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THE TEL AVIV REVIEWS | Round 8 feat. France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Spain + the UK

This is it! I’ve finally finished reviewing all 41 Eurovision 2019 entries, just in time for Sunday’s opening party to signal the start of ESC week…as opposed to ESC rehearsal week, which we’ve been living and breathing since last weekend.

I don’t know about you, but I’m damn ready for this contest while also not being ready at all. Maybe because it came around quicker than Kseniya Simonova can mime Moldova’s “snow art” at double speed. Still, all that’s left for me to do is hang up my flags, buy my snacks and plan my SF1 voting strategy. Oh, and publish this round of reviews, obviously.

Keep reading to find out what I think of Bilal, S!sters, Kobi, Mahmood, Miki and Michael’s songs for next Saturday night. And keep in mind that I wrote these reviews before France et cetera had hit the Expo Tel Aviv stage, so any comments I made about staging were speculative. Speculative and arguably better than what some countries actually came up with.

 

PS – If you want to catch up on any of my other 2019 reviews, you can find them all here.

 

 

France + Eurovision = c’est magnifique these days. It all started with Amir back in 2016, and the run of absolute quality continued with Alma and Madame Monsieur. Not only have their eventual entries been amazing, but the standard of songs in their NF Destination Eurovision – held during the past two selection seasons – has been sky high. Voice Kids alumnus, social media star and Conchita worshipper Bilal Hassani emerged victorious from the 2019 show, having battled some tough competition and a lot of haters. The haters didn’t disappear after his win, but his fans will give him all the support he needs as he takes on Tel Aviv in style. I’m definitely a fan, but not just of Bilal. Roi is also doing all the right things for me.

Co-written by Madame Monsieur, this song is nothing like Mercy but it does have a message. It’s all about self-empowerment, standing up for yourself, owning your individuality and wearing huge blinged-up shoulderpads. I can personally relate to all of that (don’t underestimate the power of giving shape to your shoulders, people). Anyway, those themes are wrapped up in a pop-ballad package that manages to be quintessentially French without being stereotypically French. Maybe it’s the language mix, with the lyrics flitting between Française and Anglaise faster than you can say baguette. That technique has been used a few times by France at Eurovision events, including ESC 2007 and JESC 2018 – and they know how to do it well. Madame Monsieur know how to pen a current-sounding pop song well too, and though Roi isn’t as contemporary or powerful as Mercy, it still has a lot to offer. Every bit of it is catchy and consistent in its Frenglish; it has plenty of different segments that stop it sounding repetitive or becoming boring; the chorus is strong and easy to sing along to; and the lyrics make the message clear if you speak English and/or French (and if you speak neither, Bilal’s hand-crown helps get the meaning across). I really liked this track the first time I heard it, and it’s continued to grow on me like a sophisticated French fungus ever since.

In all honesty, however, the song pales in comparison to Bilal himself. He has to be my favourite personality of the 2019 contest – he’s fun, flamboyant and friendly, with star power but the kind of down-to-earth nature that makes me want him as my celebrity BFF. And of course, he can sing, dress to impress and rock flowing blonde wigs better than anyone. What’s wrong with this picture I’ve painted? Well, not much. But sadly I can’t see France going too far with Roi. Though plenty of people will be seeing and hearing this entry for the first time during the final (or when it’s previewed during the semis), with so many other standouts bound to catch their eyes and ears, I don’t like its chances. France’s fate might depend on how the Roi staging has evolved, but I can’t imagine they’ll be a televote or jury favourite. From that 6th place in 2016 to 12th and then 13th place last year, they’ve been drifting downwards, and I suspect that will continue to be the case with Bilal…but I’m hoping to be so wrong everybody will laugh at me later.

 

In a line A powerful, appealing piece of multilingual pop fronted by an awesome human 2018 VS 2019 2019 by one of Bilal’s wig hairs Predicted result 14th-18th My score 10 points

 

 

 

 

Okay, Germany: take a seat, because it’s time we had a serious talk. But first, some context. Michael Schulte did a top job of making our jaws drop last year when he finished 4th (don’t pretend you saw that coming). As always, when a country does randomly well after years of doing the opposite, I hoped his result would be the start of another successful streak for Germany. The contents of their 2019 national final seemed to promise the same thing. Then, last-minute wildcard addition Sister won it. How that happened is still a mystery to me, though I know we’re about to enter Eurovision week and I should move on from NF drama. But I just don’t get it. What did this entry have to offer that the other German songs didn’t? It wasn’t performed better or staged better than the rest, and the song was weak by comparison. Now it’s lost the one thing that made it memorable (the giant lazy Susan, which presumably goes on the table that belongs with Leonora’s giant chair). And I suspect that’s not the only thing Germany is going to lose.

There are a few bones to pick here without even mentioning the quality of the song: the ‘!’ in S!sters (that kind of stylisation was last considered cool circa 2002); the fact that the song title is virtually the same as the group name; Carlotta and Laura not actually being related (making my last point even more irritating); and the knowledge that Sister was rejected by Switzerland before being picked up, dusted off and dropped on Germany’s doorstep. As for the song itself…well, after my first listen I pegged it as this year’s 26th placer. That’s not because it’s terrible – I wouldn’t say it was. But it is a big pile of nothingness. It’s not instant, it has no call to action, it’s not dramatic enough to be a musical theatre number but too overblown to be an appealing pop ballad…there’s just nothing to grab on to. The verses sound like they’re still in the workshopping process, with a stilted structure and questionable lyrics. The chorus isn’t bad until the girls start shouting ‘SISTER!’ repeatedly at each other. And the whole thing is too slow and plodding, with not enough going on throughout the three minutes to make it feel like three minutes instead of ten. Carlotta and Laura are lovely, I’m sure, and they do the best they can with the material they’ve been given. But that material is not up to scratch.

I think Germany’s recent last places at Eurovision have been undeserved. But this year, there is no other entry already in the final or likely to qualify from the semis that deserves to finish lower than this. Not having seen S!sters’ new and (probably not) improved staging as I type this, I can’t imagine they’ve miraculously given themselves a chance of finishing above 26th. What else can I say about this? Switzerland made the right move rejecting it. And if Germany wanted to build on their 2018 triumph, they would have been better off sending Makeda or my preferred pick Linus Bruhn (whose performance needed polishing, but who had potential) to Israel. Or you know, LITERALLY ANYONE ELSE. I’m sorry for all the negativity, and I know the same amount of time and effort has been invested in this entry as in the other 40. But I’m disappointed. And as S!sters keep saying ad nauseum, if you feel something, ‘don’t you try to hide it, SISTERRRRR.’

 

In a line A non-event with a good message but few other redeeming features 2018 VS 2019 2018, in news that will shock no one Predicted result 26th My score 4 points

 

 

 

 

   

It’s host country time! The aptly-titled Home is Israel’s first post-win entry since 1999, and I don’t think Kobi can hold a candle to Eden and Yom Huledet. But who could? The correct answer is ‘no one’. Kobi has nothing in common with the boy band anyway, though there were enough Kobis in his music video to create one (nobody show it to Simon Cowell, for god’s sake). 20 years later, Israel is sending a solo singer down the road to the arena with a dramatic operatic ballad. It’s safe to say they haven’t attempted to repeat their 2018 winning formula here. RIP chicken clucks, Pokémon references and plagiarism lawsuits from the White Stripes.

My first experience with Home was not a good one. Having been drawn in by those ethnic wails at the beginning, I was feeling it. Then the wails turned out to be false advertising for a haunting Israeli masterpiece that never materialised, and I felt cheated. What did materialise was pompous and over-pronounced and self-indulgent. But two things happened after that. One, I got to know Kobi and discovered that he’s next-level likeable, which automatically forced me to be kindlier about his song. Two, I listened to said song a few more times, and in shocking news (because this never happens *insert sarcasm here*) I came around. I realise grower songs aren’t great for a contest relying heavily on instant appeal. But regardless, Home has made progress with me. I’m not turned off by the dramatics any more, I appreciate the melody and slow burn, and I feel like Kobi can do it all justice with a voice that understandably won him The Next Star. If I compare Home to other recent (ish) male operatic entries, it comes out on top of My Heart Is Yours – Norway’s 2010 host entry – and Sognu from France in 2011. It still sits way below Grande Amore from Il Volo, but that’s the pinnacle of the genre and cannot be beaten. For me, Home is average with a tendency to be slightly above. If I had to give it a grade on a report card I’d go with a B minus, but I would have given it a D a few weeks ago.

I may not be a Home hater any more, yet the song still isn’t what I wanted from Israel this year. I was hoping for something more like their 2018 Junior Eurovision entry or The Fire In Your Eyes: something spellbinding and ethnic. Even a song feat. some Hebrew would have been nice, but they opted for a full English breakfast instead. With Madonna being shipped in as an interval act, Home seems like another missed opportunity for Israel to show off some culture. Host entries have set up camp in Struggletown lately, and while I think Kobi can do more for Israel than The Makemakes did for Austria and Cláudia Pascoal did for Portugal (not that they deserved to hit rock bottom) I would be surprised to see him on the left side of the scoreboard. But since 26th place is pretty much reserved for Germany, he’s sure to avoid the ultimate embarrassment. And with a song that’s quite powerful and a voice to match, he has the chance to nip at the heels of the top half. Even so, Israel should come to terms with a mid-table downgrade from 2018’s clucking awesome 1st place.

 

In a line A majestic number fit for musical theatre that won’t thrill Europe or embarrass Israel 2018 VS 2019 2018 – fun and inventive wins out for me Predicted result 15th-20th My score 6 points

 

 

 

 

 

Ah, Italy. A true Eurovision love of mine, second only to Sweden (I have my reasons). A country that cannot help but be classy and ultra-Italian, no matter which genre they’re dipping their leather-clad toes into. And a country that really should have won at least once since their 2011 comeback. Could 2019 finally be the year they go all the way? If it is, you’ll hear my hysterical screams all the way from deepest, darkest Siberia or wherever else you are in the world. I am head-over-heels for Soldi (I love Mahmood too, but there’s no point being head-over-heels for him when you’re a straight woman). Just when I thought Italy couldn’t impress me more than they already have during the 2010s, along comes a song so effortlessly cool, I can barely believe it’s a Eurovision entry.

Not because I don’t think Eurovision is the coolest thing ever. Clearly I do, having devoted ten years of my life to talking about it here on EBJ. It’s just that songs like Soldi don’t often pop up in the contest. Actually, we’ve never had one quite like it competing, and I never imagined that if we did it would be a contender for the win. This song is edgy, gritty and tells a tale of woe – Mahmood’s relationship with his father isn’t very Brady Bunch – but it also manages to be fun (it’s the irresistible claps), inventive and catchy. It combines the classic Italian musical traits we know and love, like lyrical wordiness and rich (from all that Soldi) instrumentals, with hypnotic urban beats, hip-hop influences and an Arabic undercurrent. Mahmood’s cultural makeup is represented by the ethnic and language fusion, while his family story is represented in the lyrics. This is deep. It has fireworks AND feelings (take that, Salvador). It’s also a very cleverly-composed song, with those wordy verses being broken up by a minimalist chorus everyone can latch on to in seconds. My absolute highlight of Soldi is the Arabic-infused bridge, which adds an extra element of interest and significance to a modern masterpiece. I also like the nonchalance of Mahmood’s performance style: his distinctive vocals are always A+, but when he’s singing this song he gives off a ‘whatever’ vibe. It’s like he’s channelling the indifference he now feels towards his father, who he’s learnt is all about the money. That’s my interpretation, anyway.

