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VIENNESE VERDICTS | The EBJ Jury Reviews (Part 4)

Being all about that bass is so passé. Right now, at least within the Eurovision sphere, it’s all about those Eurovision 2015 reviews. That’s why I barely let you finish reading one installment before I publish another. Case in point: this is Part 4. Yep, we’re halfway through already!

Under the musical microscope today are Sweden, the UK, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Romania; and on the EBJ Jury today are an Australian, another Australian, and me – also an Australian. Pay careful attention to how our points stack up, because that might give you an insight into where the Aussie points will go come May 19th, 21st and 23rd. Or not. Actually, that’s very unlikely. Forget I said anything, okay?

 

TODAY’S EBJ JURY

vv4

Mrs. Jaz: She’s back! Louisa Baileche lookalike and mother of me, Mrs. Jaz refused to stop her review count at five. Hang on a second…no, that was me. I refused to let her stop at five. Anyway, she’s joining the EBJ Jury for the second and final time today to offer opinions from a non-fan, outside-of-the-bubble perspective. How she rates the entries from Sweden etc could be a gauge as to how they’ll fare in the final (if they make it that far) when all of the casual viewers drop by and vote for the songs that make the best first impressions.

Fraser McEachern: “Hello Europe, this is Fraser from Adelaide calling! As one half of the the record-breaking escTMI Eurovision review show (well, in our minds anyway) I have loved the Eurovision Song Contest since I first laid eyes on it back in 1998. I recall turning the TV channel over to see Dana International performing Diva, and from that moment, I was hooked – and I haven’t missed a contest since! My love for Eurovision culminated in Loreen’s 2012 win, which led escTMI to attend the show in Malmö in 2013. We loved it so much that this year, we’re heading to Vienna to join in the fun all over again. My favourite Eurovision songs of all time tend to be the same ones, just in different positions. At the moment, #1 is Invincible by Carola, #2 is Quedate Conmigo by Pastora Soler, #3 is Je N’ai Que Mon Âme by Natasha St-Pier, #4 is Je T’adore by Kate Ryan, and #5 is Rise Like A Phoenix by Conchita Wurst. As I said, these change regularly. However, there have been many brilliant songs (and remixes) over the years that I have become addicted to!”

escTMI on YouTube | escTMI on Facebook | Follow Fraser on Twitter

Jasmin Bear: “Yes, it’s me again. Just face it, I’m not going anywhere! I’m also not going to tell you a Fascinating Eurovision-Related Story Masquerading As A Regular Bio today, as I’m still trying to figure out which one I should publish next: a) a tale of all the times I thought I heard a Eurovision song playing in a shop but it turned out to be something else, and the ensuing disappointment; or b) a three-hundred-word mini essay weighing up the pros and cons of Dana International’s Gaultier fixation. They’re both so very scintillating, I can’t choose between them.”

 

 

We’re a fabulous trio, as far as I’m concerned (in fact, I think we should form an Alcazar-esque pop threesome and represent Australia at Eurovision next year, should the opportunity arise). I’m sure you’ll let us know if you agree or disagree with that once you’ve checked out our views on Måns, Electro Velvet, Loïc, Marta & Václav and Voltaj (and their songs, obviously). Let’s get started!

 

 

SWEDEN

Heroes by Måns Zelmerlöw

Sweden

Mrs. Jaz: The first thing I thought when this song twanged into gear was ‘Have Mumford & Sons defected to Sweden for some reason?’. The folky/country intro reminds me very strongly of their kind of music. Then, things swiftly took a poppier turn and became anthemic and uplifting. This song boasts great choruses with a slick production sound and simple but effective lyrics that had me singing along by the second run-through. The remaining lyrics aren’t the world’s greatest, but that hardly matters when every other aspect is much more than mediocre. The staging visuals take the package up a notch, and I have to admit, the visual of Måns (he has a great voice and everything, but LEATHER PANTS!) helps too…7 points.

Fraser: I had big expectations of Måns in the lead-up to his performance in Melodifestivalen, and for the first few seconds of Heroes, I thought ‘Crap! What has he done? It’s a country song!’. Moments later, I realised he was just channeling the Avicii-esque sound that is big across the world at the moment, and that it’s a hook to get us into the fabulous pop song that follows. ‘We are the heroes of our time’ speaks volumes to a bit of a trend in Eurovision songs of late focusing on positive messages (think Rise Like A Phoenix and this year’s Beauty Never Lies) which I think will help it resonate with the voting public. If it doesn’t, Måns’ leather pants and background animations surely will! I love this song and I have a feeling it will do exceptionally well in the contest. DOUZE POINTS!!!

Jaz: BACK OFF, MUM. I SAW HIM FIRST. Ahem. Forget me being biased about Australia – it’s when I start talking about Sweden that my impartiality goes flying out the window with the greatest of ease. Despite my lack of Swedish roots, I feel particularly attached to the home of Melodifestivalen, and cannot help supporting them no matter what they send to Eurovision. Fortunately, for the past five years running Sweden has chosen my favourite Melfest entry to represent them in the ESC – so my fervent flag-waving has been out of genuine appreciation for their song. And lo and behold, they’ve just done it for the sixth time in a row. Just when I thought Sanna Nielsen’s 7th-time-lucky win couldn’t be equaled in terms of how much it excited me, Måns Zelmerlöw goes and triumphs on his third Melfest attempt. I’ve been a Måns fan since the Cara Mia days, but I always felt like that song, and its follow-up Hope and Glory, were a bit too schlager to succeed in a contest that was outgrowing that style. Not to mention the fact that they required dance moves that came at the expense of Måns’ vocals. Heroes is different. It’s more dynamic, more accessible (i.e. not overstuffed with schlager) and more of an anthem. Plus, the intriguing countrified intro is not only trendy, but gives Måns a chance to focus on his vocals (with a little attention reserved for the cartoon man). And his vocals absolutely soar on this infectious track that is ideally suited to raising the roof off an arena. His entry has everything going for it, even with the controversy over the graphics (which the delegation seems to be taking as a chance to make the staging even better) and Eurovision 2015 is Sweden’s to lose as a result. DOUZE POINTS!!!

EBJ Jury Score: 10.33

 

 

UNITED KINGDOM

Still In Love With You by Electro Velvet

Programme Name: Eurovision 2015 (C) BBC - Photographer: Sarah Dunn

Mrs. Jaz: Aaaand straight to the 1920s we go, with a song that would definitely be on the soundtrack of a movie entitled Flappers Go Mental. To quote Kath and Kim (hoping that someone outside of Australia will get the reference) this is different, it’s unusual! I won’t say it’s noice too, although the love story is cute, if a little too sweet and mushy at times. I like how unashamedly retro the song is, and the fact that it’s been infused with some contemporary sounds. But even so, that cosmic-sounding bit caught me off guard – it’s a weird inclusion. As a duet, Bianca and Alex work well together as they Charleston and scat their way through some amusing lyrics. This entry isn’t perfect, but it’s endearing and energetic, and the UK expat in me is giving it 6 points.

Fraser: Unlike with Sweden, my expectations for the UK are always low. They are so erratic with the quality of the songs they send, it’s just plain confusing. Enter Electro Velvet – wow! I had my toes tapping and my spirit fingers shaking (I’m not scatting for anyone). The video is rich and fun, and I have enjoyed the unique sound each time I have listened to it. Today, however, I’ve found the recorded version on Spotify, and it sounds like they have slowed it down by a third. I can only hope this is not what they will perform in Vienna [UPDATE: Fortunately, it isn’t]. I’ll give them some points for trying, but it’s all a guess until we get to see it performed live. 6 points.

Jaz: The first time I heard this song, I literally facepalmed. I thought the 1920s theme was cringey, the scatting was awful, and that no song that makes mention of ‘nasty diseases’ should ever have the chance to take to the Eurovision stage. All in all, I was pretty close to grabbing the UK by the shoulders and shaking them violently, while politely enquiring at the top of my lungs as to what the bloody hell they were thinking, voluntarily choosing to have this nightmare represent them on an international stage. But then I listened to it again, and don’t ask me how or why, but I found myself digging the ridiculous trip back in time. It is bonkers, but it definitely livens up a contest full of songs on the opposite end of the spectrum – i.e. down-tempo and vanilla. Alex and Bianca look and sound great together (I’m choosing to ignore the reports of lacking chemistry from those who’ve watched the pair’s live performances) and I love the parts they play that correspond with the lyrics. Competing against angsty, moody duos such as Stig & Elina and Mørland & Debrah Scarlett, Electro Velvet’s effervescence will be welcomed. Having said that, I do like the Estonian and Norwegian entries more than Still In Love With You, and I suspect both of those countries will leave Vienna with a better placing than the UK’s. But first impressions never last, and as I really like this song now, I hope it gets somewhere on the scoreboard. 8 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 6.67

 

 

BELGIUM

Rhythm Inside by Loïc Nottet

Belgium

Mrs. Jaz: I’ve been informed that I’m the 987426th person to say that this is very Lorde – but there’s nothing wrong with that! There is so much to enjoy where this entry’s concerned. The music and lyrics are really good, and the overall ‘sound’ really draws you in and takes you on an interesting journey. I wanted to keep listening (not the case with some of the others I’ve heard) and I would be happy to listen to it again. It’s my favourite of all the songs Jaz has forced me chosen for me to review! 10 points.

Fraser: Wow, wow and wow! I can completely understand why Loïc did so well on The Voice in Belgium. This song is not normally my sort of thing, but I really like it. He has soul and sauciness in his voice, and teamed with this song, I think he will be able to deliver some really good points for his country. Even if he doesn’t, we will keep watching the video – it’s hot! 10 points.

Jaz: Belgium is one of those countries that fail to impress year after year, making the majority of us think ‘Why bother?’ (or, in last year’s case ‘Why Mother?). Then, seemingly out of nowhere, they strike gold and send something epic. They most recently did so in 2013, putting their faith in teenage The Voice winner Roberto Bellarosa, who was duly rewarded with a place in the final, then a result that was one of the best Belgium had seen in a long time. In 2015, they’ve selected…well, a teenage alum of The Voice. And Loïc Nottet, as the alum is known, is peddling a freaking fantastic song, just like Roberto – only Rhythm Inside is superior to Love Kills. This is one of a bunch of this year’s songs that wouldn’t be out of place on the radio right now, and not just on mainstream stations. It’s a little alternative, but it still possesses so much of what attracts me to a pop song  – infectiousness, pared-back verses that contrast with big choruses, lyrics that may make little sense but are in no way lame or cheesy…it’s all there. And, like Fraser, I am left with no questions as to why Loïc had such a great run on The Voice. His pipes are as unique and enjoyable to listen to as his song. He may be just nineteen years old, but so was Lena when she won Eurovision in 2010 (and do I even have to mention Sandra Kim?). I’m not saying Belgium’s going to win the contest. That would be a huge ask, even if Loïc locked Måns in the Stadthalle basement on final night. All I’m saying is that I reckon their song is the bomb, and so is their artist – and that’s a recipe for success. I desperately want this to make the final, and as the overall package is stronger than the one Belgium put forward in Malmö (and with this being a weaker year than 2013) if they do qualify, a top 10 finish is within their reach. That, for Belgium, is more or less a win anyway. 10 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 10.00

 

 

CZECH REPUBLIC

Hope Never Dies by Marta Jandová & Václav Noid Bárta

Czech Republic

Mrs. Jaz: Well, this is all terribly, terribly dramatic, isn’t it? What a trés tragique, OTT ballad it is. In spite of all that drama, it didn’t really do anything for me – I spent most of the three minutes waiting for the END of the three minutes, which I’m guessing isn’t a promising sign in terms of potential Eurovision success. Just thinking about it makes me want to yawn, actually. I know they’re trying to tell us that hope never dies, but mine definitely did! I hope someone’s in the wings come contest time, ready to drag this pair off stage with one of those giant hooks reserved for drunk, off-key karaoke singers. 3 points.

Fraser: This is stating the obvious, but it’s very musical theatre. I love musicals, but I don’t really like this one. I don’t think their voices work well together – his is so deep and manly, hers is less so. Not for me, sorry. Czech Republic, you won’t be troubled in 2016. 4 points.

