s right up my street, and there’s something about this example of it that draws me in, in spite of some obvious flaws. 8 points.

EBJ Junior Jury Score 6.67

 

 

Serbia15

Lukman An absolutely beautiful song represents Serbia at this year’s Junior Eurovision – but saying that, I do lean towards Balkan songs. I really like the melody, and the chorus is very emotional and dramatic. I wish the instrumentation was a bit stronger as the song is missing a bit of oomph that it needs. My idea would be to throw in a few more instruments that would remedy that; however, I do like the inclusion of ethnic sounds in the song. I guess they could be going for simple instrumentation. The song does sound slightly outdated but I still love it. Lena is such a powerful singer and has been gifted with a really sweet voice. I am 100% sure she will sing well on the night! Good luck Lena! 7 points.

Jaimie Sigh. This is why I find the Junior contest so unsettling. I know kids. I’ve met some. I don’t know any of them who would get this passionate about things that aren’t Pokémon or pizza night at the roller rink or how their brother keeps stealing the Wii remote when it’s clearly not his turn. I do know an eight-year-old who stopped speaking for three days when Zayn left One Direction though, so I’m not saying that kids can’t harbour strong feelings about things. Perhaps Lena is super stoked about getting 10 out of 10 on a spelling test, but I rather think this song is about her self-empowerment instead (I’m guessing). This is no bad thing, really. I’m trying to be sympathetic. But here’s why I disconnect from JESC – I’m a grown-up. I’ve forgotten what the passions of childhood are like, whether they are about Pokémon or about realising you’re a complete person on your own, and I can’t help but wonder how many of the passionate words coming out of these child performers’ mouths have been put there by adult songwriters who have also forgotten. I want to take it seriously, because Lena’s obviously a good performer and I don’t want to do her a disservice, but I just can’t. I’m too cynical…and she’s no Mika. 6 points.

Jaz YES! A dramatic Balkan ballad! It’s almost like my main man Željko Joksimović will be with us in spirit in Sofia – although Lenina Pesma is even more drama-packed than the majority of his Eurovision compositions (which is really saying something). Unlike Million Lights, this is a song that builds up to something big, and doesn’t relent until the very end – or until Lena’s run out of oxygen and passes out on stage, one of the two. This girl might be miniature, but she has a massive voice that’s sure to impress on the night, assuming she can sustain it throughout the rehearsal period. She should sound strong, and Lenina Pesma won’t just be a showcase for her voice – it holds its own, and is sure to be a more memorable presence in the line-up than Serbia’s song was last year. It’s not exactly cutting-edge, but Balkan ballads don’t need to be – they’re timeless. This is on track to do rather well, as long as Serbia don’t overdo the staging (an atmospheric lighting scheme and a couple of dancers would do just fine). All in all, this is an excellent choice. 7 points.

EBJ Junior Jury Score 6.67

 

 

And just like that, there’s four songs done and dusted, leaving thirteen un-judged. Let’s have a look at the EBJJJ leaderboard at this early stage (which includes a tie I’ve broken on countback of individual scores):

  1. Armenia (8.00)
  2. The Netherlands (6.67)
  3. Serbia (6.67)
  4. Montenegro (5.33)

With no douze points doled out yet, will Armenia stay in prime position? Or will one of the next four countries to be placed in the spotlight take the title of Most Likely To Win According To The EBJ Junior Jury’s Totally Scientific Calculations? You can speculate on that as I let you know that Italy, Malta, Russia and Slovenia are up next. They’ll be reviewed by not one, but two returnees from my May ESC jury – James from the UK, and my mum (yep, Mrs. Jaz is back, and she didn’t even need to be bribed into it…much).

Join us then for more JESC-themed shenanigans, or be square!

 

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