Italy is hardly trying too hard this year, and apparently that’s what it takes to be a dangerous competitor. It’s like barely bothering with an assignment only to score 95%, purely because you didn’t overthink or overwork it. That makes me wonder if Italy actually wants a Eurovision victory, or if they’re happy to carry on with strong top 10 placements. After all, they won JESC by accident in 2014 and turned down the chance to host it the following year. They might get what (I think) they’re wishing for in Tel Aviv, because the path to victory isn’t as clear for Mahmood as it is for the other big favourites. He did win the 2019 OGAE Poll, but it was a tight race and those points all came from hardcore fans. I don’t know if the general public will take to Soldi like we have. Juries should at least reward its originality, but it’s not traditionally jury-friendly on other counts. And I’m unsure if Italy can stage this in a way that gets the message across and matches the cool, contemporary feel of the song. I would love all of the above to become irrelevant and have Italy as our winner this year – they’re my personal second favourites – but I’m sensing that’s too much to ask.

 

In a line Flawless and meaningful modern Italian music with an exotic twist 2018 VS 2019 2019, but Italy always impresses me Predicted result 4th-6th My score 12 points

 

 

 

 

What happens when arguably the best song in a national final is performed by someone with no desire to go to Eurovision? Well, occasionally it still wins and we’re treated to an unenthusiastic performance that drags a great song down. Fortunately for Spain, they had a solid backup to María’s Muérdeme in the form of Miki’s La Venda. His song might not be as current and slick as hers, but he performs it with so much enthusiasm he makes it better than it would have been with a less lively artist attached to it. This guy has tough competition when it comes to being Mr. Congeniality, ESC 2019 Edition – especially from his fellow auto-finalists Bilal, Kobi and Michael. He blows them all away when it comes to charisma and personality during a performance though. And La Venda is the perfect song for him in terms of letting his fun flag fly.

It’s also a perfect party anthem. Is there a better motivator to get up and dance in this upcoming contest? I don’t think so! If you can listen to this without moving, congratulations on living Les Misérables. The song is a piñata made of music that’s been busted open and proceeds to rain happiness and effervescence over all of us for all three minutes. That’s because it starts as it means to go on – in top gear with trumpets and an insanely joyful melody. The fact that it doesn’t change much throughout means it lacks a little dynamism, but it also means the energy is constant and keeps you (literally) on your toes. The pace is almost frantic, but I for one am willing to try and keep up with it as I shout ‘LA VENDA YA CAYÓÓÓÓÓÓ!!!’ repeatedly until my neighbours beg me for mercy. Something else I really like about this is the message that lies underneath the façade of fun and frivolity, proving that you don’t need to be dead serious to make a statement. According to Miki (or his lyricist), we should all take off our metaphorical blindfolds and see all that we have and all that life has to offer us instead of looking away, Finland-style. And to that I say amen. It’s a relief to have a break from anything remotely lovey-dovey after Amaia and Alfred’s PDA display. Spain is giving us a fiesta instead of a love-fest this year, and ironically I love them for it.

I don’t know if enough Europeans or my fellow Australians will be feeling the same level of love for this. It has been popular with fans and done pretty well in pre-polls, but it’s not unusual for Spanish entries to be hyped to the point of, in hindsight, overhype. I get a kick out of the Spanish fans’ enthusiasm re: their ESC entries, and I’m on their side this time…but even so I’m thinking Miki might struggle to live up to his hype. He’s a Hulk-strong performer, but La Venda has weaknesses: it’s repetitive, it stays in the same gear all the way through (a pro and a con, as I mentioned before) and it tends to disappear like fairy floss when followed by more eventful entries. Unless Spain scores a late second-half slot in the final, I can easily see them being forgotten in the middle of a 26-song stack. Having said that, La Venda is so enjoyable, and it has the power to get an audience going like nothing else it’s up against. If the ecstatic crowd gets a starring role in the performance alongside Miki, this entry will be elevated.

 

In a line The ultimate Latin party in a three-minute package 2018 VS 2019 2019 Predicted result 16th-21st My score 8 points

 

 

 

 

If you thought Germany was the only country with a song rejected by someone else, you thought wrong. The UK is bringing to Tel Aviv what could have been the Swedish entry sung by John Lundvik (but probably would have drifted down to mid-table in the Melfest final while Bishara packed his bags instead). John, who co-wrote Bigger Than Us and will compete against his own composition this week, originally wanted to enter Melfest with the ballad instead of Too Late For Love. He was convinced to change his tune, and that’s how Michael ended up with (this version) of the song. I don’t know why I wasted time telling that story when you all know it already. Anyway, Michael’s certainly made Bigger Than Us his own with his big voice – and his endless repertoire of arm flourishes. It’s hard to imagine anyone else singing it now…but would I prefer it if the song hadn’t been recycled by Mr. Rice?

No I wouldn’t. Call me crazy (it’s true) but I LOVE this song, in all its repetitive, key-changing, memetastic glory. It’s a TV talent show winner song for sure, but it’s the kind that brings tears to your eyes because you’ve voted for the singer for weeks and they actually won and you’re so invested it doesn’t matter how clichéd their inspirational power ballad is. That’s a hypothetical scenario, but Michael is a TV talent show winner. And with good reason: the boy can sing. He’s the best vocalist the UK have sent to Eurovision in a long time, and his vocals make more of Bigger Than Us than a less skilled singer would have. The song follows a predictable ballad structure: verse, chorus, (alarmingly short) verse, chorus, subdued chorus, money note + key change, lots of emotional warbling, and SCENE. There are no surprises. ‘Bigger’ is repeated 50-something times throughout, and it seems like more because the second chorus comes around so soon, Occidentali’s Karma-style. The last quarter of the song is padded out with extra biggers in place of quality content. And you can pick, down to the split second, when the fire curtain switch will be flicked. I know all of this, yet I still adore this song. The melody is beautiful, the explosive moments are mighty explosive, the gospel backings are rousing and Michael is amazing. Is it a little cheesy? Sure, but I like cheese. And this is uplifting, powerful cheese. If John Lundvik’s life was a musical, Bigger Than Us would be the song signalling his newfound determination to stand tall and fight for what he believes in (which I think would come after he figures out that it isn’t too late for love). Also, if John Lundvik’s life was a musical I would buy front-row tickets. But I digress.

Back to Michael. He’s a top bloke, as we’d say here in Australia. The kind of funny, grounded guy you’d hang out with in a heartbeat. That makes him voteable, at least to people who’ve been following his pre-ESC journey, and those spectacular vocals make him attractive to jurors judging singing ability. Where he might trip up is with the song itself and his performance. Bigger Than Us is probably too passé and predictable to stand out. And if he hasn’t upped his live game since You Decide – in terms of camera connection and toning down those arm movements – I’ll be worried. I’m also concerned the UK is going to leave Bigger Than Us to its own devices staging-wise, and it really isn’t strong enough to survive bare-bones (unlike, for example, The Netherlands’ Arcade). There is a lot that can go wrong here. But at worst it will still be competent and showcase high-class vocals, and that’s not a bad position to be in. I have faith that if everything goes right with this entry, it can improve on the UK’s recent results. After all, it’s SO MUCH BIGGER.

 

In a line A by-the-numbers power ballad that’s worked its magic on me 2018 VS 2019 2019 Predicted result 15th-19th My score 12 points

 

 

 

 

If you made it through all that, thanks for sticking around. The UK was lucky last and concludes the EBJ judgments for 2019. I’m not-so-secretly relieved, and I’m guessing you feel the same! Here’s today’s mini-ranking:

  1. Italy (12)
  2. United Kingdom (12)
  3. France (10)
  4. Spain (8)
  5. Israel (6)
  6. Germany (4)

And here’s the maxi-ranking feat. the full class of 2019 (apart from that one student who didn’t make it to graduation):

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

Sweden on top is no surprise if you know me. Have I changed my mind since the first round of reviews? Not where my favourites are concerned, but if I did a full ranking again there would be some shifts in the 15th-35th range. Might be time to pay another visit to the ESC Sorter…

 

Be sure to let me know how you rate the Big 5 + Israel – or any country you like – in the comments, as we continue to watch and wait out the rehearsals. And follow me @EurovisionByJaz on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (links are in the sidebar —>) because that’s where you’ll find my predictions for Tel Aviv’s three hopefully fantastic shows. We’re so close, guys. Enjoy what’s left of the lead-up to Eurovision 2019!

 

 

 

 

THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 7 (Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Serbia, Slovenia + the United Kingdom)

We’re nearly there, guys. It’s May, and the first live semi final of Eurovision 2018 is on Tuesday. TUESDAY!!!!!

I’ve never been so terrified at how quickly time is passing and so keen for a little bit more to pass at the same time. I’ve also never been so confused about which songs are going where, especially in SF1. But the chances of me embarrassing myself by getting 5 or 6 qualifiers correct is a discussion for another day.

Right now, I’m taking care of business by squeezing in the last few rounds of reviews for the year. This is the second last installment, and it involves ginger beards, cinnamon rolls and candy-coloured hair. Sweet. So who’s got the goods and who’s got some explaining to do out of Rasmussen, Ari, Ermal & Fabrizio, Sanja Ilić & Balkanika, Lea and SuRie? That’s subjective, but keep reading if you want my opinion!

 

  

My thoughts Everyone out there who’s been dreaming of the day Game of Thrones would meet Eurovision: this is your year! Okay, so maybe Rasmussen’s Higher Ground is more Vikings than GoT, but I really wanted to joke about the possibility of Denmark using gratuitous nudity and decapitations in their staging concept (in reality, it’s Belarus who’ve gone gratuitous and gruesome). What Denmark has done is let a Melodifestivalen reject represent them at the contest – an “honour” shared with Azerbaijan in 2016, and heaven knows how many other countries in heaven knows how many other years. But it’s not all bad, because a Melfest discard will still be half-decent at least, and this particular one is more than that. It’s definitely more adventurous than the Danish entries we’re used to (in style, performance, and in the sense that it screams ‘epic sea shanty!’ and begs for us all to wave our cutlasses in the air like we just don’t care). Combining Gregorian-esque chants with a pounding beat, an interesting time signature and a big ol’ belter of a chorus, it’s reminiscent of Himmel I Hav by Roger Pontare (of Melfest…go figure); only Higher Ground is more current, and more accessible by way of being in English. Even so, you wouldn’t hear a song like it anywhere outside of the ESC bubble or a movie soundtrack. To me, that’s part of the charm. There are a lot of layers to this song as far as production goes (you might say it’s as deep as the deep blue sea) with instrumentals that are rich and soaring, and powerful vocals from Rasmussen. I love the way his hair (and beard) blows in the manufactured breeze conjured up by our beloved wind machines – this song needs weather, though I don’t suggest Rasmussen pulls a Flashdance by drenching himself in water while wearing a leotard that leaves little to the imagination. My favourite thing about this track is how quickly it creates an atmosphere. Electricity is crackling in the air pretty much from the second it starts, and that’s hard to ignore – unlike a few Danish entries from recent years. I also have to commend the fact that there isn’t another song competing in this contest quite so suited to the nautical theme and ship-inspired stage. Congrats to Denmark for choosing so wisely, even if it was accidental. At the end of the day, I’m pleased with Higher Ground if not impressed by it. Anja Nissen was a hard act to follow for me, as someone (in the minority, I know) obsessed with her and Where I Am. That remains a song more stylistically Jaz than this one. Still, HG is a solid effort and stands out in the field. It’s got a reasonable shot of qualifying, but if it does I doubt we’ll see it on the left side of the scoreboard. Denmark still has a way to go before I start dropping the douze on them and calling them potential winners.