Jaz: The Phantom of the Opera is heeeeeeeere…competing in Eurovision 2015, apparently. He’s buffed up, gotten some ink and no longer requires his white mask, but based on the melancholy, theatrical sound of Hope Never Dies, it’s him, alright. Now, don’t get me wrong: I too love musicals, and the actual Phantom of the Opera soundtrack is as good as they come (thanks to Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber). But this song is so painfully ESC circa 2005, and so over-dramatic, that it doesn’t compare favourably. I do like it more at this point than I did after my first listen, but there’s no aspect that really grabs me. Nothing makes me love it. The Czech Republic hasn’t returned to Eurovision with the bang I was hoping for, so I think they’ll remain one of the weakest-performing participants when the 60th contest has concluded. It’s a shame, as it may dissuade them from trying again next year. Still, I won’t be sorry to see them left behind in their semi-final. 4 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 3.67

 

 

ROMANIA

De La Capăt (All Over Again) by Voltaj

Romania

Mrs. Jaz: Nice…very nice. This makes for a soothing listen, and I got a lot of emotion from it without having a clue what the subject matter was. I was curious about the topic at hand though, so I was pleasantly surprised by the language switch. The English part may not communicate the intended meaning explicitly (I’ve been schooled on that meaning by a certain someone) but it gave me a better understanding, and I think it will help the non-Romanian speakers of Europe connect with the song too. 8 points.

Fraser: I don’t mind this one. It’s a nice, mid-tempo song that will do something around the middle of the field in the contest. It doesn’t really go anywhere as a song, but it’s nice enough to hum along to. I am happy that they appear to be singing mostly in Romanian in the competition, then the end in English with that hint of ESL in his voice! 8 points.

Jaz: I’ll get straight to the point (which is something I rarely do): I’m in love with this. As soon as I heard Voltaj were the favourites to win the Romanian final, with a song that had already been a domestic hit, I had to give it a listen. After all, that was the case when Mandinga won the same NF in 2012, and Zaleilah was amazing. I had high hopes for what was then known as De La Capăt, and they were exceeded. This song is beautiful. You definitely don’t need to speak Romanian to know that there’s a message here; or to enjoy how nicely the song’s been constructed, with a lovely minimalism to the verses. You wouldn’t think Romania would go for minimalism of any kind based on the ostentatious entries they’ve been selecting recently – Miracle, It’s My Life, and even Zaleilah – but it’s great to see them opt for a change of pace. I’m very glad Voltaj are taking a bilingual version of their song to the ESC, rather than the fully-English one. Both versions are surprisingly good, but Romanian is so well-suited to music (and native tongues are so sparing in this year’s contest) that I think they made a good choice. With Romania’s 100% qualification record, I’d have no worries about Voltaj making it out of their semi if it wasn’t for one thing – lead singer Călin’s vocals, specifically during the national final. Considering how long his band has been around, I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he was having an off night. If so, and the staging is simplistic enough to allow the song to shine, Romania should find themselves in the final. Unfortunately, though, I’ll be surprised if De La Capăt (All Over Again) outdoes last year’s tacky, try-hard Miracle. 10 points.

EBJ Jury Score: 8.67

 

 

Well, that’s another round of highs and lows taken care of. But just how high were the highs, and how low were the lows? Here’s a recap in case you’ve got an incredibly short memory, and/or you’re too lazy to scroll back up and check.

  1. Sweden (10.33)
  2. Belgium (10.00)
  3. Romania (8.67)
  4. United Kingdom (6.67)
  5. Czech Republic (3.67)

Congratulations and jubilations go to Sweden, sitting pretty (so very pretty, ifyaknowwhatimean) on top of this party of five. Commiserations go to the Czech Republic, whose 5th place here will probably be hailed as a raging success after they’ve finished 16th in their semi final (having beaten nobody but San Marino).

Drop by again in a few days’ time as Matt – Fraser’s escTMI co-host – and Rory from ESC Views return to review Malta, Georgia, Lithuania, Albania and Spain. If you’re lucky, I might throw in that mini essay I mentioned earlier too.

In the meantime, why not revisit the first three installments of the Viennese Verdicts?

  • Part 1 feat. Russia, Austria, France, Ireland and Serbia
  • Part 2 feat. The Netherlands, Norway, Slovenia, Iceland and Switzerland
  • Part 3 feat. Cyprus, Poland, Italy, Montenegro and Armenia

And don’t forget to let the EBJ Jury know how you’d rank today’s scrutinised songs. Sweden may be on top with us, and in the betting odds – but who’s your favourite of the five?

 

nsig

 

MY VIENNA WISHLIST | The Saturdays for the UK

I want to talk numbers, folks.

We currently have twelve premiered/chosen artist-and-song combos headed for Eurovision 2015. Twelve and a half, if you think Italy’s Il Volo will take Grande Amore to Vienna but aren’t willing to bet on it (side note: I hope they do, as I LOVE it and want to have a romantic Lady and the Tramp-style spaghetti dinner with it…or with all three group members, whatever’s easiest).

Now, this may come as a shock to you, but none of these 12.5 entries belong to the United Kingdom’s. As is the norm, we’ve heard zilch from the UK as of now and shouldn’t expect to until March. That makes it perfectly appropriate for me to put an idea into the BBC’s mind – if not for this year’s contest, then perhaps the next.

Instead of laughing in my virtual face at that comment, please allow me to indulge in a fantasy of ‘what if?’ as I continue my sporadic series of Vienna Wishlist posts – a.k.a. ramblings re: the names I’m longing to see pop up on screen come May, but probably won’t. Today, it’s the UK’s turn.

Last “episode”, I selected teen pop pinup Robin Packalen for Finland (without success, as the UMK line-up that followed is testament to). This time, for the land of Trafalgar Square, tea and Terry Wogan, I’ve picked…well, it’s pretty clear from the title.

So let’s get this incredibly boring party started, as I say, “Can I PLEASE have…”

satsvw

 

WHO? WHERE? WHAT?

Rochelle Humes + Una Foden + Frankie Bridge + Mollie King + Vanessa White = The Saturdays, est. 2007, hailing from England and Ireland (that’s Una). They’re the Spice Girls of today’s music scene, mostly because there are five of them, the hair colours match, they’re female, and because I said so. Don’t question it, just go with it.

head-shots
The Spice similarities don’t end there – The Saturdays were also manufactured, put together after a nationwide audition callout. Their first gig involved supporting Girls Aloud on tour (whether that’s something to be proud of or embarrassed about is up to you) and during that time, they released their first single ‘If This Is Love’.

The song was co-written by a) Remee, host of JESC 2003 and co-writer of this year’s Danish entry from Anti Social Media, and b) Norway’s Ina Wroldsen, who was partly responsible for Adelén’s ‘Bombo’. EUROVISION CONNECTION ALERT! It went on to chart in the UK Top 10, and was followed by the singles ‘Up’, ‘Issues’ and ‘Work’, all from The Sats’ debut album Chasing Lights. This album also charted within the top 10, giving them the leg up to head off on their own tour in 2008.

Their following two albums Wordshaker (don’t ask, ‘cause I have no idea either) and Headlines! arrived in 2009 and 2010, spawning a further four top 10 singles. On Your Radar (2011) was their last record before the 2012 premiere of their reality TV series Chasing The Saturdays, which detailed their (more or less unsuccessful) quest to break into the American market.

2012 wasn’t a year totally devoid of Sats success though. In December, they released ‘What About Us’ featuring Sean Paul, which went on to become their first – and to date, only – UK #1. But they did it big-style, knocking Justin Timberlake off the top spot. The single even made an appearance in the US Dance charts.

Living For The Weekend (2013), which featured that all-important #1, was their last studio album prior to the release of their greatest hits collection. Finest Selection was released last year, and is unlikely to be where the girls’ story ends.

Here and now in 2015, The Saturdays have achieved some serious stuff: produced five studio albums, two EPs, 18 singles (13 of which have charted in the UK top 10), 20 music videos and a compilation album, to be exact. Not bad for a group that was put together and could so easily have fallen apart.

PS – Here’s another Eurovision-related fact: Una’s no stranger to the ESC, having sung backup for Ireland’s Brian Kennedy in 2006. Methinks it’s time she made a comeback and brought her four gal-pals with her.

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SOUNDS LIKE…

Pop, basically, and with the slew of Scandinavian songwriters who have had a hand in their back catalogue, not completely unfamiliar, un-Melodi Grand Prix (Dansk AND Norsk) type pop. R & B is a clear influence in a number of their tracks, though, and they have a lot of dance songs to their name at this point. You’ll also find retro and electro influences creeping in on the likes of ‘Disco Love’ and ‘Notorious’. They do the occasional ballad – i.e. ‘Issues’ and ‘My Heart Takes Over’, and that’s when you can hear how well they harmonise.

The Sats are a girl band of traditional mould, and they don’t tend to be overly experimental or groundbreaking. In fact, even I’ll admit that some of their songs are questionable. But for every miss, there’s two or three hits, and that’s a pretty good track record. If your main requirement in a good pop song is that it’s catchy, you’re unlikely to be disappointed; but if you like your pop to be unique, there’s something Saturdays for you too. See ‘Gentleman’ for an example…and then just try to get that ‘A gentleman is so 1995’ hook out of your head.

 

DISCOGRAPHY

  • Chasing Lights (2008) feat. ‘If This Is Love’, ‘Up’, ‘Issues’, ‘Work’
  • Wordshaker (2009) feat. ‘Forever Is Over’, ‘Ego’
  • Headlines! (2010) feat. ‘Missing You’, ‘Higher’
  • On Your Radar (2011) feat. ‘Notorious’, ‘All Fired Up’, ‘My Heart Takes Over’
  • Living For The Weekend (2013) feat. ’30 Days’, ‘What About Us?’, ‘Gentleman’, ‘Disco Love’, ‘Not Giving Up’
  • Finest Selection: The Greatest Hits (2014) feat. ‘What Are You Waiting For?’, ‘808’, ‘Walking Through The Desert’

satsdisc

 

 

THE HIT LIST

‘Up’

 
‘Higher’ feat. Flo Rida

 
’30 Days’

 
‘Gentleman’

 
And my must-hear track, ‘Disco Love’

 

WHY EUROVISION?

My answer to this question, posed by myself, is always ‘Why not?’. In my opinion, there are very few acts who’d be unsuitable to compete. Maybe a band that insisted on performing nude (Eurovision’s a family show, remember) or an all-singing, all-dancing German Shepard (animals are fur-bidden). But I’m going off on a tangent now. While lady-bands haven’t got the best track record at Eurovision – think XXL, NonStop and Moje 3 – The Sats are no XXL, NonStop or Moje 3. They can sing live, they never wear lingerie on stage and they wouldn’t be seen dead in those polka-dotted Serbian monstrosities. Few people would.

If given the chance, I think they’d provide the UK with something fun and poppy á la ‘Rockefeller Street’, or a stadium-worthy dance banger like ‘Amazing’ (only they’d automatically be in the final). Or how about an R & B-infused ballad along the lines of the TWiiNS’ ‘I’m Still Alive’? Yes, I’m aware none of those entries had great success, but I am convinced The Sats could learn from the mistakes made by Estonia and Slovakia on those occasions, and nail whichever style of entry they opted for. After all, they’re accustomed to performing on big stages in fancy outfits in front of a ton of people, so they know what does and doesn’t appeal to the masses, aurally and aesthetically.

And a final reason why Eurovision needs these girls? Because I need these girls at Eurovision. It’s all very selfish, this.

 

 
With that in mind, put your suitably sparkly thinking caps on and answer me this: which artist/s would YOU parade in front of the BBC if you had the power to choose on the UK’s behalf? Or, if you just can’t be bothered where Royaume Uni is concerned, toss your ideal choice for any other country my way in the comments. Even if they’ve already chosen, you may as well come up with a replacement in case, say, Trijntje Oosterhuis walks along a little too fast (see what I did there?), stacks it, and ends up in a body cast that renders her unfit for traveling to Vienna.

What? It could happen.

 
I’ll leave you to your brainstorming until the next Super Saturday – February’s third – is upon us. The times are exciting, people – so enjoy them while they last!