2017 VS 2018? I’ve fangirled over Anja too much to be disloyal, so 2017 it is.

My score 7

 

 

My thoughts Last round, I said that the Czech Republic had glowed the heck up in the space between Eurovision 2017 and Eurovision 2018. Flip the script, and you have Iceland – a country that has willingly swapped the incredible, why-the-eff-didn’t-she-qualify ice queen Svala and her Scandipop masterpiece Paper for….ugh. How do I even describe Our Choice without having to shove my life savings into the swear jar? I guess first off, I have to get one thing straight: I absolutely adore Ari. The Nathan Trent of 2018, he is a precious and über-talented human who deserves a brilliant song to represent Iceland with. It’s a massive shame that what he gets to represent them with is the musical equivalent of squishy cheese, vintage 1990. Seriously, this song sounds like it predates its own performer (Ari was born in 1998…let that sink in and horrify you if you think late 90s babies should still be in diapers). It puts Boggie’s Wars For Nothing, a similarly saccharine wannabe charity song, on the same level as We Are The World and Do They Know It’s Christmas? While there’s literally nothing I like about the song, the lyrics well and truly are the worst aspect. It’s 2018, we have entries likeToy and Dance You Off feat. razor-sharp lyrics, and Iceland thinks that lame lines like ‘There’s always a choice we can make to help and to heal in different ways’ and ‘Inside we’re all the same’ are acceptable? NOPE. Granted, Pollapönk got away with ‘Inside we’re the same’ in 2014, but that was a message song not originally written in hieroglyphics on a stone tablet by Ancient Egyptians. I think the credited songwriter here is trying to pull a fast one on us by pretending Our Choice was penned this century. I can make a concession given that the Icelandic NF Söngvakeppnin was very lacklustre this year. But regardless, I’m mystified as to how this topped the lot (Aron Hannes + Golddigger = far superior). I suppose Ari’s puppy-dog eyes, strong voice and ability to sell the song to some degree (not 100% – he ain’t Superman) must have had something to do with the win. It’s safe to say that is the only song contest this bland, stale ballad will be winning. PLEASE FORGIVE ME, ARI! It’s not you, it’s the song. And as if the signs for it going nowhere weren’t clear enough, Our Choice was lumped with the Slot of Death (no. 2) in the Semi of Death. The best possible outcome for Iceland this year is to not finish last on Tuesday night, and even that’s an ambitious goal. If Ari had released his song as an actual charity single to raise money for the homeless (thirty years ago), it might have done some good. But at a highly-competitive song contest in 2018, he’s just preaching to the non-converted.

2017 VS 2018? Bring back Svala (or give Ari something reasonable to work with).

My score 2.5

 

 

My thoughts There are two ways I’ve reacted to Italian entries lately: I fall in love with them immediately (grande amore!), or I think ‘hmm’ at first only to fall in love after three or four listens. What I always think is that Italian music is classy AF – unlike myself – and has its own unmistakeable thing going on. All of that applies to Ermal and Fabrizio’s Non Mi Avete Fatto Niente…except the instant enamour bit, because this was a song that snuck up on me with its brilliance, as opposed to smacking me in the face with it while blowing a vuvuzela and yelling ‘VIVA ITALIA!’. On first listen I found it too complex, too wordy and not hooky enough to remember. I think I must have had a headache at the time too, because Fabrizio’s insanely gravelly voice was up there with nails down a blackboard on the ‘Dear Lord, Make It Stop!’ scale. I looked up the translation of the lyrics; felt no change (I mentioned in the last round that I’m a soulless witch – Eurovision’s own Ebenezer Scrooge). Listened to it again; a slightly higher opinion of it. Listened to it again – to cut a long and boring story short – and BAM, just like that I was head over heels. And I don’t think it’s just a crush or a phase. I’m in this for the long haul, so put a ring on it, Italy! The complexity of this song is now something I appreciate about it: the melody and phrasing isn’t clear-cut and there’s no hooks that have been shoehorned in purely to make people dance, cry or headbang. The wordiness is one of those classic Italian musical tropes, and I feel like it’s in keeping with Ermal and Fabrizio having so much to say. And as for the lack of memorability I thought NMAFN had before…well, that’s probably still the case for a lot of first-time listeners, but I can’t get it out of my head now. The message is getting to me more these days, and I applaud the substance of the subject matter. That meaningfulness, combined with the beautiful guitar work, amazing chorus in which Italian has never sounded better, and contrasting smooth-edged/rough-edged vocals of the duo (that I understand now balance each other out, yin-yang style) makes for an overall impression of SI, SI, SI. Sure, it took a while for me to reach this state of obsession – which may not bode well for Italy’s contest chances – but good things come to those who wait. Speaking of this in a competition context, I have to come full circle and say ‘hmm’. Will Europe (and Australia) get this? Can the anti-war, anti-terrorism message be conveyed strongly enough via staging in three minutes to affect and pull focus in a 26–song final? One in which many of the other songs will be more instantly memorable and potentially overshadow Italy’s? Sadly, I doubt it. Italy was the overwhelming fave in 2017 (until the last minute) and ended up 6th. Unless this flips those fortunes, as current 10th favourite to win I see it ending up far lower. But I love it so much (finally), I’m hoping to be proven wrong.

2017 VS 2018? Anti-evil beats evolution – 2018.

My score 10

 

 

My thoughts There are a few songs in the Lisbon fam that are ESC throwbacks, and I love it. Taking me back in time to the mid/late 2000s are the likes of Belarus, Greece and Serbia (obviously, or I wouldn’t have mentioned this at the start of their review). Ethnic to the extreme with a Eurodance beat, and partly performed by a strangely attractive bald yet bearded dude? Hvala da, Slovenia joke intended. There’s no question Nova Deca could have slipped seamlessly into the line-up of the Istanbul or Helsinki contests (it would have been a great host entry in Belgrade too, no disrespect to Oro) but I’m happy it’s here in 2018 adding retro variety to the show. It’s striking from the second it begins, when the wailing (I’m sorry, but I don’t know how else to describe it) puts the ethno in ethnopop. Just when you think you’re in for 180 seconds of traditional Serbian folk music, DAT BEAT kicks in and promises much more – not that I would have been mad about a totally traditional Serbian song, especially after last year’s mostly Swedish production. Good energy, an anthemic quality and a catchy chorus (a key ‘Woohoo!’ requirement for me) fill the rest of the running time, and I have zero complaints about any of it. I’m not sure what else to say – sometimes you just like something and you can’t put into (that many) words why. I will admit that this is not a song anyone’s likely to call ‘so 2018’. But I don’t care. It’s another one you’d never stumble upon outside of Eurovision (or at least outside of the Balkans) which is one of the things I love about it. I’m sure the huge Serbian population here in Australia will respond to this positively, dancing up a SuRie storm. Whether or not that translates into votes, we’ll see. I do think Serbia will struggle for a final spot again, and to be honest my jaw will drop a little if Balkanika are announced as qualifiers – in a good way. Nova Deca would be a fantastic song to have in the final program, since no matter what it follows or precedes it will be different. And I think Serbia needs some encouragement to start sending ethno-fusion songs to Eurovision on a more regular basis, because when they do, they do it very well. They always get the Jaz tick of approval, anyway.

2017 VS 2018? 2018. Easy choice.

My score 8.5

 

 

My thoughts Pink hair, don’t care. That’s Lea Sirk (and her Portuguese twin Cláudia Pascoal), repping Slovenia with a song that makes last year’s On My Way sound even more passé than it actually was. First things first, I’m still pissed that BQL were knocked back again at EMA with another amazing Maraaya creation. I sincerely hope their victory day will come. In the meantime, we have Hvala, Ne!, a song I have quite the like/dislike relationship with. Do the good things outweigh the bad, IMO? Let’s see. Positives: It’s contemporary and radio-friendly; it has attitude; it’s in Slovene when the temptation to switch to the English version would have been high; and Lea is a solid performer and vocalist. The NF performance was simple but effective too, so if they’ve replicated it in a way that fills the bigger ESC stage, I’ll be happy. Negatives: It’s kind of flat and monotonous; the noise in the chorus that punctuates ‘Hvala ne’ sounds like a smoke alarm having a nervous breakdown, and I am not here for it; and Lea’s NF outfit was super unflattering (it looks like she’s wearing something similar for Eurovision, and I do not approve). Okay, so it seems I’m leaning towards the angel on my shoulder rather than the devil on the other one re: Hvala, Ne! But at the same time, the song doesn’t ignite enough passion in me – in a yay or nay way – to make me want to vote for it. And I suspect I’m not the only person thinking this. There aren’t any ‘wow’ moments to speak of, and Lea’s position in the running order isn’t too favourable – Montenegro before her, while not the best Balkan ballad ever, is grander; and Ukraine after her? Well, they could destroy any impression Slovenia leaves like it’s a scrap of paper left on top of Melovin’s flaming piano. I can see Slovenia finishing in the 11th-14th bracket in SF2, but no higher. If I’m right, I won’t be glad to see the back of Lea and her amazing fairy floss hair, but I won’t miss her song in the final a whole lot either.

2017 VS 2018? I’m actually torn on this one. Both have big pros and cons. 2018, I think?

My score 7

 

 

 

My thoughts In 2017, the UK reminded us all that glitters is gold – and that a gold-drenched stage and singer won’t necessarily propel you into the gold medal position. Something they’re hoping will do the trick is sending a two-time backup singer (for Belgium, with Loïc and Blanche) in the form of SuRie. She’s a superstar on social media and the kind of Eurovision artist we all want to be our BFF…so it’s a shame that Storm doesn’t live up to her awesomeness as a person.  Like Germany, the UK is not earning their automatic Saturday night spot with this – a song that would have a hard time qualifying from a semi. It’s nice, there’s nothing wrong with it, and SuRie is a joy to watch perform as she’s a Little Miss Sunshine onstage like Jess Mauboy. The lyrics are cheesy and predictable at times, but she charms her way through them and makes me believe she means what she’s saying (not that I’d been having trouble believing storms don’t last forever). But no matter how hard I look, I can’t find any ‘oomph’ in this. It’s lacking an element of excitement to light my fire and toast my marshmallows. Is it a heart-warmer? Not really. Can you dance to it? Nope. Is it hard to resist singing along to? Not in my experience. To put it another way, if Eurovision was an election campaign made up of political candidates, the UK wouldn’t be one who makes a powerful statement and attracts voters like Portuguese custard tarts attract Lisbon tourists. Up against the other automatic finalists, Storm comes across mediocre – and my ‘meh’ feeling only increases when I compare it to the other 37 songs. I hate that I’m not even surprised by that happening with a UK entry. Who wants to be accustomed to average? Lucie Jones gave us a glimmer of hope last year, but if she couldn’t finish higher than 15th, I don’t think SuRie can either. This year is turning out to be more on par with 2017 than we first thought in terms of the overall standard, so because Never Give Up On You > Storm, my early prediction for the UK now is 18th-22nd. But here’s your consolation prize, SuRie: when it comes to crowning the Twitter Queen of Eurovision 2018, nobody else stands a chance.

2017 VS 2018? I loved Lucie, so sorry SuRie.

My score 6.5

 

 

37 down, SIX TO GO!!! I’m on the home stretch, y’all, and that’s worth a happy dance. While I’m getting jiggy with it, you can check out this round’s ranking: 

  1. Italy (10)
  2. Serbia (8.5)
  3. Denmark (7)
  4. Slovenia (7)
  5. United Kingdom (6.5)
  6. Iceland (2.5)

All I’m going to say on this one is…poor Ari.