 

nsig

 

EBJ’s top 10…UK entries in Eurovision history!

If you asked me right here, right now, to name the Eurovision nation I support unconditionally…I’d say Sweden, duh. That has nothing to do with the subject of today’s post, of course – I was just hoping to throw you off track (and remind you that Sweden is the one, they’re my number one, the only treasure I’ll-STOP IT, JAZ!).

The UK, on the other hand, isn’t a participant I always wave a flag for, but they have had more than their fair share of successes in contests past. Every year for the first twenty years of their participation, they finished in the top 10, with eighteen of those finishes in the top five. Clearly, they knew what they were doing back in the day, and the people – be they people on juries or, later on in the 1990s, people at home on the couch – responded accordingly.

As I’m people too (believe it or not) I’m going to take this chance to vote for my faves from Royaume-Uni, if only in retrospect and with make-believe points. I’ve been on a trip through the ESC archives, and here are the ten songs from the land of Cliff Richard that I had to bring back with me as souvenirs.

 

1 point goes to Are You Sure? by The Allisons (1961)

I find voices that are in perfect harmony hugely satisfying. Are You Sure? plays up to that satisfaction by neatly weaving together the vocals of Allison 1 and Allison 2 (I am currently too lazy to Google-remind myself of their names) into a very cute little ditty about some she-devil who’s callously walking out on one (or possibly both) of these guys. It’s an entry that might prove too saccharine for some, but I find it refreshing to listen to in this day and age, when the pinnacle of pop music is Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda. Okay, so that statement’s clearly untrue, but humour my desire to be dramatic, won’t you?

 

2 points go to Ooh Aah…Just A Little Bit by Gina G (1996)

I think we can all agree – I think – that in spite of that cringeworthy ‘Hey girls!’, Gina G was robbed of a top 5 finish in Oslo. Getting through three minutes in that dress without something falling out was a prize-winning achievement in itself, but COME ON! This song is boss. It’s got an irresistible thumping beat, a disco/Eurodance flavour that Alcazar could only dream of recreating, and, when competing in the contest, managed to be both oh-so-90s and ahead of its time. I guess my fellow Aussie Gina found solace in the fact that Ooh Aah became an international hit, whilst Ireland’s winning song The Voice…well, didn’t. I guess that’s proof that the real Eurovision winner isn’t always the one on top of the scoreboard.

 

3 points go to Making Your Mind Up by Bucks Fizz (1981)

This has got to be one of the happiest songs of all time. It’s definitely the happiest song to incorporate skirt-ripping (and to be proudly sponsored by Velcro). It hasn’t dated particularly well, but stick this on at a Eurovision party, or a party being attended by anyone who was a sentient being in England in the 1980s, and the dance floor will be packed faster than you can say ‘don’t let your indecision take you from behind’ (tee hee!). Sometimes I feel like MYMU is one big, long chorus, with the levels of catchy so consistent throughout, and listening to it in 2015, it has a cheesiness that’s charming rather than revolting. At least as far as I’m concerned.

 

4 points go to Save All Your Kisses For Me by Brotherhood of Man (1976)

So it turns out the UK were big advocates of adorability back in the day, as their third winning entry is as cute as The Allisons’. Save Your Kisses For Me isn’t just SO PRECIOUS IT HURTS, however. It also has a very M. Night Shyamalan plot twist in which we discover that the aforementioned kisses that must be saved are not from an adult spouse, but rather *gasp* a three-year-old child (presumably one of their children…). But mainly, it’s just precious. Tip of the day: make this your first pick next karaoke night, and throw in some of the original choreography just because. If your friends laugh at you, make it known you won’t be saving any smooches for them anytime soon.

 

5 points go to Come Back by Jessica Garlick (2002)

Who doesn’t love a good ballad? Well, probably lots of people. But I’m not one of them, and if you’re not interested in hearing my opinion, I have no idea why you’re reading my personal blog. As a connoisseur of fine ballads, I can say with authority that Jessica Garlick’s is up there with the second-best of them (or should I say the third-best?). There have been plenty of better ballads in the ESC, before and after she took to the stage in her Pocahontas costume (#WANT) but I still really enjoy Come Back. It’s a simple, well-sung entry that builds nicely before calming the eff down and then soaring again on that final money note. No stripteases or glitter-blowing required.

 

6 points go to Better The Devil You Know by Sonia (1993)

The UK went retro with Sonia, and her amazing purple catsuit. It didn’t totally work for them (if looks could kill, Sonia’s laser-beam death stare would have incinerated Niamh Kavanagh on the spot) but it was a top-notch effort nonetheless. Sonia’s one of those artists who almost sounds better live than in studio, and she sang and generally performed le crap out of Better The Devil You Know, which more than made up for the weaknesses in the lyrics. As a standalone song, the main drawcard here is how instant and infectious it is, and though I think Ireland’s winner was a very good one, I think I would’ve been happy if the UK had added another trophy to their collection at this point.

 

7 points go to Say It Again by Precious (1999)

Hi, my name is Jaz, I’m twenty-three, and I’m still the same girl-band and boy-band freak I was fifteen years ago. I was raised on the Backstreet Boys and the Spice Girls, so any act that vaguely resembles either of them AND entered Eurovision – i.e. Eden, Prime Minister or XXL – is bound to rate highly with me. Precious = a British girl band including a woman who’d go on to join Atomic Kitten = musical royalty in my eyes. In terms of my ears, Say It Again is always well received. R & B doesn’t usually go down well in the contest, and this was no exception by UK standards – at the time, 12th was one of their worst-ever results – but I’m a fan, and that fact that this song finished lower than the likes of Love City Groove is inexplicable to me.

 

8 points go to Where Are You? by Imaani (1998)

There’s not a whole lot you can say about this entry, though I could go on for hours about the painful yet wonderful 90s-ness of Imaani’s hair and outfit. My short and sweet description of the song would go something like this: three minutes of simple but very effective pop. There was a lot of that in the field in Birmingham, with the majority of it scoring well. I wouldn’t dare complain about the UK coming second to Israel, partly because it would be a cardinal Eurofan sin to diss Dana International, and partly because Dana did have a little extra something (and no, I don’t mean…THAT) which helped her forge ahead. But give me the option to listen to either Diva or Where Are You?…and I’ll be all like, ‘Who do you think you are? Don’t tell me what to do! Back off!’. Then I’d probably pick the latter.

 

10 points go to I Can by Blue (2011)

As if you didn’t know this was coming, especially after my earlier boy band/girl band speech. I still believe this song had ‘WINNER!’ written all over it, and if it wasn’t for a performance that wasn’t so much a complete disaster as it was just wrong all over (Lee Ryan’s vocal fail not included as that was definitely a disaster) it might’ve at least had ‘respectable top five finish’ written all over it. After the Josh Dubovie Incident of the previous year, and the many fails the UK had experienced leading up to the Düsseldorf show, the anthemic I Can gave us a glimmer of hope that Jade Ewen’s success hadn’t been a fluke. And I suppose Blue’s almost-top-10 result – an excellent one in comparison to the likes of 2003, 2005, 2008 and 2010 – proved that it wasn’t. Kind of.

 

And finally…

 

Douze points go to Why Do I Always Get It Wrong? by Live Report (1989)

Oh, but you don’t, Live Report. You actually got it super right on this occasion, apart from the whole ‘losing to a song that most of us think is one of the weakest winners, like, EVER’ thing. Now, to clarify, I actually like Rock Me as a song. It’s fun, it’s catchy, and lead singer Emilija had one of the best quiffs in Eurovision history until Jedward came along. But as a winner, it does suffer from a bit of Running Scared syndrome, otherwise known as ‘how the hell did that happen?’. So as much as I don’t like to say that certain songs ‘should’ have won, I’m going to imply it here. Why Do I Always Get It Wrong is the height of UK Eurovision excellence for me because I love 80s music, and I love ballads, and the combination of those two loves here does things to me. Report’s front man Ray helps that along with his effortless vocals in and out of the recording studio. Fashion aside, there’s nothing about this entry that doesn’t work for me.

 
EBJ extras: Puppet On A String by Sandie Shaw (1967); Let Me Be The One by The Shadows (1975); Rock Bottom by Lynsey de Paul & Mike Moran (1977); Love Shine A Light by Katrina & the Waves (1997); Even If by Andy Abraham (2008).

 
Aaaaaaand cue the complaints! JK. I meant cue the commenting of your personal favourites from the United Kingdom over the last fifty-nine years, interwoven with gushing praise on how amazing you think I am. That’s not asking too much, is it?

*awkward silence*

Fine then! That’s all for today, but stay tuned to EBJ this week for some Georgia talk. Plus, sticking with the UK and continuing my ‘Vienna Wishlist’ series, I’ll be revealing who I’d draft in to represent them in 2015 if I had the power. To anyone at the BBC reading this: I really, really, really would like that power. In the immortal words of Cyprus 2002, GIMME.

nsig

 

Copenhagen Reviews: Part 4 (Romania-UK)

I bet you didn’t see this post coming! Any number of topics could have been covered after the Copenhagen Reviews: Part 3, but I’ve gone controversial and chosen to critique the remaining nine songs in the Eurovision 2014 alphabet.

As usual, I haven’t even been tempted to watch any rehearsal footage (I’m not bragging – it’s just something I never do because I love the element of surprise) but I’ve seen some snaps and heard plenty of gossip from my preferred sources on the ground in Denmark. How everybody’s going to go is becoming a little easier to predict in what is still a very open contest. Perhaps the winner will be one of the countries I’m reviewing today. FYI, they are: Romania, Russia, San Marino, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and the United Kingdom. Check out my thoughts on this final group and then let me know what you think about their winning chances. San Marino’s got to be up there, right?

 

*Awkward silence*

 

Let’s start with Romania!

 

ROMANIA

Miracle by Paula Seling & Ovi

romaniaSounds like: a rejected B-side to Playing With Fire

Better than 2013: No

Top 10 material: Unfortunately, yes

IMO: I get the impression Romania think they’re on to a winner sending Paula & Ovi back to Eurovision. That their names and previous success alone will be enough to secure them what they allegedly deserve. Romania does deserve to win, as much as any other country – particularly those who’ve never had the honour. But Romania doesn’t deserve to do it with this song. Miracle never even comes close to living up to its title, and I have little doubt that Paula & Ovi won their NF because they’re Paula & Ovi, not because they had the best song on offer. The whole situation actually makes me angry. What we have here is a by-the-numbers dance track that offers nothing special, that’s made up of meaningless lyrics and has a ‘Let’s Show Off Paula’s Incredible Range, Shall We?’ segment thrown in for good measure. And just because this duo sang their way to 3rd place four years ago (which was genuinely deserved in my opinion) they’re coming into this contest with this air of entitlement that drives me crazy. Now, I have nothing against Romania – they’ve sent great songs in the past, and they have a lovely country and I’m sure, lovely people to their name. But this move has made me want to waggle my finger at the whole nation and say ‘Shame on you!’, like some teacher who’s just found the class delinquent carving swear words into the wood on his desk. The worst part is, I don’t have a completely terrible time listening to Miracle, and that makes me hate myself because I know, and have just articulated, how second-rate it is. It’s another entry that I assume will snatch away a place in the final from one that deserves it more. In spite of my unwelcome almost-enjoyment of the listening experience, I’d rather Paula & Ovi did a Dana International than a Dima Bilan.

Winner, loser or grower: I can’t even classify this, but I’ll give it 4 points.

 

RUSSIA

Shine by the Tolmachevy Sisters

russiaBest lyric: ‘Can you be a masterpiece of love?’

Better than 2013: No

Top 10 material: No

IMO: For the second year in a row, the ESC is being graced with the presence of Junior Eurovision alumni – only this time, it’s an act that conquered that competition. The Tolmachevy twins won JESC 2006 in Bucharest with Vesinniy Jazz, and eight years down the track, not that much has change. They still look pretty young, they can still sing very well, and they still dress EXACTLY THE SAME. Seriously, it creeps me out. Sadly (as I always get excited by a JESC artist making the transition to the adult contest) their song is different, but not for the better. In many ways, it’s more child-like than their JESC winner, leaving me with the overall impression that this is a Junior act trying to make it at a show it’s not ready for. I’m starting to wonder if there’s a curse related to the kids who try and do both – Poland 2010, Serbia 2013, and quite possibly, Russia 2014, resulting in zero qualifications. The twins have certainly been cursed with a mediocre song, making it a 100% record for me not loving any Eurovision-related song called Shine. It’s okay, pleasant even at times. It doesn’t offend anyone (except those who read too much into the lyrics about crime and crossing the line) and it verges on being catchy, although the cheesiness of the lyrics distracts me from that plus. The girls are vocally in sync, as you’d expect from two people who’ve shared a womb/room since forever. My main issue, aside from the whole ‘not ready’ thing, is that the song sounds like it was written decades before they were even born. It’s so dated I can’t even pinpoint the era it takes me back to (one that passed well before I was born). And that’s not what I want to see in Eurovision these days. There are songs that are retro in a nostalgic kind of way, and combine that with fresher sounds. But Shine is just old hat through and through, and whilst I appreciate the message they’re trying to send with it, nobody’s going to believe it coming from Russia at the moment. I’m torn over whether it’s going to go through because it’s Russia, or not because the song shouldn’t…and it’s Russia. Either way, I don’t want the twins to have a traumatic Eurovision experience. They’re only seventeen and they don’t come off as adult as past young’uns like Maja Keuc. Be gentle with them, Europe.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 6 points.

 

SAN MARINO

Maybe by Valentina Monetta

san marinoSounds like: San Marino thinks this is Eurovision 1974

Better than 2013: No

Top 10 material: No

IMO: We’ve all heard the saying ‘third time lucky’, and in life, it often proves to be true (that’s why I intend on proposing to Ott Lepland twice more by snail mail before I lose hope). San Marino is going for third time Maybe with Valentina, but I think the more realistic way of putting it is ‘third time no way in hell, to be blunt. I commended the Sammarinese effort to regroup after the Facebook incident and present Malmö with a new and improved Valentina to the one we all knew and tried not to laugh at. But even though Crisalide was a serious song, I couldn’t take the poor woman seriously having seen her in THAT outfit, doing THOSE dance moves, and singing THAT song. Now, on attempt three, I’ve stopped bothering to try and consider her as a contender. Now I’m just thinking, ‘You’re a lost cause.’ It’s time to move on and try someone, and something else, guys. Maybe reeks of desperation and mothballs (like it’s been sitting in the back of Ralph Siegel’s closet for thirty years). To be blunt again, it’s a stale snoozefest, and Valentina deserves better. But she keeps on being thrown songs that aren’t true to her style, and in this case, language. I know there are people out there who see this song as classically beautiful, and I respect your opinion, but to me it’s just a country clutching at straws, hoping to squeeze into the final because they’re the ultimate tryer. As far as I’m concerned, it’s never going to happen. I don’t mean never for San Marino, just not this year. We know they can produce stronger stuff – I personally loved their debut entry, and their JESC debut last year was retro, but creditable and entertaining – and when they finally find the right formula for Eurovision, they’ll qualify and deservedly so. This current formula is broke, so they need to fix it. Ciao once again, Valentina.

Winner, loser or grower: Loser. 3 points.

 

SLOVENIA

Round and Round by Tinkara Kovač

sloveniaSounds like: Say It Right by Nelly Furtado

Better than 2013: No

Top 10 material: No

IMO: Ethno-pop is in short supply this year, so thank you Slovenia for adding some to the buffet. It’s a decent serving (the food analogy ends here) if not mind-blowing. Tinkara – proud owner of the world’s most magical name – has a gimmick, and that is her flute, which adds a nice touch of haunting Slovenian-ness to a song that’s not particularly haunting outside of that. It may also have the benefit of making her performance memorable, if home viewers end up thinking to themselves, ‘That chick with the flute was good. I’m gonna send a vote or two her way.’ If there was no flute, HOW WOULD THEY REMEMBER HER?!? Ahem. Anyway, I really like this entry, but apart from the flute thing, it’s not that distinctive. It’s well-executed and competent, but for some reason even I don’t think it’s special. I have caught a glimpse of Tinkara’s dress and that looked pretty elaborate, but even with that in the mix I can’t see where all the votes for Slovenia would come from to get them out of their semi. The odds are in their favour to be a sure qualifier, but I see them finishing in the 11th-13th range as easily as 10th. For me, Hannah’s Straight Into Love was edgier and more exciting, although Round and Round will probably be vocally superior and, as alluded before, just as impressive in the fashion stakes (my thumbs are up for Slovenian style). If it gets to Saturday night it will also add much-needed variety of language to the proceedings. Basically, I’ll be pleased if it goes through because I like it, but I won’t be shocked if it doesn’t.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 7 points.

 

SPAIN

Dancing In The Rain by Ruth Lorenzo

spainSounds like: a big contender for fanwank of the year…

Better than 2013: Yes

Top 10 material: Yes

IMO: Spain has retreated back into Pastora Soler territory this year, considering that more likely to give them a respectable result. Pastora 2.0 = Ruth, a dark-haired, attractive (I may have a girl crush in progress) female who can belt out a ballad like nobody’s business. You may remember that I was a huge fan of Quedate Conmigo, all the while knowing it was a Eurovision-exclusive kind of song that those of us in the bubble would go crazy over, but that may not be so well received by your average, non-obsessive voter at home. I’m following the same pattern of thinking with Dancing In The Rain, only I wouldn’t say I love it. Like a bunch of other songs this year, it’s competent, pleasant to listen to and vocally commendable, but I can’t bring myself to rave about it. Lyrically and in the way it’s been constructed, it’s generic, and something you’d only hear in the contest or in a national final (hence what I meant by ‘Eurovision-exclusive’) which means a lot of fans are going crazy over it, predicting it as the auto-finalist that will finish highest. I’m not so sure. However, it is, I reckon, in the live performance where the song loses some of those generic qualities, and transforms from something I find a little flat into something much more lively. That’s because Ruth can sing so well, and knows exactly what she’s doing in a staged environment. Her time on The X Factor clearly made her comfortable with working the camera and owning her performances, and though she can take it to theatre-drama levels sometimes (i.e. over-perform) it’s still effective. She looks stunning on film, and even if some of those big notes test the eardrums of the live audience, us TV viewers will be spared. The juries will commend her vocal abilities and connection, so I guess it’s a matter of whether DITR is memorable enough to catch on that will determine her fate.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 7 points.

 

SWEDEN

Undo by Sanna Nielsen

swedenBest lyric: ‘Undo my sad’…what else?

Better than 2013: Don’t even think about making me pick. *points threatening finger*

Top 10 material: Yes

IMO: A disclaimer to begin – yes, I am fully aware that the majority of my comments about Spain up there↑ including the use of the word ‘fanwank’ could also apply to Sweden. The difference here is that I’m extremely biased about Sweden because I adore Sanna, adore this song and still relive the magical moment when she FINALLY won Melodifestivalen back in March multiple times a day in my mind. 95% of the time, Sweden is a country I support wholeheartedly in Eurovision. I don’t know if it’s because I follow Melfest and get very invested in my favourites (one of which usually wins) but for as long as I have followed it, I’ve loved every winner. Sanna’s Undo is therefore just one in an increasingly long line of Swedish reps that I have drooled over. I have liked her Melfest entries in the past, but for me (and I know there’s divided opinion on this) this is the one she deserved to win with – and no matter how narrow a victory it was, it was still a victory, so get over it already, Team Ace. This song gives me two very important things: a) feels and b) chills. OMG THE FEELS AND THE CHILLS! I know it’s unoriginal and by-the-numbers and blah blah blah, but this is the kind of ballad that gets me. Here, said getting has been helped along by Sanna’s amazing vocals. The woman can dip in and out of soft, delicate notes and big money notes like she was born doing it, with a constant clarity to her tone that is spellbinding. Also giving me goosebumps is the staging, in which a bunch of lights have never been used better. But to come back to the song itself – it may be repetitive and predictable, but sometimes that works. I feel like Sanna’s speaking to me on an emotional level (you may laugh if you want to). I don’t see the clinical side that those outside of Team Sanna keep mentioning. I see – or hear – beauty throughout. I even think ‘undo my sad’ is a hook that people will remember. Haven’t we all been referencing it on Twitter for weeks? The grammar policewoman in me knows it’s just artistic license, and that’s fine. Do I think Sweden will win next week as easily as they won the OGAE vote? Well, Sanna could be an Emmelie or a Loreen, who also won their respective OGAE votes; or, I’ll admit, a Kati Wolf, who won in 2011 only to be forgotten about in the actual contest. I still think Sanna has a spot saved in the top 5, but ultimately, my biased self will just have to wish her good luck and let Europe decide.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. DOUZE POINTS!!!

 

SWITZERLAND

Hunter of Stars by Sebalter

switzerlandBest lyric: ‘I’m the hunter, and you the poor prey. Tonight I’m gonna eat you up.’

Better than 2013: Yes

Top 10 material: No                                                                               

IMO: The situation in Switzerland was situation normal this season – the powers that be whittled the submitted songs down to a small and quite frankly, crappy pile that made me think ‘Of all the contributions, these are the best you could choose?’. Then, they went and made the best selection they possibly could have under the circumstances, which went on to appear a bit weak as more and more other countries chose their songs. I’m always sad to have to say that, but on the positive side, ‘a bit weak’ is a far cry from how the Swiss entry usually comes off by the time the field is at full capacity. Hunter of Stars isn’t exactly a force to be reckoned with, but I have to confess, it’s won me over in the time since it triumphed at Die Grosse Show. It’s a charming little ditty in a country vein, and uses whistling to nice effect. It also has an amusing preview video that complements the laid-back, folksy vibe perfectly. When you put it next to other country-esque entries, it actually one-ups them in some respects. For example, it’s more fun and exciting than the Netherlands’, and less contrived than Malta’s both lyrically and melodically. Unfortunately, Sebalter has found himself in the same semi final as Firelight, who have a much greater chance of qualifying (and it’s unlikely both will go through). Speaking of Sebalter – he’s got serious personality (not to be confused with a serious personality a la Carl Espen) and he’s very charismatic and personable on stage, so he shouldn’t have any trouble connecting with the audience, either in the arena or through the camera lens. I hope his seemingly happy-go-lucky attitude means he won’t be devastated to be sent home after Thursday night. I also hope if by some chance he does qualify, you guys won’t refer back to this review and tell me what a moron I am for discounting Switzerland.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 7 points.

 

UKRAINE

Tick Tock by Maria Yaremchuk 

ukraineSounds like: a slower version of Britney Spears’ Toxic

Better than 2013: No

Top 10 material: Yes

IMO: It’s a running joke that either Belarus or Ukraine never send the same song/artist combo that wins their national finals to Eurovision. This year, though, they both have. OR HAVE THEY?!? That was my incredibly dramatic way of saying that my, my, haven’t Ukraine done a number on Tick Tock? With a totally different arrangement and revised lyrics, you can hardly call it the same song that Maria strutted her way through back in December. At first, this was an outrage to me as I enjoyed the tacky, trashy original version. It was infectious bubblegum pop, and they twisted and reshaped it into something unrecognisable that had much lamer lyrics in the chorus. Having had time to get accustomed to Tick Tock II, I still prefer the original, but I have been reminded that one should never assume Ukraine don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to the ESC. This revamp has been welcomed with open arms by the majority of fans, and it has classed up the whole affair, right down to Maria’s styling (in the video and from the rehearsal snapshots I’ve seen). Even if the song had been swapped out for three minutes of Maria inhaling helium and reciting the alphabet backwards, I’ve no doubt clever staging would have kept Ukraine’s seat in the final warm for them. A prop or gimmick for presentation purposes has propelled them to success multiple times over the years. Maria herself is a tribute to all of the women her country has put forward to the contest – she’s hot, fierce, and has the voice of a slightly promiscuous angel, which she will coordinate with precise choreography and make it look natural, if I know Ukraine at all. I’m not seeing another podium finish so soon for them, but the lower half of the top 10 is within easy reach of Maria’s manicured fingers.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 7 points.