Does Italy give you the most grande amore out of these six songs, or does Rasmussen’s majestic beard song win you over every time? Maybe you actually *gulp* enjoy Iceland? Make your decision and vote for your favourite now!

 

NEXT TIME It’s all come down to this: the final six countries competing in Eurovision 2018. Who’s got me fist-pumping and who’s got me face-palming when it comes to Belarus, Montenegro, Norway, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland? This weekend, all will be revealed…

  

 

 

JAZ JUDGES EUROVISION 2017 | Belgium, Croatia, Greece, Israel, Ukraine, the UK…and Russia

Happy Eurovision Eve, guys! If it’s still Eurovision Eve Eve when you’re reading this, then Happy That to you too.

As promised, I’m back with the final round of EBJ reviews for this year’s adult contest. It’s down to the wire given that Kyiv’s first semi is so close, and the jury semi even closer (timezone-ally speaking again, it may be over by the time you read this). Plus, there’s still the all-important – and in my case, hilariously inaccurate – predictions to be made, which I may end up posting on social media only (if you don’t see them here, check out my Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, all @EurovisionByJaz). So – and I’m saying this to myself – let’s have a little less conversation and a little more action, please!

Read on to find out how my guest juror/mother and I rate the entries from Belgium’s Blanche, Croatia’s Jacques, Israel’s IMRI, Ukraine’s O.Torvald, the UK’s Lucie…and yes, Russia’s Yulia. I couldn’t come this far and then leave her out, even though she’s out of the competition.

Here’s the last seven songs of 2017, according to two extremely intelligent and attractive Australian women.

*tumbleweed blows*

Moving on…

 

 

My thoughts I don’t know what’s gotten into Belgium lately, but they’ve been batting the ball right out of the field with their Eurovision entries – 2013, 2015, 2016 and now 2017 being the gold star examples (the less we say about the creepfest of 2014, the better). Blanche’s City Lights took me by surprise, because for some reason I was expecting her to be assigned some twee, folksy guitar-strummer á la Joan Franka, which is SO not up my street. I don’t know why I expected that – she must just have that look about her. Anyway, I apologise, Blanche. You/your songwriters have given us a skillfully-crafted, cutting edge alt-pop song that’s melancholy in all the right ways. If Kristen Stewart were a song, this would be it: edgy, flat and lacking in emotion, but bizarrely attractive nonetheless. There’s nothing about it I can pick on – even the repetitiveness makes it more hypnotic. Blanche’s voice is way smokier and sultrier than you’d expect from a seventeen-year-old, and it sets off the song perfectly. The contrast between Belgium last year and now (with different broadcasters behind each entry) is huge, and I love them both. The only issue is that there’s one negative difference between Laura and Blanche, and it’s to do with their on and off-stage personalities. Laura, with all of her theatre and TV experience, was a ball of energy and enthusiasm with more charisma than Triana Park’s Agnese has wigs. She charmed the press, audience and home viewers with ease. Blanche is virtually the opposite, as far as I can tell – reserved, quietly-spoken and pretty nervy on stage. Obviously she shouldn’t smile her way through performances of City Lights, since that wouldn’t make any sense. But her uncertainty and lack of emotion at times put what is a fabulous, should-be-a-surefire-hit song right into the danger zone she’s singing about being alone in. That’s why Belgium has dropped considerably in the odds since rehearsals started, and why we could be looking at a (somewhat shocking) non-qualifier here. But, not having seen any rehearsals myself and not knowing what Blanche might muster up for the jury and broadcast shows, I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and base my score of 10 points on the song itself.

My mum says… Wow – that’s a voice with depth! I can’t believe it’s coming out of someone so young. It kind of makes Blanche the antithesis of Ireland’s Brendan. Her song is just as impressive as her voice. It doesn’t sound manufactured, and its moody in a way that kept me interested even though it was really repetitive, which is a hard thing to do. Bravo, Belgium! 8 points.

Belgium’s score 9.00

 

 

 

My thoughts There are only a few duos competing at Eurovision 2017, but Croatia’s is the most notable given that it’s a duo made up of Jacques Houdek…and Jacques Houdek. Yes, we have a man duetting with himself in the contest, via a song that isn’t so much well-blended popera as it is pop-opera with a definitive divide between the two. And it is HILARIOUS. Hilariously terrible, that is. Things don’t get off to a good start when Jacques opens with some wannabe inspirational (i.e. retch-worthy) spoken lyrics that even the most warm-hearted person would find hard to take seriously. It’s not exactly downhill from there – that, IMO, is the worst part of the song – but when cheesy lines give way to Pop Jacques and Opera Jacques fighting for attention, it’s time to laugh (because it’s absolutely mental) or cry (because it’s a Disney-fied disaster). No other song so strongly begs the question ‘What were they thinking?’ than My Friend. Yet apparently, it works well enough on stage to be in contention for qualification. Whenever I hear or see someone say that, it makes me wonder if I’ve woken up in my worst nightmare. I think the only aspect of Croatia’s entry deserving of a place in the final is Mr. Houdek himself, because he’s a top bloke with bucketloads of talent (I can’t deny that he nails both the Jekyll and Hyde vocal segments of his song). Apart from that…no. Just no. I take a little sugar in my coffee, but I don’t fill the entire cup with an unpleasant combo of white and raw, if you know what I mean. That would be way too sickly. 2 points.

My mum says… Oh my gosh. If the TV show Touched By An Angel was ever made into a musical, this would be the theme song. Not that I’d know that for sure, because I would NOT be buying tickets to see it. Is ‘abysmal’ too harsh a word to describe this song? I mean, the voices are good – great even, when you realise that they’re both coming out of the same person – but everything else is…ugh. 2 points.

Croatia’s score 2.00

 

 

 

My thoughts It’s still hard to comprehend the fact that Greece lost their 100% qualification record last year. You’d think that would be the kick in the pants they needed to reclaim their Eurovision glory days of 2004-2013, when they could hardly keep themselves out of the top 10. The announcement of Demy as their artist confirmed that, and I was excited. Then along came the three candidate songs, one of which she’d end up singing in Kyiv…and they were all utterly average and totally uninspired. This Is Love, a dance track that feels half 2000s ESC and half cookie-cutter club hit, was the best option, I’ll give them that. But all it does is satisfy the requirements for an okay pop song. It takes zero risks, feels super familiar (like it’s a Frankenstein creation of other dance songs stitched together) and doesn’t feel lyrically original. It’s not offensive, but I have no reason to fall head over heels in love with it (hence why I’ve taken to calling it This Isn’t Love in my head). It’s just there, in the line-up, not measuring up to a good 75% of the other entries. If anything can save it – and I suspect it will be saved – it’s Demy and the staging. I’m pretty confident that will get Greece back into the final, and for all I know, back into the top 10. That’s not a result I’d rejoice in, though, as much as I love Demy. She’s better than this song, and I expected something much stronger. Hashtag disappointed! 5 points.

My mum says… I have to admit, I’ve already forgotten how This Is Love goes, but when I was listening to it I was pretty bored. I feel like Greece did try to start a fire with it, but there’s just no spark. I wasn’t even moving to the music – danger alert! Demy has a nice voice, but her stage performance will have to be incredible to make up for the weaknesses in her song. 3 points.

Greece’s score 4.00

 

 

 

My thoughts It’s convenient that my random selection resulted in Israel being reviewed right after Greece, since they’re so stylistically similar. It makes it even easier for me to say that I Feel Alive is miles ahead of This Is Love in every department (in my opinion, of course). And no, that’s not because Imri has the power to melt me into a human puddle of swoonage with one brief, smoldering gaze. I’m not (quite) that shallow, guys! I just think it’s a far better and far more original song. It’s definitely more current-sounding, and I like how even though each part of the song is different, the whole thing is cohesive and the energy/intensity level never wavers. It’s also great to have a bit of ethnicity shoehorned in via the instrumental break. Overall, I find this entry very catchy and danceable, and we need some of that to break up the ballads that are a bit hard to dance to if you’re alone á la Jana Burčeska. Unfortunately, there’s a question mark over Imri’s ability to pull off a pretty tricky (if my in-shower attempts are any indication) vocal. He has enough stage presence (and muscle tone) to win people over, and as he’s sung backup for Israel the past two years in a row, he can handle the Eurovision experience in general. But can he hit those high notes? Notes that could be Jemini-level awful if he doesn’t nail them? If he wasn’t doing double duty as a singer and dancer – because I’m guessing there’s some choreography for him to work with – he’d have a better shot. But I’m worried. He has the honour of closing the second semi final, and he needs to leave a good impression behind if he wants to be the lucky charm that helped Israel make the final in 2015 and 2016. I’m not sure, but I hope that he can do it. I Feel Alive would be a cracking song to have on the Saturday night. 8 points.

My mum says… Here’s a song that had my foot tapping very quickly. That’s a good sign for me, because I react to music how I react to books: if it doesn’t grab me and make me feel something fast, I’ll give up on it. I Feel Alive is very catchy, and I love the instrumental bit that sounds a bit like an Irish jig (don’t worry, I know it isn’t). I’m keen on stuff like that! And I’m told Imri is a beautiful sight to behold, so it sounds like Israel has the total package. 7 points.

Israel’s score 7.5

 

 

 

My thoughts I know I shouldn’t be dwelling on stuff that happened during national final season, but I’m still convinced that Tayanna’s I Love You would have been one of the best host entries in Eurovision history. It’s heartbreaking that she ended up sick prior to the Ukrainian final and barely managed to sing her way through the whole song when it mattered the most. In that sense, I can see how O.Torvald won instead. Their final performance, elevated by some gruesome but awesome prosthetics that took Time literally in a jaw-dropping way, was fantastic. Sadly, that’s not the staging they’re using for the ESC (I guess it’s not that suitable for what’s considered a family show) so they’re relying more or less on song alone to get the job done. The ‘job’ being ‘host entry that scores enough points to not be an embarrassment, but doesn’t put Ukraine in danger of having to host again in 2018’. I have a feeling a right-side scoreboard finish is in the band’s future, though. Don’t get me wrong – I’m very happy to have rock in the competition. Time stands out just because of its genre, and I think it’s got a lot going for it, apart from adding variety to the grand final. But I don’t think it’s memorable enough to thrive on simplistic staging, and I can’t see it outdoing Sweden’s 2013 result with Robin Stjernberg. In fact, I’m predicting it will finish lower than that – in the 16th-20th range – in spite of the support it’ll get from the crowd, being the host entry and all. Ukraine shouldn’t suffer the indignity that Austria did on home soil in 2015, but it’s very unlikely they’ll do what Sweden did last year and finish in the top five. O.Torvald’s musical rivals are too hard to handle. 6 points.

My mum says… I don’t know why, but this reminds me of a B-side to a 1980s ballad. The music’s interesting, but I didn’t like much else. It’s quite a dramatic change from Jamala, so at least Ukraine aren’t creatures of habit. 3 points.

Ukraine’s score 4.5

 

 

 

My thoughts I’m not as partial to Emmelie de Forest as a lot of other people. Only Teardrops is far from being one of my favourite ESC winners, and I much prefer Anja Nissen’s Where I Am to the song de Forest co-wrote for her DMGP appearance last year. My point is, when I heard she was responsible for a Eurovision: You Decide song, I wasn’t exactly jumping for joy. Never Give Up On You quickly won me over, however, because I loved how bare-bones it was at the NF, with hardly any instrumentation backing it and no beat that kicked in when it seemed obvious that a beat would kick in (when Lucie hits her big note towards the end). But apparently I’m fickle AF, as I then decided the song would benefit from some sort of driving beat to give it some oomph. When the revamp was unveiled feat. just that….you guessed it, I found myself preferring the original version. The ESC version has a bit of an identity crisis – it’s halfway between understated piano ballad and soaring power ballad, with an electronic influence creeping in that does make it contemporary, but ultimately sounds wishy-washy. The UK are in danger of becoming musical wallpaper once again – but if reports on their stage presentation are to be believed, they might have hauled themselves out of trouble at the last minute. From the photos I’ve seen, they’ve gone for a gold-heavy, art-deco theme that I wouldn’t have imagined suiting the song, but it looks like the camera will love it. If it does suit the song, then this entry could be a very well-wrapped package. The song is certainly up Lucie’s alley, as it caters for both her pop side (as an ex-X Factor contestant) and her theatrical side (as a past and future star of Legally Blonde: The Musical). I’d love to see her do well, but there are better ballads that are 99% likely to make it to the final and be in direct competition with her – think Finland and Portugal. And it is the United Kingdom we’re talking about. I’m always doubtful. But you can’t say they haven’t taken the contest seriously this year, or put in the level of effort required to succeed. 7 points.

My mum says… This is very nice. I like a ballad that’s powerful without being too loud and screamy, and this definitely falls into that category. I can imagine Lucie in a long, flowy dress with the (fake, wind machine-generated) wind in her hair as she channels all of her emotion into it. Her voice is gorgeous, and it’s not hard to picture her on the West End stage…or the Eurovision stage, for that matter. I’ll have my fingers crossed for the UK, because I don’t want to have to pretend I wasn’t born there! 7 points.

The United Kingdom’s score 7.00

 

 

 

My thoughts I don’t like the way Russia’s departure from Eurovision this year played out, on the Russian or Ukrainian ends. But try as I might, I can’t help being relieved that Flame Is Burning won’t be competing in Kyiv and won’t be taking a spot in the final away from a higher-quality song. Sorry to be so blunt, but OMG, I HATE IT. Maybe that’s partly because it came from Russia, and every time they (try) and send an “inspirational” preaching-for-peace ballad to the contest, it makes my skin crawl. That doesn’t just apply to Russia, though…see my Croatia review for proof. Anyway, just as a song, if you don’t think about its origins, it’s awful. Lame lyrics, a lacklustre melody and a style that went out of style about 25 years ago do not make for something I’d voluntarily listen to. The other problem is Yulia’s thickly-accented English, which makes it hard to understand anything she’s singing (although you could look at that as a blessing). With a better song in Russian, her talents would be put to way, way better use – which, with any luck, is what’ll happen next year if Russia re-involve themselves and send her. So, the moral of my story is, I won’t miss Flame Is Burning, just like I didn’t miss Romania’s Moment of Silence last year. I’ll just feel super sorry for their performers. 1 point.

My mum says… I don’t hate this like Jaz does (which made her jaw drop about a kilometre) but it’s nothing outstanding, that’s for sure. If it was competing, it sounds like it would be forgotten five minutes after it was performed. That’s not the key to Eurovision success, is it? And her accent is so strong, it’s distracting. 2 points.

Russia’s score 1.5

 

 

I can’t believe I get to say this, but that’s it – 43/43 reviewed! The ranking for this round looks like this:

  1. Belgium (9.00)
  2. Israel (7.5)
  3. United Kingdom (7.00)
  4. Ukraine (4.5)
  5. Greece (4.00)
  6. Croatia (2.00)
  7. Russia (1.5)

Belgium (pretty unsurprisingly) takes out the nonexistent trophy, with Israel and the UK hot-ish on their heels, and the others not even lukewarm. But did Belgium do enough to top the full EBJ Jury ranking? Watch this space to find out.

How would you rank the songs we reviewed today? Would Belgium be your number one too, or is there something else floating your boat? Let me know in the comments.

I’ll probably be making another appearance here pre-semi 1, but in case I don’t, I want to wish all of you a very merry contest experience! I’m looking forward to a low-key one myself, after a few years of not watching from my couch, but I will be on Twitter, typing away through all of the live shows. Maybe I’ll meet you there? It’s going to be freaking beautiful!

 

 

 

 

The Songs of Eurovision 2017 So Far: First impressions, 2016 vs 2017, my top five + vote for your favourite!

Happy First of February, everybody! As scary as it is that a full four weeks of 2017 have already gone by – it’s practically a permission slip for us all to Get Frighten like Lolita ZeroFebruary is an exciting month on the Eurovision calendar, so maybe we should all “get excite” instead.

January just ended with the presentation of Kyiv’s logo and slogan (‘slogo’ to those of us who don’t have time for excess syllables):

eurovision_song_contest_2017_logo-1

It isn’t the most attractive logo (or the greatest slogan) in ESC history as far as I’m concerned (the colour scheme in particular is pretty drab). However, it has the potential to look slick in show-motion, as part of the postcards, and plastered all over posters/lanyards/t-shirts/toilet paper (an untapped item of merchandise that could, ahem, wipe the floor with the rest). So shall we give it a chance to shine – or not – before we throw it in the trash via salty Twitter sessions? Yes? Okay then.

In other end-of-January news, the allocation draw for the semi-finals took place yesterday, and has divided all of the non-automatic finalists into either the Tuesday or Thursday night shows. This doesn’t mean that much at the moment. Still, I’m happy to have Sweden in the first semi alongside Australia (despite the fact that they’re obviously tough competition) because we’re pretty friendly, and unless it’s third time unlucky and Australia sends something diabolically bad to Ukraine, we’re likely to get a little boost of points from last year’s hosts. If we don’t, the entire country will have a mob of angry Aussies (or perhaps just me) to answer to.

With the theme art unveiled and the allocation draw done and dusted, we can now move on to the millions (slight exaggeration) of national finals mapped out for this month – including the magnificent Melodifestivalen, which starts this Saturday. For now, though, there are five seen-and-heard songs in the race to be the next 1944…and that’s such a neat little number, I’ve got to take advantage of it. So here, have some opinions on the fabulous (and not-so-fabulous) five songs chosen to date for the 2017 contest. And stick around to the (possibly bitter) end to vote for your favourite before five becomes…more than five. #mathsskillz.

 

ffsf

 

Bonjour, Albania, Belarus, Finland, Georgia and the United Kingdom. I’m about to criticise you like crazy.

 

 

Botë by Lindita Halimi (Albania)

When discussing Albania at the moment, we’re fully aware that the song we’re talking about now is probably not the song we’ll be talking about in a month or two. That’s because Lindita and her crew are currently revamping it and preparing for its English-language unveiling (not because the Botë writers are going to pull a Diell on us and actually force her to find a different song to sing in Kyiv). In its at-this-second state, Botë is classic Albania – a big, brassy power ballad in possession of a mysterious beauty. Even if any of that changes when the final version is presented, Lindita will still sing the absolute crap out of it without breaking a sweat. If she doesn’t qualify to the ESC final, I feel like someone’s going to get punched (not by me, but by her. The girl is fierce).

My current score 8 points.

Better than Fairytale? As one of the few living and breathing fans of Fairytale, I’m not 100% certain, but I think Lindita trumps Eneda. She’d definitely beat her in the boxing ring.

 

 

Historyja Majho Žyccia by NAVI (Belarus)

Like Finland, Belarus chose wisely from their NF line-up when they could easily have made a dreadful decision (in my opinion…which as always, is the right one). NAVI’s brand of fun folk-pop is wrapped up in a neat, cheerfully-decorated package with Historyja Majho Žyccia. Even though it will stay in Belarusian (which makes me want to do a little ethnic/highly embarrassing dance of joy) we’ll all be able to sing along to the various heys and hos that up the cute factor throughout. I’m not head-over-heels in love with this song – it could be the genre, which isn’t my favourite, or just a missing bit of pizzazz – but I like it a lot, and I’m interested to see how it performs at Eurovision.

My current score 7 points.

Better than Help You Fly? This is like comparing 1944 with Wadde Hadde Dudde Da (don’t try to tell me that Stefan Raab masterpiece isn’t stuck in your head now). Basically, it’s a tough call, but I’m saying yes.

 

 

Blackbird by Norma John (Finland)

I was holding out a little hope that this track would win UMK, but until I saw the performances, I assumed Emma had it in the bag. Or that Finland would think ‘f%#k it’ and pick Günther & D’Sanz. Fortunately, they pleasantly surprised me by doing neither of those things. Blackbird has plenty of people pretending to puke whenever it’s mentioned, but for me, it has a bit of the magic of A Monster Like Me plus the raw emotion of Silent Storm. That amounts to something special, if not spectacular. Some pre-ESC crafting of the staging concept should elevate it to semi top ten status, but it’s early days and most of Norma John’s competition is a question mark. They might blend into the background, or make a statement with their subtlety. If you ask me, it’s Option B!

My current score 10 points.

Better than Sing It Away? As a party-starter/dancefloor-filler, nope. In every other department, yep.

 

 

Keep The Faith by Tako Gachechiladze (Georgia)

Tako nearly made it to Moscow in 2009 as part of the peeps that brought us We Don’t Wanna Put In. To be honest, I’d rather listen to that disco-flavoured, thinly-veiled dig at Russia’s main man than this melodramatic, been-done ballad. When you’re watching a song being sung, and you’re thinking about how sparkly the singer’s dress is and how voluminous her hair is and where you can buy a lipstick in that exact shade because it’s gorgeous…but not about the song itself as it kind of sends you to sleep, that’s bad news. And that, my friends, was me watching Tako do her thing at the Georgian final. One person’s trash is another’s treasure, so I know Keep The Faith has its fans. I’m just not one of them at this point.

My current score 5 points.

Better than Midnight Gold? No way. Bring back the drug references and epileptic lighting sequences.

 

 

Never Give Up On You by Lucie Jones (United Kingdom)   

Was it my number one (like, the only treasure I’ll ever have) choice of the six You Decide songs? Not before the comp. But I’ve got to admit, this song has grown on me very rapidly after only a few listens and a look at Lucie’s pared-back performance from Friday night (in which she sang like a songbird, wore an amazing velvet dress and reminded me a little bit of Lena circa 2010 if Lena had taken a Valium before stepping onto the Oslo stage). It’s an almost-exceptional, well-worded minimalist ballad that Emmelie de Forest has co-created here – and may I remind the haters that every single song she’s written that has made it to the ESC has won the contest? True fact.

My current score 10 points.

Better than You’re Not Alone? Definitely. Joe + Jake were a much less hyperactive and more sensible-haired version of Jedward, which can only be a good thing – but Lucie is a step in a more successful direction.

 

 

For those of you who made it through all of the above, here’s my top five:

  1. United Kingdom
  2. Finland
  3. Albania
  4. Belarus
  5. Georgia

How long will it be before somebody, if anybody (*sneezes in a very timely fashion with a ‘SWEDEN!’ instead of an ‘AACHOO!’*) steamrolls over the UK and parks in my personal top spot?

I have no idea.

Here’s an easier question to answer:

 

If you want to justify your poll pick or say something snarky about a song you don’t like (this is not a bitchiness-free zone, so go ahead), drop by the comments below. Also, feel free to send your personal top five my way so we can compare our rankings while secretly wondering why the heck each of us has THAT song in first/last place.