 

UNITED KINGDOM

Children of the Universe by Molly

ukBest lyric: ‘Tastes like a bitter pill but I’ll just wash it down with the taste of something sweet that some doctor gave me now.’

Better than 2013: Yes

Top 10 material: Yes

IMO: Is it possible that the BBC have hit on the magic Eurovision formula for the first time in way too long? The short answer is yes. They could be onto a winner, or at least an excellent placing, with Molly and her Children of the Universe, which is thankfully not a cheesy ballad about the youth of today coming together to share and care and make us all physically sick (I’m thinking of a similarly-titled song from the Dutch NF a few years back). As a package deal, this entry ticks a lot of boxes: Molly is a) not a pensioner, b) pretty to look at, and c) a capable singer, and her song is a) current, b) unique, particularly lyrically, and c) easy to latch on to (Power to the people? You can’t tell me that line wasn’t made for being shouted out and fist-pumped to in front of thousands of flag-waving fans). This is, without doubt, the strongest total package entry delivered by the UK in an über long while. What I like most about the song is how each segment is interesting in its own right – the quieter verses make you listen out of curiosity for what’s being said and where it’s going, while the choruses are sing-along friendly and pack a decent punch. Molly’s voice, too, is interesting. She’s almost like the anti-Sanna, with a rawness to her vocal that adds edge to her performance. All in all, I’m really fond of this, though it’s not right up there with my favourites (I just called Molly the anti-Sanna, which is a huge clue). But I’m having trouble seeing it as a winner. I would love to see a UK contest for the 60th, but I think the UK should be very happy if they manage to make the top 10. We don’t know yet how this will be staged, but when Molly first found out she apparently got goosebumps just imagining it. Perhaps Undo was on in the background during the unveiling. The point is, there are now great expectations of staging to go along with those of how Molly will fare score-wise. I would love it if for once, everything could come together for the UK.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 10 points.

Well, with the UK done and dusted, I’m pleased to announce that I’ve officially reviewed all 37 members of the Class of Copenhagen, with three days to go until Semi Final 1 (!!!). Here comes the obligatory mini-ranking:

  1. Sweden
  2. United Kingdom
  3. Ukraine
  4. Spain
  5. Switzerland
  6. Slovenia
  7. Russia
  8. Romania
  9. San Marino

I don’t know about you, but even with a few extra days to go until the Australian broadcast kicks off, my excitement levels are through the roof! It helps that here in Oz we have our very own Eurovision Quiz Contest starting on Monday at 8pm on SBS2 (for anyone in the country who may not have known the details) and continuing until Friday. Also, tomorrow night, Molly’s Graham Norton episode is on air here, so I’m calling Sunday the unofficial beginning of Eurovision Week.

I’ll be back on Tuesday with a last-minute prediction special, including my final pre-contest top 37 (not even I know what that’s going to look like right now) so look forward to that if that’s something you’d normally look forward to. Until then, leave me with your snarky comments about and/or lashings of praise over the songs from Romania through UK. Although…if you’re a Paula & Ovi devotee, I’d rather not have that kind of language on this blog.

 

Merry (almost) Eurovision!!!

EBJ Signature

 

 

 

The Best Night Ever: Meeting the world’s biggest boy band (and telepathically attempting to get them to Eurovision)

(This post was supposed to go out a fortnight ago, so please keep that in mind if/when you are reading it. It was totally hot off the press at that time…)

A few weeks back I mentioned that something kind of amazing was about to happen to me, and that I’d show and tell once it had. Well, last Saturday was the day. If the mere mention of the words ‘boy band’ make you physically ill, and you’re not in the mood for trashing my taste in music, you won’t like this next sentence: last Saturday was the day I got to meet a group of guys who look a little bit like this:

1

By ‘a little bit’, I mean ‘totally’. Yes, that’s right…I got to meet ONE DIRECTION!!!

Ahem.

In case that outburst didn’t give it away, I should tell you that I am a major boy band freak. Said freakiness goes way back – I grew up in the 90s listening exclusively to the Spice Girls, and every single boy band in existence (the Backstreet Boys, 98 Degrees, *NSYNC, Westlife, Boyzone, NKOTB, Boyz II Men, Five, Human Nature…you get the idea). Sadly, I have the same taste in music today, with the addition of mass Eurovision/national final/Asian pop. So a few months ago, when I found out I’d won tickets to go and see THE boy band of the moment (which I never could have bought myself because you practically have to sell a kidney on the black market to afford one) I was just a teensy bit happy about it.

2

Krista knows what I’m talking about.

Once I’d finished being a teensy bit happy, disbelief set in, because I never win anything that depends on a random draw. But that quickly gave way to “Screw that. Hashtag winning!”. I then broke the news to my mother, who said she’d be my plus one if none of my friends were interested. It turns out they weren’t, but only because none of them would admit to wanting to go. They are sorry now, believe me.

And so it was that a 22-year-old with a bachelor degree under her belt prepared to attend a concert geared towards teenagers with her mother (talk about YOLO). But wait – there’s more! A week or so before the show, I woke up to a phone call from the competition peeps casually letting me know that, not only would my mother and I be dancing all night to the best song ever, but we would also get to meet and greet the band before they took to the stage.

Umm, WHAT?!?

3

You will may laugh, but I don’t think I’d ever screamed out loud in my life before that happened. More with shock than anything else, since stuff like this does NOT happen to me. I’d never encountered anyone even remotely famous, besides that time I saw a local newsreader in the supermarket and stalked him through the freezer section for half an hour. I’d seen famous people from a distance, but I’d never actually gotten to “accidentally” brush up against one. So the prospect of doing that to not one, but five of the most famous man-children on the planet was thrilling…and terrifying. But was I going to chicken out, or give the opportunity to one of those tween girls who owns all the 1D albums and merchandise and bursts into hysterical tears whenever the names Harry, Louis, Liam, Niall or Zayn are mentioned? No. No I was not.  

So a week later, I was having a panic attack as le mother and I headed down to the shiny new Perth Arena (which would make an excellent Eurovision venue should the EBU ever decide that Australia deserves a shot at hosting). All we knew was that we were meeting someone outside the box office who would march us and a small group of others into the depths of backstage to briefly fraternize with the guys before the concert started. When we arrived to do just that, we found approximately 10 million girls lined up outside.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The reality was a LOT scarier.

I figured they were that breed of super-fan that does the hysterical crying, since this was 4.30pm and the concert didn’t start until after 7. It turned out they were lining up to attend the pre-show sound check, and after a while, we got the nod and the lanyards to join the same queue.

What felt like a year later, after a bag search and water bottle confiscation, we ended up in the arena foyer with the masses. They were filing into the arena itself, but our little group (consisting purely of hyperventilating, sweating people of various ages) was whisked away through a lot of swingy doors and into a massive room with a bar and very spongy carpet. There, we waited for what felt like another full year, having mini heart attacks whenever someone walked past the open door. I internally debated whether or not to grab a breath mint from my handbag (who knew how close we’d be getting?) and just as I did, through the door walked the actual, living, breathing One Direction. Naturally, I nearly choked on the mint.  

I don’t know if this has happened to you if you’ve met someone famous, but as soon as they came in I went into this weird dreamland where nothing felt real. In a way, I think that saved me from having a breakdown in the presence of the band (on the outside, anyway). The meet-and-greet began, and it turned out to be more of a ‘Hello!’, photo, photo, photo, ‘Thanks, bye!’ situation. These boys are busy. My mother and I stepped up, said a star-struck bonjour and had a few photos taken – me on the end and her for some reason in prime position in the middle (it’s a sad situation when your parents get more action than you do) and with that, it was time to make room for the next in line. It was all over super quick, but we did get to exchange a few words with and manhandle some serious celebrities, which was epic enough to be THE most exciting thing that’s ever happened to me.

Yes...this happened.

Yes…this happened.

For the record:

– They smelled really good (a creepy but true observation).

– They were taller than we’d imagined. You always hear people saying how “small” famous people are in reality, so this was a surprise.

– As you can see, they are super tan, and my mother and I are just kind of…red. News flash: Australia is not full of bronzed beach gods and goddesses who walk around in bathers to show off their bronzeness. And it really shows when we stand next to people from anywhere else.

– They were genuinely friendly and played up for the cameras, despite the fact that there is rarely a time when they aren’t being photographed. Nobody would be able to help falling a little bit in love.

Alas, we and all of our newfound love had to leave the squishy-carpet room and head off to the sound check ourselves. We joined the millions of girls at the front of the stage (who seemed to pick up the scent of 1D on us and started giving us death stares) and soon the guys emerged from the squishy room to deafen us all with a few quick song run-throughs and answer some audience questions that involved the word ‘twerk’. The world we live in. In contrast to most of what had happened so far, the sound check was over in minutes, and we were all shepherded upstairs where there were canapés, non-alcoholic beverages, and shockingly, in a time when nothing comes without a price, free programmes. It all felt very classy, if you ignored all of the hotpants-clad teenagers sprawled all over the floor fighting with each other about which band member was their “husband”.

That was pretty much where the class/special treatment ended, but it was amazing while it lasted. I just wish I’d stuffed some tiny sandwiches into my handbag as a souvenir. But sandwich-less, I followed the masses into the arena again, and we found our seats, which thankfully weren’t right down on the floor but off to the side in a tiered section (I figured that meant that at my ripe old age, I wouldn’t be forced to stand up the entire night, but I was wrong). My sexy earplugs went in, because the screaming was getting louder as the stadium filled up – the show was sold out and the capacity of the place is 13 000, which equals an unsafe scream level – and then, the lights went out, and came up to reveal…the support act. Those guys were called Five Seconds of Summer, and are an Australian punk-rock band that I had heard of, but wasn’t really interested in hearing for 45 minutes when I could be being told what makes me beautiful. Having said that, they were pretty good, if you like that sort of thing.

ANYWAY, the time did arrive when 1D made their appearance, and I immediately thanked the god of earplugs that I had mine inserted (I could hear the music perfectly, but the screaming was down to a 9/10). Because this post has already gone on for way, way too long and even those of you who were interested at the start are dozing off, I won’t go through the entire set list (also because I don’t remember it). What I will say is that the whole thing was really, really good. They sang everything the Directioners could have asked for, and they sounded great – definitely more Klapa s Mora than Jemini. There were gigantic, Moscow 2009-esque (almost) video screens, lights, streamers and balloons in action, and at one point, the boys were transported across the arena via a floating platform and deposited on a mini-stage directly opposite where we were sitting, where they spent a while doing what they do best, answering more questions, and of course, accusing each other of farting.

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Of course, that wasn’t the closest I had been to them that night (wink wink, etc) but it was still an awesome feature of the show, especially for someone whose previous concert experiences have seen the artist/s stick to the main stage. I have to admit, it made me feel like I was at Eurovision Training 101, with the vast amounts of people going crazy in a massive venue, lights and cameras, costume changes, and satellite stage. I now feel prepared to make the pilgrimage to *insert European city here* 2015, should my back account allow, so thank you, One Direction. Thank you very much.

Speaking of, they saved the best for their encore. Best Song Ever and What Makes You Beautiful were the last two songs performed, and I didn’t mind at all standing up for those (standing up for the rest and complaining about a sore back had me feeling like an old woman, but if you sat down you couldn’t see a thing). There was a euphoric (as Loreen would say) moment during these songs when I got all high on the excitement and decided that I needed to buy all existing 1D albums ASAP, and that it was shameful that I didn’t already have at least one in my collection. I will let you know at the end whether I did such a fangirlish thing or not.

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After basking in the noise, the boys disappeared backstage, never to return (until the next night, that is) and with aching joints, a bit of a headache and a jacket that I may never wash again, mamma and I disappeared off home. And that, believe it or not, was that. It honestly was one of the best nights of my life – totally worth all the money I would have payed for it if I hadn’t gotten lucky. You may laugh at that comment, but it isn’t every concert you go to that you get to meet a.k.a. touch and pose with the artists, attend their sound check AND get free sandwiches (the sandwiches clearly being the highlight); nor is it every concert you go to that ends up being so entertaining and lacking in bum notes. As much as it prepared me for the ESC more than any other I’d been to before, it also set a high standard for my beloved contest to meet. Don’t send me death threats, because I still love Eurovision more than any boy band, and I fully expect it to be amazing when I do get there. It’s just that, after last weekend, I can’t help being a little bit of a Directioner myself. Albeit a geriatric one.

One final word to make the title of this post make sense: there are a lot of artists (and not those brought back from the dead) who would do a great job at the ESC for the UK, and after seeing them live, I think 1D would be one of them. I did spend the evening imagining what it would be like if they did it, and then used all of my brainpower to put the idea into their heads, so we may get the announcement any day now.

Ha ha. I know it would never happen! Well, maybe in 15 years when their hairlines are starting to recede and they’ve broken up and reunited three times and they try to use it as an avenue for a comeback. Until then, this girl will have to dream.

But the guys should keep this in mind: boy bands have been pretty successful at Eurovision in recent history. Here’s proof.

Eden – 5th in 1999 for Israel

One – 6th in 2002 for Cyprus

Prime Minister – 10th in 2002 for Russia

No Name – 6th in 2005 for Serbia and Montenegro

Blue – 11th in 2011 for the UK

Yes, there have been exceptions, but more often than not the outcome of sending a European version of *NSYNC has been positive. So maybe the BBC should source a hypnotist who can convince One Direction to step up in Copenhagen. Either that, or they can wait a decade or so and let the band come knocking. It’ll happen, you’ll see. We’ll all be dancing to the second-best song ever.

So that is the end of this particular ramble. I apologise for the length and any brain cells you may have lost trying to get through it. Rest assured that normal transmission will resume in a few days. I have some (hopefully) exciting stuff planned for the rest of the year, including a countdown of my top 50 Junior Eurovision entries of all time, so have your judgment hats at the ready, folks!

But for now, answer me this:

What’s the best concert you’ve ever been to?

 

PS – I did go and buy all existing One Direction albums, but managed to stop myself from pre-ordering the third one (I still consider myself relatively sane.)

PPS – Here are a few more photos taken by moi on the night, for anyone interested.

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This really is the end.

 

Malmö Reviews | Part 4 (San Marino-United Kingdom)

It’s getting closer and closer, people! And by ‘it’, I am of course referring to my birthday. But don’t worry, you’ve still got a few months to think of an epic gift to give me.

What’s that you’re saying? Eurovision is even nearer than that? So it is. Oh well, I guess I’d better talk about that then.

Three days. Three days until the first semi final. I am über pumped, which is odd considering I won’t be watching it until Friday, when it’s broadcast over here in Australia. But we are getting a pre-show documentary to compensate for the wait. Plus, we have a rather awesome Eurovision website of our own (www.sbs.com.au/eurovision) which I encourage you to check out and be impressed by. Anyway, point is, I’ve only reviewed 31 of the 39 entries so far, and there are only three days to do the rest AND make some extremely inaccurate predictions. So here is Step One of getting that stuff done: my final lot of reviews. These are my musings on San Marino, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine and the UK. Have a look-see and let me know how you feel about these eight songs.

 

SAN MARINO

Crisalide (Vola) by Valentina Monetta

SanMarino13Better than 2012: Yes

IMO: I’m not going to bring the Facebook song…ah, I mean, the “Social Network” song, into this review. This is a new year, San Marino has a new song, and the genuinely talented Valentina has the opportunity to be taken seriously with Crisalide. This entry, despite also being a brainchild of Ralph Siegel (who’s way past his use-by date if you ask me) is up there with Complice – SM’s horrendously underrated debut – as their best ever. Last year, Lithuania gave us one minute of ballad and two of disco dance pop, whereas here we have two minutes of lovely Italian waltz and one minute of disco dance pop. Both combinations work for me. I find myself thinking with Crisalide that I would have been happy to have either a full song of the waltz, because it is so beautiful, or 100% of the catchy up-tempo, but as it stands I’m glad to have both. The transition between styles is smooth, and makes for a nice surprise when you’re hearing it for the first time and expect the ballad to continue to the end. Valentina will no doubt thrive on the whole package of being able to sing in her own language, and in a genre (or two) more suited to her voice and age (no 37-year-old jazz-trained singer should be strutting around in leather pants screeching about cybersex). I’m expecting a long, floaty dress. I’m expecting wind. I’m expecting a heck of a lot of Ikea lighting. And I’m hoping for a Sammarinese qualification for the first time.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 10 points.  

 

SERBIA

Ljubav Je Svuda by Moje 3

Serbia13Top 10 material: No

IMO: Say halo to a Serbia we’ve never seen before at Eurovision. A Serbia that’s less classy and more…brassy. Less ‘OMG’ and more OTT. You get the idea. I’m not as big a fan of this Serbia as I am of the one that brought us Marija, Jelena and Željko, but I can get on board with them for the sake of my weakness for a catchy pop song. Let’s get a couple of facts straight: firstly, if this was Love Is Everywhere, in English, it would be extremely mediocre. The Serbian language has managed to elevate it to an above-average level, for my taste. Secondly, would I be as keen on it if Nevena, the first person to represent her country at JESC and ESC as a main artist, was not involved? Probably not. I’m so excited by her presence that I would have enjoyed three minutes of the trio dragging their manicured nails down a blackboard. Fortunately, Ljubav Je Svuda is much more pleasant to listen to. I like that each of the girls has their own moment in the spotlight, but that they do come together as a cohesive group when needs be. I’m also a sucker for that less-than-original but still effective concept of devil/angel/conflicted soul in the middle. That’s why it’s a such a shame to know that concept will not be illustrated visually via the costumes. The red, gold and white of the national final has been binned in favour of what I hear are Georgia’s JESC costumes from 2011. On the back of that, all the non-Serbian speakers unaware of the song’s story will see three attractive women in wacky outfits, singing a good but not great pop song quite well. I have to wonder how many of them will vote for it.  

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 8 points.  

 

SLOVENIA

Straight Into Love by Hannah

Slovenia13Sounds like: Radioactive by Rita Ora

IMO: This is one of the most radio-friendly entries of the year – a dance song that sounds like a lot of other dance songs, with a smattering of dubstep. It isn’t going to lead to any love it/hate it arguments between anyone: the lyrics are fairly generic, the chorus is fairly strong, it’s totally inoffensive…I don’t have much to say about it, to be honest. It’s okay, I like it, but I don’t love it. Whereas Cascada has a very powerful, stadium-worthy dance song, Hannah’s is tamer and less infectious. It does have the potential to be performed very well though, and there’s no reason it couldn’t be another middling song made excellent by way of top-notch staging and costuming. I’m not worried about Hannah’s ability to deliver a polished vocal judging by her previous live performances. She’s a confident performer and, as irrelevant as this is, possibly the Kaliopi of 2013 – a.k.a. the nicest girl on the block. I wouldn’t want her to crash and burn, but without so many elements working in Slovenia’s favour, she’ll have trouble pushing higher than 12th or 13th in her semi.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 6 points.  

 

SPAIN

Contigo Hasta El Final by El Sueño De Morfeo 

Spain13Better than 2012: No

IMO: As you may remember, Spain gave me exactly what I wanted from them last year. As a result, I’m going to be a hard fan for them to impress for the rest of eternity. Exhibit A: Contigo Hasta El Final. Not impressed. However, I’m not repulsed, so you ESDM supporters can put away your rotten fruit, thank you very much. This song is interesting, light and sing-along-able, without the cheese of such entries as Que Mi Quiten Lo Bailao. I like how it begins in one form and develops into another by the end. But, like the Danish song, by that end it hasn’t made me feel anything in particular. I want to rave about it, but I can’t. And I can’t see a finish anywhere near as good as Pastora Soler’s forthcoming. I can imagine myself driving along the Spanish coast in an open-topped sports car, sunglasses on, bandanna in my hair and this on repeat though. Come to think of it, is anybody up for a road trip? And if so, do you have a sports car and a spare flight ticket to Spain?

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 6 points.  

 

SWEDEN

You by Robin Stjernberg

Sweden13Best lyric: ‘I reach for the horizon whenever I’ve got days of doubt bringing me down.’

IMO: Where do I begin? I was pretty fond of Mr. Stjernberg around the time he lost the Swedish Idol title to Amanda Fondell (who he then beat in Melodifestivalen by a mile…in her face much?). Then he went and won MF against all the odds, an event that MADE my national final season. Ever since then, I’ve realised that this is the most enthusiastic I’ve ever been about a host entry. I adore this song, and there’s nothing you-ou-ou-ooh-oh-oh can say that will change my mind. It’s something relatively different from Sweden, and whilst it definitely smacks of ‘we don’t want to win two years in a row’ (as did the whole of Melfest) I think it has the goods to give the hosts a respectable result. At least, I hope it does. It’s contemporary without resorting to dance or dubstep, and though some would say the chorus is full of yodeling, I reckon the repetition is a hook that people will remember (and since when was yodeling in a pop song a bad thing anyway? Laura Omloop, Gwen Stefani, hello?). I just love everything about this. Yes, even the screech Robin does towards the end. It takes talent to screech in tune like that. Speaking of which, I don’t know what the critics are referring to when they talk about his voice in a negative way. Maybe my ears are malfunctioning, but on every occasion I’ve heard the guy sing live it’s been great (sans that emotional reprise at Melfest). Plus, he’s cute as a button and his surname is really fun to say. What more do you people want?!

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. DOUZE POINTS!  

 

SWITZERLAND

You And Me by Takasa

Swiss13Better than 2012: Yes

IMO: The main problem I find with Swiss entries is that they’re chosen so early on in the season, and because they aren’t the strongest of songs (generally speaking) by May they’ve well and truly fallen by the wayside. I really liked You And Me back in December, when Takasa (which sounds like some sort of Japanese greeting) were still known as Heilsarmee, but I have to admit, I’d kind of forgotten about it amongst the Ukraines and Italys of the other 38 songs. Forcing myself to recall it for this review, I’ve realised I do still enjoy it. There’s something endearing about the whole thing, and not just because there’s a grandpa involved (he’s old even when compared to the Babushki, so here’s hopng he lives until the semi-final). I can’t help smiling when the chorus kicks in, despite the lyrics being quite cheesy. It’s the ‘ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah’. I also get the feeling that Takasa believe in this song and what it’s about, and have a good time performing it. I just wish they’d been more adventurous with their wardrobe choice for Malmö. White shirts and ties are basics, ladies and gents, and unless they’ve been vomited on by the Glitter Glue Monster, they rarely have a place at Eurovision. Costume is one area where this entry could have been amped up. Having not seen a rehearsal, I’m left to assume there’s something in the staging that does so instead.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 7 points.

 

UKRAINE

Gravity by Zlata Ognevich

Ukraine13Top 10 material: Yes

IMO: Since the glory days of Ruslana, Ukraine hasn’t put a foot wrong with regards to the quality of their entries (yes, I am one of the few people that liked Razom Nas Bahato) even if they haven’t always done spectacularly well. They do have a 100% qualification record – the upkeep of which is now resting on Zlata Ognevich’s shoulders. I think she can relax. Gravity, despite the “unusual” staging we’ve been hearing about from rehearsals, is going to the final, y’all. It’s a ballad of Disney proportions (and we all know Disney songs are awesome) that conjures up visions of Rafiki raising Simba to the heavens atop of Pride Rock…while Zlata belts out nonsensical lyrics in the background. Does anyone care about the nonsense when she’s belting like she does? I don’t. Her voice is incredible, and perfectly suited to a vocally demanding song like this. I love the tribal/fantasy vibe of the whole shebang. Having said that, there are entries I like better, and I’m not under any delusions that this will win. Unless certain other participants sleep through their alarms and miss the contest, it’s not happening. But the Ukraine has (almost) always done Eurovision well, and Gravity keeps the trend going.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner. 10 points.  