 

Until Saturday, when the clouds part and a heavenly glow covers Gothenburg because it’s Melfest Semi One Day (can’t you hear the angels warming up their vocal chords in anticipation?)…

 

 

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SELECTION SEASON 2017 | You Decide in the UK + UMK!

Hello there, you stunning creatures! No, I haven’t dived off the deep end (yet). It’s just that, well…didn’t you know that when One Direction sang ‘that’s what makes you beautiful’, they were talking about obsessing over Eurovision? It gives us all a constant, pregnancy-esque glow, except the only thing we’re pregnant with is excitement about all the NF action of the moment.

Speaking of which, let’s get straight into discussing it. We’ll start with what’s happening this weekend: 

  • 27/1 The United Kingdom’s You Decide – the final (feat. Olivia Garcia + Lucie Jones)
  • 28/1 Finland’s Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu – the final (feat. Alva, Emma + Norma John)
  • 28/1 Hungary’s A Dal – heat two (feat. Kállay Saunders Band, Zoltán Mujahid + Ádám Szábo)
  • 28/1 Lithuania’s Eurovizijos – heat four (feat. Alanas Chošnau + Audrius Janonis)

It’s not quite as crazy as some upcoming weekends will be, but there’s definitely enough to keep us happy (and/or complaining bitterly) until the same time next week. I’m going to filter my focus down to the goings-on in the UK and Finland, tonight and tomorrow respectively.

3, 2, 1, GO!

 

 

The UK’s songs for Europe: A step up or a stack down the stairs? You Decide…

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See what I did there? I hope so, because without trying to be offensive, I think even Corinna May saw what I did there.

Yep, it’s You Decide that will decide this year’s UK entry, yet again. But in the meantime, all of us fans have been deciding what we think of the line-up – with a different opinion coming from anyone who’s asked. A lot of people seem to be describing the overall quality, variety and fun factor of Danyl, Holly, Lucie, Nate, Olivia and Salena (who should just form a band called ‘We All Sound Super British’ already) as beige, via Pantone colour charts. As someone who’s rather fashion-focused (i.e. I never get tired of critiquing Eurovision costumes), I’m going to try something slightly different:

An accurate representation of (L-R) You Decide 2016, You Decide 2017, and (fingers crossed) You Decide 2018.

An accurate representation of (L-R) You Decide 2016, You Decide 2017, and (fingers crossed) You Decide 2018.

That sums up my general attitude towards the tracks. I’m not peeing my pants with excitement over them (probably not a bad thing), but in my opinion, they’re not half as bland and boring as their 2016 counterparts, of which Joe and Jake were definitely the most interesting choice. Here they all are in we-have-no-running-order-yet order:

  • Light Up The World by Danyl Johnson
  • I Wish I Loved You More by Holly Brewer
  • Never Give Up On You by Lucie Jones
  • What Are We Made Of by Nate Simpson
  • Freedom Hearts by Olivia Garcia
  • I Don’t Wanna Fight by Salena Mastroianni

All six are semi-decent songs (some more than others) performed by perfectly good (in studio, at least) singers, all of whom have appeared on The X Factor (nothing wrong with that – TV talent shows dot the background of bajillions of ESC artists these days). I feel confident in saying that there isn’t a Eurovision winner among them, but it’s too early to predict what the UK may be capable of besides clawing their way back to the top of the scoreboard for the first time since 1997. Let’s take things, as Maria Olafs would say, one step at a time, and see who produces a live performance that scores them an automatic spot in the Eurovision 2017 final.

 

My top 6

  1. I Wish I Loved You More – I know this sort of pop power ballad has been done to death and is pretty passé in 2017…but I still enjoy it! This particular example is catchy, climactic and not too lyrically clichéd. 10 points.
  2. Freedom Hearts – There’s something about this that makes me feel like it needed another week or two of tweaking by the writers/producers. But it’s still good. Kind of like an updated (or sequel to) Children of the Universe. 8 points.
  3. Never Give Up On You – We can’t discuss this one without mentioning co-creator Emmelie de Forest. It’s not quite what I expected from her, but there’s appeal in the pared-back production and heartfelt delivery from Lucie. I still want some drums and strings to drop in and elevate the last chorus. 8 points.
  4. I Don’t Wanna Fight – If there were ever a movie musical starring Dua Lipa as a Miss Universe contestant demanding world peace, this would be her swan song. Miraculously, that kind of works for me (although the lyric ‘only love survives’ HAS to be a bad ESC-related omen for Salena). 7 points.
  5. What Are We Made Of – I hated this after my first listen, but giving it another go led to me liking it as much as I like the average John Legend piano ballad – which is a reasonable amount. 6 points.
  6. Light Up The World – Musically and melodically, I enjoy this. Lyrically, it makes me want to go on some sort of King Kong-like rampage. It’s 2017…when will the cheese be binned? It’s well past its use-by date. 5 points.

 

Now my verdicts are in, the usual questions can be answered. Firstly, this one:

Who SHOULD win Holly, Olivia or Lucie. Basically, because they’re my favourites. If Holly can deliver a vocal that even comes close to her studio version, it will be amazing – her live could really lift IWILYM to a higher level. Olivia and Lucie have the most original songs up their sleeves, and that should be rewarded.

Now for this question, which will cement my status as The Crappiest Predictor in the World™ (although I did guess Belarus correctly last week. It scared me a little).

Who WILL win Olivia or Lucie. They’re top two with the bookies (Lucie first, Olivia second) but I typed their names before I checked the You Decide odds. That’s because their songs stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of giving off winner vibes. Freedom Hearts is a good example of a contemporary pop anthem, mature enough for the ESC but youthful enough to suit sixteen-year-old Olivia. Never Give Up On You has the de Forest advantage, which may or may not matter to the juries and voters, but it gives the song a certain calibre. It stands out as the most stripped-back and sentimental song of the six too. I’ll be surprised if it isn’t one of these ladies who gets the UK’s golden ticket.

In the interests of not fence-sitting for once, here’s my number one pick FTW.

 

Who’s yours? Which of these X Factor exes has got the goods to go all the way to Kyiv…and how far can they go once they get there?

 

 

Finland: ready to find Sandhja’s (hopefully) more successful successor
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As I said in a previous post, I don’t trust UMK to crown a champ who’s the best possible Eurovision rep for Finland. Sandhja herself caused an upset by beating out fan favourites Saara Aalto and Mikael Saari…and look what happened as a result. The Finns have been ESC semi final stayers for two years now, and what they’ve got going on in the UMK 2017 line-up is 50% songs that could change that, and 50% songs that will have them missing out on the final for the third time in a row. Can you guess which are which, IMO?

  • Circle of Light by Emma
  • Arrows by Alva
  • Love Yourself by Günther & D’Sanz
  • Reach Out For The Sun by Anni Saikku
  • Caveman by Knucklebone Oscar & The Shangri-la Rubies
  • Blackbird by Norma John
  • Helppo Elämä by Lauri Yrjölä
  • My Little World by Club Le Persé
  • Perfect Villain by Zühlke
  • Paradise by My First Band

I’ll drop some heavy hints with my ranking + mini-reviews.

 

My top 10

  1. Helppo Elämä – This is weird in a wonderful way. I love that the lyrics are native language (Finnish is so whimsical-sounding, it immediately adds interest to anything from songs to conversations about compost), and I love the overall production and sound. 10 points.
  2. Blackbird – Simple and beautiful. The chorus brings actual tears to my eyes. 8 points.
  3. Arrows – I know I’ve already mentioned Maria Olafs once in this post, but I have to do it again. This is Unbroken updated for 2017, but it far better on the grounds that it isn’t half as repetitive. 8 points.
  4. Reach Out For The Sun – I can’t remember how this goes, but I know I quite like it, even though it never escalates into a statement piece. 7 points.
  5. Paradise – I’d rate this higher if the lyrics weren’t so unnecessarily suggestive (and at times, nonsensical). I don’t want to be left alone with any of these guys. 7 points.
  6. Circle of Light – The final installment in the Only Teardrops trilogy (part two was Hear Them Calling) is the fan favourite, but it’s not my thing and I feel like it’s past its prime. 6 points.
  7. Perfect Villain – I think Eurovision has moved on from stuff like this, but I have to applaud the lyrical originality. It’s so thought-provoking. I mean, what WOULD the X-Men do? 6 points.
  8. Love Yourself – Nope. 3 points.
  9. Caveman – Double nope, and not even close to wunderbar. 2 points.
  10. My Little World – How many nopes have you got time for? 1 point, because the chorus isn’t totally obscene.

How does your ranking stack up to mine? Do you despise the three (!) novelty entries, or are you hoping one of them comes out on top. It wouldn’t shock me if one of them did.

 

Who SHOULD win Norma John or Alva. As much as I personally would love to see Lauri on the Eurovision stage, Blackbird and Arrows would make for better, more successful ESC entries. Norma John would bring the bare-bones emotion (á la Never Give Up On You from the UK) while Arrows would be a sweet sorbet for us to enjoy between bigger, louder and more serious songs.

Who WILL win Emma or My First Band. These are the acts that topped the UMK pre-vote, so I’m not game to discount either of them, even though I’m convinced that Finland could pick any of the ten possibles depending on which way the wind blows on the night (sorry to any Finns reading this – I’m not suggesting that you’re fickle, but UMK seems to be). If Circle of Light takes the prize, I suspect it will be more Hear Them Calling than Only Teardrops at the big show, but it’s too soon to say so for sure. Peer pressure – and yes, those pre-vote results – pushed me into calling My First Band as likely victors, despite THOSE LYRICS. They make the song more disturbing than Serhat’s I Didn’t Know, which is really saying something. But hey – that’s a gimmick in itself, right?

Ultimately, I’m going to side with Emma-lie de Finland Forest.

 

Do you think Finland will be safe in the circle of light, or heading off to paradise? Or neither? Make your predictions public now to be in with a chance of saying ‘I told you so!’.

 

 

That’s all I have to say on the UK and UMK for now, but when the shows are over, another conversation can start. When I say ‘conversation’, I of course mean an all-out war of words between those of us who love the winning songs and those of us who wouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot-pole. There’s something to look forward to!

Have fun tuning in to your NF/NFs of choice this weekend. If there’s anything you want to say about them, before, during and after, then hit up the comment box down below 🙂

 

Hyvästi!

 

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REVIEWS | The EBJ Jury Judges Eurovision 2016 (Part 5)

Understatement Time: These reviews are slightly late. Let’s just say that I’ve suddenly realised how many To-Dos I have to cross off my list before I fly to Sweden’s capital on Friday night (!). Now, I’m left with three episodes of the EBJ Jury judgments to cram in before my departure. So here’s the first of those three.

 

 TODAY’S EBJ JURORS

 mwm

Mrs. Jaz, Wolfgang and I are ready to review Azerbaijan, Belgium, Iceland, Israel, Latvia and the United Kingdom – otherwise known as Samra, Laura, Greta, Hovi, Justs and Joe & Jake (they should form a supergroup…their names sound great together). Are you ready to join us? If so, read on and find out what we have to say – and how the entire EBJ Jury scores these six songs.

 

 

Azerbaijan

Mrs. Jaz Hmm. As someone who likes songs that are a little bit quirky, I wouldn’t go into raptures over this one. It’s very commercial, and it would fit right in on the radio at the moment, but that’s because it sounds like it was plucked off a musical factory conveyor belt – in Sweden, apparently. Samra’s voice is lovely, but without any trace of an accent, I had no idea which country she was representing (since the music doesn’t give any clues away either). This could have been Australia’s entry, for all I knew! I guess I’m saying that I would have liked to hear some ethnicity in there, especially as I’m told Azerbaijan usually do throw some traditional instruments into the background of their songs. That would have added more authenticity to Miracle too, which would have allowed me to connect with it as a consumer. As it stands, I can’t.