 

UNITED KINGDOM

Believe In Me by Bonnie Tyler

UK13Sounds like: Deixa-me Sonhar by Rita Guerra

IMO: First things first – why is it so difficult for the UK to nab themselves a young (or just ineligible for a senior’s card) up-and-comer with a catchy, current pop song? Ireland can do it. It cannot be that hard. And yet, here we are again with a formerly famous singer who needs a walking frame to get around (I may have made that up) and who’s bringing a fusty mid-tempo ballad to Eurovision. It didn’t work last year, so why would it work 12 months later? Whew. Now that’s out of my system, allow me to be less cruel to Bonnie for the following reasons: a) She’s practically a spring chicken compared to Engelbert Humperdinck; b) Believe In Me is a better song than Love Will Set You Free in my opinion – much more accessible and instant, and with a nice American country feel; and c) It’s because of her that THE greatest literal music video of all time exists (sample it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UULlroFAVuI ). Yes, I wish that the UK had someone more like Ryan Dolan for 2013, with a less generic song that had a better chance of success. But this is the UK, and unfortunately it’s not surprising that we’ve got what we’ve got from them. So I personally am trying to ‘believe in Bonnie’. Her song is a decent way to pass the time waiting for another I Can to come along.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower. 7 points.  

 

Well, that’s it. My reviews are complete, and after all the typing I only have arthritis in one hand – winning!

There are two more orders of business to take care of before I bid you adieu, however. Firstly, my mini-ranking of the above eight entries:

  1. Sweden 12
  2. Ukraine 10
  3. San Marino 10
  4. Serbia 8
  5. United Kingdom 7
  6. Switzerland 7
  7. Spain 6
  8. Slovenia 6

Secondly, the moment when I ask your opinion (and I really do want it). How do you rank the songs from San Marino to the UK? Where do we agree and disagree? I know you’ve got thoughts, so get ‘em out in the comments!

And now, until next time…adieu.

 

(Speaking of) NEXT TIME: I’m cutting it fine, but there’s still time for a good old Prediction Special! Find out where I’m at on who will impress, disappoint, qualify and win, and see if we’re on the same wavelength. 

 

NEW! Song Battles: Round #1 (2012 VS 2013)

Pitting two Eurovision songs against each other to determine which is the best for no particular reason is such an original idea, said NO ONE EVER. But that won’t stop me from inflicting my own version on you poor, unsuspecting readers. Muahahaha!

What makes my version different (to some of the others, maybe) is that each round will have a theme – for example, songs by the same artist – to make things more interesting (again, maybe). I’ll be picking my personal winners, justifying those decisions, and then asking you to discuss my taste or lack thereof in the comments. Now if that isn’t fun, I don’t know what is.

Soon I’ll be launching a series of posts that recap Baku, so today’s debut round of song battles is aptly pitting a bunch of last year’s entries against their counterparts of 2013. From Azerbaijan to Croatia and Norway to the UK, which countries are sending better songs to the ESC this time around? Check out my thoughts, then leave your own below. 

 

Azerbaijan’s When The Music Dies by Sabina Babayeva VS Hold Me by Farid Mammadov

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Still flabbergasted by Ell & Nikki’s win in 2011 (let’s just say I was never an active member of the ‘I ❤ Running Scared’ fan club) I managed to get on board with what Azerbaijan put forward as host country last year. Heck, I wasn’t just on board – I was cartwheeling up and down the deck and making a general nuisance of myself. But I just don’t see the winning potential in Hold Me, which means it’ll probably go on and win.

 

Albania’s Suus by Rona Nishliu VS Identitet by Adrian & Bledar

I think I’ve droned on about Rona on enough occasions for you guys to know I love her. But there’s always room for more droning, as far as I’m concerned! Suus is a very original and very emotional song, and with her crazy vocals it was magic on stage. Having said that, Identitet has grown on me, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m glad it didn’t get disqualified.

 

BelarusWe Are The Heroes by Litesound VS Solayoh by Alyona Lanskaya

Neither of these were originally supposed to go to Eurovision (let’s all have a slow clap for the trustworthy Belarusian NF system, shall we?) and of course, it was Alyona who was sent packing – or not, rather – in favour of cheat-free Litesound. In 2012, this was a blessing, but in 2013 I was not amused. That’s why WATH is my pick of this battle, whether in its initial rock form or post-remix disco version.

 

Bulgaria’s Love Unlimited by Sofi Marinova VS Samo Shampioni by Elitsa & Stoyan

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Sofi and Elitsa are both women with voices of an acquired taste (unless you are instantly attracted to high-pitched shrieking) but the infectious, language-stuffed Love Unlimited trumps in the song department. I thought that was one of Bulgaria’s best ever entries, and as it just missed out on qualifying, it seems I wasn’t the only one.

 

Croatia’s Nebo by Nina Badrić VS Mižerja by Klapa s Mora

Hi. My name’s Jaz and I am the only person I know who liked Croatia’s entry last year (but don’t worry, I did NOT like Nina’s dress/trash bag. I have some standards). What can I say? I enjoy any song with bells in the background. Ding dong.

 

Germany’s Standing Still by Roman Lob VS Glorious by Cascada

This is really a matter of subtlety versus in-your-face, and for me, in-your-face wins. I can’t help shaking my thing to Glorious, and it’s one of the songs I’m most excited to see live at Eurovision (‘live’ in this case meaning ‘on TV’). Standing Still is a nice song and I think Germany deserved its top 10 placing in Baku, but I need more ‘oomph’ to be 110% satisfied.

 

Hungary’s Sound of Our Hearts by Compact Disco VS Kedvesem by ByeAlex

Hungary haven’t scored as well as they should have over the last few years IMO, and I have a feeling it’s going to happen again with ByeAlex’s absolute gem of a song. I take back what I said just then about ‘oomph’ in this case, because this is a simple but stunning song. I love Hungarian to bits as a musical language.

 

Italy’s L’amore É Femmina by Nina Zilli VS L’ezzenziale by Marco Mengoni

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The Italy we see at the ESC is always classy, and I don’t think you could ever call one of their entries outright bad. I’m fond of Nina’s retro Italinglish number, but I’m head over heels for Marco. Er, I mean, L’essenziale. There’s something about Italian ballads that gets to me, and I think this is the best of the songs Italy has sent since their comeback.

 

Norway’s Stay by Tooji VS I Feed You My Love by Margaret Berger

I felt like a mother being forced to choose which of her children she loves more with this one (which in my mother’s case is an easy decision. My brother just doesn’t measure up) but the decision has been made. My obsession with Stay has faded a little since it won NMGP, but I have to stay loyal to it, since it was my favourite entry of 2012 and I spent so many hours trying to comprehend it losing the final. I still love ya, Margs.

 

Slovenia’s Verjamem by Eva Boto VS Straight Into Love by Hannah

An atmospheric ballad like Verjamem was a very Serbia-like thing for Slovenia to come out with, which makes sense since one of its composers also composed Molitva. Despite the similarities, I think it had its individual charms, and it’s certainly got more drama than Straight Into Love.

 

Ukraine’s Be My Guest by Gaitana VS Gravity by Zlata Ognevich

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Ukraine rarely fails to impress me. They just ‘get’ Eurovision, and they always send a top-notch artist who can belt one out (or more, if required). Zlata may be the Queen of Belters, and although Gravity lacks the quirky fun factor of her last attempt to represent her country, The Kukushka, it’s a definite contender for victory. I will be very surprised if it doesn’t considerably improve on Gaitana’s result.

 

The UK’s Love Will Set You Free by Engelbert Humperdinck VS Believe In Me by Bonnie Tyler

Another year, another big name from the UK with a slightly too old-fashioned ballad. Still, at least they’re going younger. At this rate we should get an entrant under the age of 30 by 2025. But let’s not be ageist, not when this year’s song is a lot better than the last. It is to me, anyway – I tried to love Love Will Set You Free, but eventually the charade became too much and I had to call it quits. Believe In Me is more current and a lot catchier, and after a couple of listens I was willing to wave a Union Jack with genuine enthusiasm.

 

So that’s that; but what exactly does ‘that’ tell you? Well, the overall result of the duels is as follows:

58% of my winners came from 2012

42% of my winners came from 2013

If those numbers are any indication, the standard of 2012 was higher than the standard of 2013 in my book, though not by a massive margin.  

Now it’s your turn to battle. I want to know if you totally agree with me, partly agree with me…or think I’m bonkers with a side serving of very poor judgment when it comes to the above duels. Which songs would be your winners?

 

 EBJ Signature

 

Five finalists and the host with the most: Malmö’s Big 6 (and my first top 39!)

Once upon a time, France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom were known collectively in ESC Land as the Big 4, presumably because they were big and there was four of them. Actually, it was because they were European superpowers responsible in large part for keeping Eurovision going, and as such have been rewarded with automatic entry into the final since the year 2000…and because there was four of them.

Fast forward to 2011, when Italy joined the exclusive Big club after an extended vacation from the contest, taking the total up to five (and as we all know, all the best groups have five members. The Backstreet Boys, *N SYNC, the Spice Girls…need I say more?). But then include the ever-present host country in the final lineup, and you’ll find the current total is six. It’s the Big 6 of 2013 that I want to ramble on about today.

Confused? I’m with you. To make myself clearer to you and to myself, what I mean is:

For the purposes of this post, I’m officially declaring the host country one of the Big countries, despite the fact that as always, they’ll be relegated back to semi-final status next year (unless they win again. It could happen, guys). Also, for the purposes of not driving you insane with this wordy intro, I’m just going to start the main event of rambling now. You’ll get the idea.

 

Thoughts on the final six

For me personally, the automatic finalists have been slowly but surely lifting their game over the last few years, and I think again in 2013 we have a strong group for the semi-final qualifiers to compete with. In alphabetical order (my favourite kind) they are:

France (L’enfer Et Moi) – I was expecting some maudlin, depressing, obscure ballad from France from the second the song title was announced, but as it turns out, that’s what we got from the Netherlands instead. I’m so pleased this is more in the retro vein of L’amore é Femmina. It’s catchy but sophisticated, and doesn’t make me want to jump off a cliff in the slightest.

Amandine’s good luck charm: sucking on a lemon before performances?

Amandine’s good luck charm: sucking on a lemon before performances?

Germany (Glorious) – Been there, said that about this one. But I’m all too happy to say it again: bravo, Deutschland, bravo. This country is going from strength to strength, and made a clever choice in picking a song that’s great in studio, but goes off like nobody’s business in a live, arena setting. What could be more perfect for Eurovision than that?

Italy (L’essenziale) – I feel I should say bravo to the Italians as well, especially since it’s an Italian word. I was hoping Marco’s Sanremo winner would be the one to go to Malmö, but after what happened last year, I didn’t want to assume. But it is! Yay, etc. Say what you will about Italy, you can’t deny that they always stay classy, and for me this classy ballad is one of the best on offer.

Spain (Contigo Hasta El Final) – This was initially, and still is, the weakest of the six IMO. However (before those of you on Team ESDM start cramming as many expletives into the comment box as possible) it’s grown on me a lot since my first listen. I’m finding the chorus quite sing-along-able now, and I do like the way things keep changing.

Are we to assume some Spanish department store had a 3-for-1 offer on stripy t-shirts?

Are we to assume some Spanish department store had a 3-for-1 offer on stripy t-shirts?

Sweden (You) – Again, I think you’ll all know how I feel about this here host entry. How do you say ‘it’s the bomb’ in Swedish?

UK (Believe In Me) – I still think this is headed the way of Humperdinck, but I’m much more into it that I was the Hump’s song. The country feel is actually endearing, and the verses are as strong as the choruses. If Bonnie’s voice holds out for the jury and live final, maybe she can get on to the left side of the scoreboard. Just maybe.

So if I were to rank these six, it would look something like this:

  1. Sweden
  2. Germany
  3. Italy
  4. UK
  5. France
  6. Spain

Really, there’s not much between the top or bottom three as far as I’m concerned. I’m actually impressed by this lot as a whole. But these are just my thoughts, which will probably translate in no way to the actual results. Speaking of which…

 

How will they do?

It ultimately comes down to the song/performance combo, how well or how badly these finalists do. Perhaps there’s a bit of the unfamiliarity factor in there to explain why they’ve had a hard time (the Big countries more so than the hosts). For the voters who don’t already know the songs, the semi-finalists get more of an opportunity to win them over. And maybe it’s a bit about when they perform in the running order. But despite all that, with a really good song and a good performance, anything is possible (just ask Lena).