Wolfgang This miracle, so to speak, came at the last minute in a moment when I least expected one. Sometimes there are songs that need some time until I like them much, but then there are songs that I love from the very first moment. Samra’s entry belongs in the latter category. And although it is again a song composed by Swedish songwriters, and produced by Swedish producers, Miracle really has something special to me: the song is beautiful and catchy, the lyrics are great and Samra’s voice sounds amazing in the video/studio version. I only hope she will hold that standard and do an equally amazing live performance in her semi on the ESC stage. Then maybe a ‘miracle’ could happen for Azerbaijan in Stockholm. For one of my favourites this year I give 12 points and lots of love!

Jaz  Azerbaijan, turning up at Eurovision with a song written by Swedes? MADNESS…said no one ever. When you think about it, Azerbaijan (or Azurjerbin, as I pronounce it in my head in honour of Lynda Woodruff) is the most predictable participant in the entire contest. Every year, they wait until March to drop a perfectly-polished Scandipop song on us, hoping we’ll think it’s the bomb dot com. And, against all my better judgement, Samra’s Miracle is verging on being explosive material in my book. I know I should hate the fact that it’s so derivative and one-dimensional; that it’s not risky or challenging or ethnically Azerbaijani in any way. I mean, we’ve just found out that it not only sounds like a Melodifestivalen reject – it IS a Melodifestivalen reject, for Christer Björkman’s sake! But, while those aspects of the entry do play on my mind, the song is so engineered-to-enjoy – melodically, lyrically and structurally – that I can’t fight the feelings of love that overwhelm me when I listen to it. It reminds me a lot of Lisa Ajax’s Melfest entry My Heart Wants Me Dead, which I would say was superior, but that I also love – it’s the partly middle-eastern, partly WTF computer-generated noises that run throughout, mostly. The chorus is soaring, impressive and instantly memorable, worming its way into your head when you’ve only heard it once. Samra’s vocal – in studio – is as smooth as silk and/or a baby’s bum, whichever simile you prefer…and let’s not ignore the fact that she is stunning to look at. Stick her on stage (possibly on a podium) in a spotlight and a wind-machine-friendly dress, and you have the recipe for a visually and aurally appealing package that will certainly maintain Azerbaijan’s 100% qualification record. A solid result in the final isn’t out of the question, but I’m wondering if this is too “perfect” to have the impact to push it into the top 10. Winning, I’m sure, will have to wait at least another year. Who wants to head back to Baku in 2018?

The EBJ Jury says…

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

Azerbaijan’s EBJ Jury score is…7

 

 

Belgium

Mrs. Jaz Now THIS is up my street – a song that has me yelling ‘Somebody get me some roller skates and take me back to the disco era, ASAP!’. I don’t know how it would go getting radio airplay and climbing up the charts outside of Belgium, but I do know I really like it. What’s not to like? It’s catchy and high on energy, and unwaveringly uplifting. The cherry on top is the fact that the intro sounds like Another One Bites The Dust. When you’ve got Queen in your corner, you’re all set.

Wolfgang It’s not about Laura Tesoro – she surely is a nice artist and has a voice (not THE voice, in my opinion), but it’s all about her song What’s The Pressure that does not appeal to me. I normally like funky and soulful songs a lot, but in this case she seems to be too young and inexperienced for the song. In the Belgian national final, her vocals sounded so try-hard that I got the impression the song’s simply too difficult for her vocal abilities. On the other hand, Laura is a powerhouse, and knows how to perform on stage well. Maybe her performance will help to compensate for some weak vocals, or one or two wrong notes. But I guess the ‘pressure’ will be very high for her to qualify to the final this year, with so many stronger competitors. In my opinion, it will be an ‘Iris’ year for Belgium in Stockholm. I don’t see this entry going anywhere.

Jaz  I would have felt sorry for whoever succeeded Loïc Nottet as Belgium’s representative. The shoes he left behind for Laura (who turned out to be that ‘whoever’) to fill were inhumanly large – Bigfoot might have been a better choice, but he wasn’t shortlisted for Eurosong unfortunately (though can’t you just see him hip-thrusting through a Thomas G:son dance banger?). I personally would have preferred Adil Arab to be the successor in question, which you might think is setting the tone for the remainder of this review. However, I am a fan of Laura and What’s The Pressure. I was more of a fan back when she was selected, and all Eurovision 2016 had to its name was a handful of songs. As time went on and the entry forms were filled out by twenty, then thirty, then forty-plus countries, Belgium’s follow-up to Rhythm Inside wore a little thin, and sounded kind of pedestrian. But while it is pedestrian in terms of quality, it’s also pedestrian in terms of pace – as in, you can power-walk your butt off (sorry for all the bum references I’m making today) to it as it trumpets along. There’s a heap of energy on show, and a sense of fun that Laura manages to project every time she’s performing it. It does suffer from ‘Haven’t I Heard That Somewhere Before?’ Syndrome – in this case, I hear a fusion of Uptown Funk and Sax – but that recognition factor might actually work in Laura’s favour. She’s closing semi two, so if any of us are flagging by the time the end draws near, she’ll pump us up again – but that could be her only purpose. WTP can easily be compared to Finland’s Sing It Away in that it’s a pretty dispensable party track. It doesn’t really fight for a final place, so if it gets one, I suspect it will be due to a 9th or 10th place in the semi rather than a top five. I don’t think last year’s brilliant Belgian result was a fluke, but I do think they need to rediscover the formula that made such an impression on the juries and voters…because Laura will struggle to do the same.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 12
  • Fraser 8
  • James 5
  • Jaz 8
  • Martin 7
  • Mrs. Jaz 8
  • Nick 2
  • Penny 7
  • Rory 12
  • Wolfgang 2

Belgium’s EBJ Jury score is…7.1

 

 

Iceland

Mrs. Jaz *makes face that suggests I’ve just waved dog poo under her nose* *which I didn’t* After what was a promising start, this fell flat. It descended into far too many mentions of ‘hear them calling’ for my liking – jeeze, we get it, lady! Consequently, the chorus seemed to come around much faster than it actually did. The song – which I assumed was titled Hear Them Calling, on a hunch – is catchy, but in a mediocre, doesn’t-go-anywhere kind of way. Is catchy mediocrity a thing? If not, it is now. I’m sorry, but if this came on the radio and I’d already heard it on there once, I’d be quick to change stations before I suffered an acute attack of the yawns.

Wolfgang The Icelandic national final appeared to me like a Lame Lady Ballad contest this year, which I was not really impressed by. So I would say that Greta Salóme’s song was the best of a weak bunch, but is still good enough for Eurovision to leave an impression. What I like about the song is the country style, and that it’s really dynamic and up-tempo. But what makes the difference on the Eurovision stage is its amazing performance that reminds me strongly of those ‘Shadowland’ performances of the PILOBOLUS dance theatre artists. And that’s something I really enjoy watching! This could become the Mika Newton performance of 2016, from which we still remember the beautiful work of the sand artist (while we have almost forgotten Mika and her song). But remember: Mika came 4th in the grand final of Eurovision 2011 in Düsseldorf. Maybe this will be THE surprise performance of the year in Stockholm?

Jaz Yes, Greta’s back, blah blah blah…I kind of wish she’d reunited with Jónsi for her return, though, even if he’d just sat on the side of the stage looking like the chiselled descendant of a Viking god that he is. What was I talking about? Oh yeah, Greta. I’m going to cut right to the chase and say that her solo effort Hear Them Calling outdoes Never Forget – but NOT its Icelandic version. In turn, as Raddirna, this song had an extra something special that it now lacks. Plus, it seems ten times more repetitive in English (how many times does she say ‘hear them calling’ during the three minutes? It’s like the new ‘Why-ay-ay-ayyyy’). I also dislike the Mumford and Sons-style folksiness of the song – it’s been done to death. I’d say it actually died circa 2014. Let’s be honest (well, those of us who don’t think the song is all that, anyway): it’s all about the staging with this one. I have to give a curt nod to Iceland for taking the concept of projections and not just copycatting Heroes (the clear inspiration) but playing with shadows instead – there is a lot of light and shade in Greta’s performance, literally. That moment where she leans back and “smoke” billows out of her like she overdid it at an Indian curry buffet the previous evening is a golden one. Now, I know using visuals to win over your audience is exactly what Sweden did to win Eurovision 2015 – but to me, Heroes was a better and more modern standalone song than Hear Them Calling. The package was more complete. Iceland still has a decent shot at qualifying and maybe squeezing onto the left-hand side of the scoreboard with what they’ve got, but because that is a) an obvious attempt to capitalise on Sweden’s offering of last year, and b) overshadowed (so to speak) by better and edgier entries, the chances of Reykjavik 2017 are very slim.

The EBJ Jury says…

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

Iceland’s EBJ Jury score is…8.6

 

 

Israel

Mrs. Jaz Aah…the beauty of simplicity. So much modern music is so noisy, full of stupid noises and vocal manipulations. This, on the other hand, is a pure and simple piano ballad that managed to be anthemic without being in-your-face about it. The music doesn’t overshadow the vocals, meaning I could understand what Hovi was saying (and though some of it was silly, I liked it). I can imagine couples all over Israel and beyond using this song as their ‘first dance’ wedding song, assuming Ed Sheeran becomes passé in the near future. It’s very nice indeed.

Wolfgang It seems to me that sun, moon and star metaphors are booming this year in the Eurovision lyrics. The Israeli entry is a classic example of a lame lady ballad that wants to ‘shine’ (a little light?) – only done by a male artist. As with Belgium, there is nothing wrong with Hovi Star: he has a great voice and a wide vocal range that is a bit comparable to Adam Lambert, IMO. So the only thing he needs for Eurovision would be a better song. Made of Stars to me is so cliché in an awful way, and it sounds dated, not contemporary. The build of the song resembles somehow the ‘drama queen’ ballad by Conchita from 2014, only this one goes nowhere and suddenly ends when you expect more to come. But what I find really cheesy and annoying are the lyrics: ‘A million faces tied in chains, you ride a black horse in the rain.’ Honestly, did they let the songwriters of the last three Russian entries write these lines? To sum it up, the song’s very cliché, the lyrics are terrible, and I don’t see a qualification for Israel this year. Not with that song!

Jaz If ever there was a shoo-in to win the prestigious EBJ Eurovision Excellence Award in the category of Mr Congeniality, Hovi Star is it (and a bit). I don’t even know this guy, and I LOVE him. He is, to me, the Tooji of 2016 – so personable and fabulous, you want to be his BFF after watching a thirty-second vox pop. And damn, he’s got great hair! My main mission in Stockholm is to touch it so I can then relay back to you guys what it feels like (Schwarzkopf-misted silk, I’m sure). I could go on forever about how much I want to hang out with Hovi, but I suppose I should devote some page space to Made of Stars. It’s not as fabulous as he is, but I think it’s beautiful in its simplicity. Initially, Israel were sending a big, brash, theatrical production that had Adam Lambert written all over it – and if you read my review of the now (sadly) disqualified Romania, you’ll know I detest OTT drama at Eurovision. Granted, that version of Made of Stars had a strong identity; but the revamp/reshape has toned down the drama and allowed the spotlight to shine on Hovi’s vocals. The lyrics, nonsensical as they can be, are lovely to listen to – ‘thunder and lightning, it’s getting exciting’, they are not – and the pared-back piano backing is equally so. Overall, though it’s not as powerful as it could have been, I’m very fond of this. I think, given Hovi’s performance skills and the star-related possibilities of his staging (the drones from the music video probably won’t be making an appearance, but still) Israel could do better than many expect, but I’m not convinced they even have the legs to qualify. Nonetheless, I will be watching on in rapt fascination when Hovi’s time comes…while fashioning a long-distance hair-stroking device out of toothpicks.