Just for the heck of it, let’s have a looksee at how the Big countries have fared recently. Here are the results from 2007:

17. Finland (hosts)

19. Germany

20. Spain

22. France

23. UK

 

And 2008:

6. Serbia (hosts)

16. Spain

19. France

23. Germany

25. UK

 

Not so good, right? The host country did the best on both occasions. Now compare those to more recent results from 2011 and 2012 (including Italy).

2. Italy

10. Germany (hosts)

11. UK

15. France

23. Spain

 

4. Azerbaijan (hosts)

8. Germany

9. Italy

10. Spain

22. France

25. UK

Again, the host country did pretty well, as did the returnee Italy. France and the UK are the only Big countries to have missed out on a top 10 placing in the last few years, albeit narrowly (with Blue’s 11th in Düsseldorf and Jessy Matador’s 12th in Oslo).

If that trend continues this year, Amandine and Bonnie will be left out, but I think Spain will be pushed not to join them. I suspect that Germany, Italy and Sweden all have a good shot at making the top 10, with Germany being the only one I can see winning. If they did, that would make an incredible two wins in four years, as well as four top 10 placings in a row, for a country that struggled like crazy in the pre-Lena years just to get off the bottom of the scoreboard.

What do you think? Could this be a year when all of the finalists make the top 10? Or will their change in fortune come to an abrupt end in Malmö?

 

Holy sequined hotpants! It’s my first top 39!

As promised, and eagerly awaited by you, right?

Okay, you can stop laughing. Before I ask your opinion on the best of the Big 6, here’s how they fit in to the bigger picture, as of this second. Because I could change my mind at any moment.

  1. Sweden
Anton Ewald congratulates Robin on topping my list. How nice of him!

Anton Ewald congratulates Robin on topping my list. How nice of him!

  1. Germany
  2. Hungary
  3. Ukraine
  4. Italy
  5. Norway
  6. Moldova
  7. Belgium
  8. Macedonia
  9. Lithuania 
  10. Serbia
  11. United Kingdom
  12. France
  13. Albania
  14. Ireland
  15. Iceland
  16. Switzerland
  17. Austria
  18. Estonia
  19. Spain
  20. Israel
  21. Finland
  22. Belarus
  23. Denmark
  24. Romania
  25. Malta
  26. Bulgaria
  27. Latvia
  28. Greece
  29. Georgia
  30. Montenegro
  31. San Marino
  32. Slovenia
  33. Netherlands
  34. Croatia
  35. Armenia
  36. Azerbaijan
  37. Russia
  38. Cyprus

How’s your personal top 10 looking right now?

 

POLL TIME: Take your pick…

To finish off this rather strange post, I’m dying to know:

Results will be published next week, and if you vote for the eventual favourite, you win absolutely nothing, because I am poor! But you can give yourself a good pat on the back.

 

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next time, when I may or may not be switching the EBJ spotlight onto one of the Big countries in particular. It’s going to be eccellente, signore e signori

 EBJ Signature

 

Time-Warp Tuesday | A milestone sealed with a kiss

Where: The Hague, the Netherlands

When: 1976

Who: Brotherhood of Man

What: Save All Your Kisses For Me

I’m not exactly dying to mention this because I feel like I’m on the verge of a mid-life crisis, but tomorrow I turn 21 (sorry for the short notice – large and expensive gifts are appreciated but not required). Amidst all of the freaking out and all the cries of ‘where have the years gone? WAAAAH!’ I decided it would be appropriate to focus this Time-Warp Tuesday on the song that triumphed the year Eurovision turned the big 2-1 – in terms of contests held, anyway.

The twenty-first edition was won for the third time by the UK. Brotherhood of Man arrived in the Netherlands with an extremely cutesy song and even cutesier choreography up their puffy sleeves. Having drawn the short straw to open the show (not the shortest straw in the packet, but one that makes it much more difficult to win) they needed as many ‘aww!’ factor votes as possible. Fortunately for them they got enough, meaning the weeks of Kurt Calleja-esque foot swiveling, head nodding and intensive rehearsing to get that killer last line just right had paid off.

Watching BOM’s performance a) nearly forty years later and b) as a member of Gen Y, it does come across pretty dated and unfashionable. But personally, I can’t resist the sweetness. Save Your Kisses For Me is more effective as a heart-melter than a blowtorch, and considerably less painful. What do you think?

 

Baku Reviews: Part 7 (the final six)

Hello there. Have you missed my little words of welcome over the past few weeks? No? Fair enough. Unfortunately for you, I just wanted to say a few things before I get into the last lot of 2012 reviews for EBJ.

Firstly, I cannot believe this is the last lot, because that means it’s almost ESC o’ clock, and I can’t believe that either. Where has the last year gone?

Secondly, I hope you enjoyed all six previous installments in one way or another. This was my first time doing pre-contest reviews rather than retrospective ones, and I think I might be doing it again in 2013. And you better like it!

Now, on with the important stuff:

 

Azerbaijan

When the Music Dies/ Sabina Babayeva

Reminds me of: Falling by Alicia Keys

The good stuff: Azerbaijan has the Midas touch when it comes to Eurovision. They may have only been competing in the contest for four years, but in that time they have never missed out on a top 10 placing, having been in the top 5 the last three years running. For the last couple of contests they’ve succeeded so with radio-friendly, r & b influenced pop ballads, and in 2012, it seems that the phrase ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is behind their first entry on home soil. When the Music Dies is a good, solid example of that Top 40 stuff the Azeris do so effortlessly, and I would say it’s easily a better song than Running Scared. Regardless of its final position, you can expect it, and its stunning singer Sabina (Azerbaijan has no shortage of attractive ladies, does it?) to get a massive round of applause.

Everything else: When you’ve won the ESC and the time comes for you to host it, you don’t have to be too picky with your own entry. What’s the point in sending a winner two years in a row? Unfortunately, I feel that this ‘we really don’t care’ attitude is evident in the very effortlessness of WTMD. I don’t mind a country that focuses more on perfecting their show than their entry, as many do, but the fact that Azerbaijan will probably make the top 10 as usual with a song that, IMO, deserves to finish around 14th or 15th, irritates me.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower – 7 points.

 

France

Echo (You and I)/ Anggun

Top 10 material: No

The good stuff: Whoever can predict what sort of song France is going to send each year deserves a croissant-shaped medal. Some countries have a formula and they stick to it, but the French will apparently try anything once to see how it goes, making them ridiculously unpredictable. I don’t even know how to describe Anggun’s Echo (echo, echo, echo…). The best I can do is say it’s a Frenglish mash-up of military, Gaga, and 80s pop that leaves me unsure of my own opinion. The staging could be as interesting/strange as the song (and, ironically, the stage itself – have you SEEN that thing?) so I’m looking forward to see how much so.

Everything else: I’m confused by this song, and as a Eurovision obsessive I’ve listened to it more than a few times. What does that mean for the seasonal fans who tune in for the contest and tune out straight after (who I’m told make up a significant portion of the televoters)? Surely they won’t get it instantly enough, which means fewer votes and another year of less-than-impressive results for France. I can’t imagine the juries regarding it too highly either. Then again, maybe I’m the only one who’s a bit lost here. If you “get” it, please let me know.

Winner, loser or grower: Grower – 6 points.  

 

Germany

Standing Still/ Roman Lob

Best lyric: ‘I can put my arms around the emptiness I found…’

The good stuff: Here’s another song that has made the transition from ‘hmm…’ to ‘mmm!’; from ‘I’m unsure’ to ‘I want MORE!” Basically, I wasn’t sold at first, but now I’m loving it. The Unser Star für… format has done wonders for Germany over the last few years in discovering both new artists (some of whom are recyclable) and new songs. I think the best song and singer possible were chosen in 2012. Roman’s cute as a gingham button and Standing Still is a lovely ballad that’s less in-your-face than some of the others on offer. It was co-written by Jamie Cullum, a rather famous British jazz artist (he has his own Wikipedia page and everything!) who takes pride of place on my mum’s CD shelf, so it’s got cred too.

Everything else: That first time I heard this, I thought it sounded very much like an Idol/X Factor winner’s single. There’s nothing particularly wrong with those – in fact, they usually sell by the truckload – but they can be a little bland. I personally (no longer) find this song bland, but if other people do, Germany may make a return to the bottom of the scoreboard. I really don’t want to see that happen, ladies and gents, so if you have a conscience and don’t want to hurt Roman’s feelings, vote for him!

Winner, loser or grower: Winner – 10 points

 

Italy

L’amore é Femmina (Out of Love)/ Nina Zilli

Top 10 material: Yes

The good stuff: It seems that Amy Winehouse is living on in sassy Italian songstress Nina, or at least in her entry. Here we have a retro, swinging, big band-type song that’s much more accessible than Italy’s 2011 effort, but is still likely to tickle the juries’ fancy. L’amore wasn’t originally Nina’s song – her San Remo Song Festival gem Per Sempre was the first pick, and although I was a huge fan of that, I think they made the right choice in switching. If I had to use one word to sum up Italy at Eurovision, it would be ‘classy’, and as classy as Per Sempre was, what is going to Baku is classy AND fun…a potentially winning combination.

Everything else: I did prefer this song in 100% Italian. It’s not that it doesn’t work in Italinglish hybrid form, but the transitions are too random for my liking. A final chorus in English may have been better. Regardless, I’ll be surprised if a right-side finish is on the cards for this one.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner – 8 points.

 

Spain

Quedate Conmigo/ Pastora Soler

Reminds me of: En Una Vida by Coral

The good stuff: I’m sure y’all know I love this song (though you probably didn’t know I sometimes talk like Miley Cyrus). I’ve been praying to the Eurovision gods that Spain would send something like it for years now, which they’ve had the chance to do multiple times – e.g. with Mirela in 2009, and Coral in 2010. Not by coincidence, their songs and Pastora’s were all written by Thomas G:son, the superstar songwriter from Sweden who has two entries in the contest this year (he must be euphoric about that). He has a way of making songs with ‘moments’ that give you goose bumps, and in Quedate Conmigo the moment comes when Pastora lets rip on an epic, key-changing note before the final chorus. This lady is likely to deliver the best female vocal of 2012, on a ballad that I’ll be waving a flag for like nobody’s business.

Everything else: Surely Spain is waiting to do a Germany– that is, suddenly win Eurovision and then bask in the successful aftermath. I wish it would happen, but this is Spain we’re talking about. Despite the fact that a dramatic, brilliantly performed ballad has a better chance at success than a cheesy, I’m-on-a-cruise-ship number á la Lucia Perez’s, this country does not have the touch or the bloc support. For me, it’s top five, but forEurope…well, only Mr. God knows at this point.

Winner, loser or grower: Winner – douze points!

 

United Kingdom

Love Will Set You Free/ Engelbert Humperdinck

Best lyric: ‘Love comes once, if you’re lucky enough…’

The good stuff: Ah, the Hump – another man who made it onto my mum’s CD shelf. It was great to have another big name announced as the UK’s rep this year, although the actual name may be big enough to tongue-tie the commentators. The Hump checks quite a few boxes on the checklist of Eurovision desirability: he’s internationally famous, can sing like a champ, and has the ‘Aww!’ factor that will probably get Russia’s grannies to the final. His song is a classy number produced by a strong songwriting team, and should ease us nicely in to the final. The chorus is my favourite part, mainly because the “follow your heart” lyric reminds me of Thumbelina, which I may or may not still own on VHS and may or may not watch like, once a month.

Everything else: I was told I’d grow to love this, but ESC week is almost upon us and it’s still too boring to seduce me. As we all know, 2012 is the Year of the Ballad, and without the drama or superstar backup of My Time – the last UK ballad to succeed in the contest – I think this song will get lost. Being drawn to open the final was probably better for the Brits than, say, in the midst of a half, but I don’t think any performance position will give LWSYF a leg up past mid-table.  

Winner, loser or grower: Grower – 5 points.

 

 

NEXT TIME: My 2012 prediction special will let you know exactly what will happen I think will happen over the course of the best three nights of the year…before I am forced into internet quarantine. So much for Australia being the ‘lucky country’…sigh.