The EBJ Jury says…

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

Israel’s EBJ Jury score is…6.5

 

 

 Latvia

Mrs. Jaz  I think I liked this. That’s probably a strange thing to say, but I honestly couldn’t make up my mind about it. Pros: Great music. A nice voice to accompany that music. A beat that mimics a pulse (totally by coincidence, right?). Generally of a better standard than the Icelandic song. Cons: It didn’t jazz up in the way that I thought it was going to (you could say the Heartbeat flatlined). It might prove to be a bit forgettable seeing as it’s opening its semi. Other observations: I reckon I need repeat listens to learn to love Latvia.

Wolfgang Here we have the ‘Aminata’ song #2, following on from the very successful Latvian entry of 2015 by going for the same success package again in 2016. I must admit that I like this year’s Latvian song and artist much more than last year’s. Justs really is a great vocal performer, and his song is by far catchier than last year’s injected love. What I like most about the song is its up-tempo beat that gives me good vibes and really works well with Justs’ strong, slightly scratchy voice. The only thing I would criticise is the performance, where nothing much happens on stage (at least not in the NF performance). At the moment it all looks like Andrius Pojavis for Lithuania in 2013. So, if the stage performance is improved, including lots of heartbeats, then it will be another top 10 result for Latvia this year. I’m sure this song will leave a great impression on a lot of televoters. Or will we head to Riga again next year?

Jaz Latvia made an excellent decision when they opted to send a song to Eurovision 2016 that was written by their very successful 2015 representative. Aminata knows how to create a song that’s less cookie-cutter and more cutting-edge, cool and contemporary – the kind of thing that makes skeptical, non-ESC-obsessed viewers think ‘Hey, this is actually pretty awesome!’. And for that, I salute you, Miss Savadogo. Justs and his Heartbeat are everything I want to see competing in the contest in 2016. The song is a little alternative in sound and makes me feel like a much more epic person just(s) listening to it, but it’s still hugely accessible for mainstream pop lovers. The chorus, like Azerbaijan’s, is incredibly hooky, and though it does feel like the titular word has been said a few too many times by the end, it is the core of the song – that plus the pulsing beat that drives it. The verses are minimalist in the most appealing of ways, and the synthy string of notes that punctuates them adds an extra piece of ear candy to the concoction. Something else I love about this entry is the contrast between how Justs looks, and how he sounds. He looks like he could be cast as Edward Cullen in a Twilight reboot, but he sounds like…well, Hungary’s Freddie, if Freddie wasn’t as throaty. That ultra-innocent face clashes beautifully with the grunt in his voice. All in all, there is nothing I dislike about Latvia – again – and so much that I love. As a result, I’m hoping for an Aminata-level finish at least. But they’ll have to both pimp and nail their staging to increase their chances. Hey, even if they don’t…wow. I can’t believe we’ve gone from Cake To Bake to THIS in two years.

The EBJ Jury says…

  • Ali 5
  • Fraser 7
  • James 6
  • Jaz 12
  • Martin 8
  • Mrs. Jaz 7
  • Nick 10
  • Penny 8
  • Rory 3
  • Wolfgang 8

Latvia’s EBJ Jury score is…7.4

 

 

UK

Mrs. Jaz  I like this! Yes, the UK is my homeland, but before you call me biased, know that Jaz didn’t tell me this was the UK song until after I’d given my verdict. And if I’d had to guess its origin, I probably wouldn’t have opted for the UK based on my past listening experiences anyway (Bonnie Tyler…Engelbert…the 1920s schtick from last year). You’re Not Alone is a little 80s-inspired, so we have skipped forward a few decades. Still, it’s radio-ready for the 00s too. It instantly got into my head and had me singing along, which has to be helpful for both Eurovision and karaoke nights. I feel quite proud of this, actually. I hope it does well – or at least that it doesn’t do too badly. It deserves a decent result.

Wolfgang This year the BBC started their biggest competition EVER to find the right song and artist(s) for Eurovision 2016, including almost every organisation in the British music industry that is of importance. And the result for their national final was six not-too-overwhelming songs sung by no-names. So that was all ‘Big Mouth’, and then baking only little bread again. But, among the songs there was light and shadow, and I’m glad that one of the better ones won the NF. Joe & Jake are fresh, cool guys who match well together on stage. They have a contemporary song that is a strong grower to me, and both of their voices have a very good live quality. So even if the song’s not too impressive, the guys are charming and good-looking, and they could spread some energy and fun to the Eurovision audience. I guess it won’t be enough for a top 10 placement for the UK in Sweden, but I expect a better result than last year – somewhere in the top 20. This year I’ll keep my fingers crossed for a good UK result.

Jaz I don’t know what I should have expected to hear from the UK after the bonkers-ness of Still In Love With You, but I am relieved it’s something less laughable (and bonus, there’s no mention of disease in the lyrics this time!). Two good-looking lads whose names conveniently both begin with ‘J’ (the superior initial for first names, obviously) sporting an anthem that it’s impossible to do the Charleston to? That’s got to be good, right? It is good – but I wouldn’t describe You’re Not Alone as ‘great’. It’s pleasant to listen to, but it reeks of the kind of song that backs a movie trailer or montage of some kind. If the Rio Olympic organisers are after a song that can soundtrack ‘The Top 10 Team Efforts of the XX-whatever Olympiad’, then they should look no further than Joe & Jake’s. My problem with this entry as a whole is that, while there’s nothing to complain about, there’s nothing to get excited about either. I don’t feel anything when I listen to it. Belgium brings a smile to my face; Latvia gives me goosebumps; this gives me nul points. And yet, I cannot physically fault it, because I wouldn’t describe it as ‘boring’ either! HELP ME. I am looking forward to ogling Joe when he’s on stage, and then pretending I wasn’t when accused shortly thereafter because he’s younger than me and I’m not ready to be classified as a cougar yet. So there’s that. If too many people are feeling the way I’m feeling (about the UK’s song, not about the big box of cutesicles that is Joe), then I can’t see this escaping the 15th-20th zone in the final. That makes me a little sad for the boys, but the Eurovision experience will be a brilliant one for them at this stage of their careers anyway.

The EBJ Jury says… 

  • Ali 6
  • Fraser 8
  • James 3
  • Jaz 7
  • Martin 7
  • Mrs. Jaz 8
  • Nick 6
  • Penny 5
  • Rory 10
  • Wolfgang 7

The UK’s EBJ Jury score is…6.7

 

 

And, as usual, we have a winner! And a loser. Things did NOT go my way this time… 

  1. Iceland (8.6)
  2. Latvia (7.4)
  3. Belgium (7.1)
  4. Azerbaijan (7)
  5. United Kingdom (6.7)
  6. Israel (6.5)

Congratulations to Greta, who can take the nonexistent trophy for this round of reviews back to Reykjavik and display it oh-so-proudly on her mantelpiece. Commiserations to Hovi, who would have finished much higher if I had all the power here (who’s stupid idea was it to recruit a jury, therefore relinquishing the majority of my precious power?). Remember, all of this score-giving and number-crunching is going towards the compilation of the EBJ Top 43*, which I’ll be publishing from Stockholm (which means it’ll be an exotic Top 43).

Yes, I said 43. We took the time to review Romania a few weeks ago, and I think we owe it to Ovidiu to keep him in our ranking. Even if he is rather low in it.

In a few days, the penultimate part of this series will see Armenia, Australia, Ireland, Malta, Moldova and Slovenia critiqued by an American, an Englishman and moi. Check in then to find out how high or low my patriotism level is running at the moment (i.e. what I think of Dami’s Sound of Silence).

 

Until then…

 

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MY STOCKHOLM SUGGESTION BOX | Years & Years for the UK

Are any of you currently wearing a watch? Do you know what time it is? No? Well then, it’s my duty to inform you that it’s time to pull another slip of paper out of my Stockholm Suggestion Box! And, of course, time for me to overload you with info on the artist/s scrawled on said slip. I hope you’re mentally, physically and emotionally prepared for this.

So far this season, I’ve suggested that Darin (my favourite popstar on the planet) should put his name down for Melodifestivalen 2016, and in the past I’ve singled out Robin Packalen and The Saturdays as artists I’d choose to represent Finland and the United Kingdom respectively. For my second suggestion in the lead-up to Eurovision #61, I’m aiming for the UK yet again (sorry). I couldn’t help myself – not once it occurred to me just how perfect my favourite act of the moment are for the contest, in more ways that Sanna Nielsen has Melfest entries.

Now, I’m aware that, according to recent news, the BBC will be using an X Factor-style talent search to select their entrant for Stockholm rather than an internal selection (as per the past five years). This may sound like a good plan to someone who’s forgotten (or had treatment to erase from their memory) the disastrous cringefest of an outcome that prompted that switch to internal selections in the first place. Someone at the BBC – more than one someone, incredibly – thought that ‘That Sounds Good To Me’ lived up to its title back in 2010. Surely they can’t be trusted to mastermind something resembling a national final so soon? Then again, it was an NF that teamed Jade Ewen up with Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, with the pair eventually finishing fifth in Moscow in 2009.

Basically, the UK’s next ESC experience could be one heck of a ‘Come Back’…or they could end up ‘Rock Bottom’.

With this NF news in mind, I know that any act I name as my ideal UK rep is now even less likely to end up being that rep. But that won’t stop me naming! So please, indulge my fantasy as I request the services of some musos I’ve been obsessed with for the majority of 2015.

Can I please have…

 

ynyuk

 

WHO? WHERE? WHAT?

To cut a long story short, Years & Years = Olly Alexander, Mikey Goldsworthy and Emre Türkmen: a.k.a. two Britons and an Australian (that’d be Mikey) who make insanely cool music together, and have done since 2013.

To NOT cut a long story short…here’s the long story.

Once upon a time, in a mystical land known as London, a brilliant-band-to-be was born.

Years & Years first formed as a five-piece in 2010. Mikey, having recently migrated to the UK, met Emre online, and it wasn’t long before they both cottoned on to Olly’s vocal talents (thanks to his habit of singing in the shower, which you can hardly blame him for. The acoustics in there are second to none). That set Mikey’s mind-wheels into motion, and he and Emre were quick to get Olly in on their music-making scheme. Joined by two other likeminded musos, and with Olly as frontman, bassist Mikey and synth player Emre released their first single ‘I Wish I Knew’ in July 2012. It didn’t exactly set the charts on fire, but good things come to those who wait – and/or those who spend a little more time honing their craft.

Five became three in 2013 (it was like Ginger leaving the Spice Girls all over again…I imagine), prior to the band signing with French label Kitsuné Records and releasing second single ‘Traps’, plus an accompanying EP. ‘Real’, the next single, was released in 2014, and became Years & Years’ first to chart in their homeland (albeit at #158. Everybody’s got to start somewhere).

A switch of label to Polydor the same year signaled the start of better luck and bigger success for the boys. Their third EP – Take Shelter, featuring the phenom single of the same name – topped the iTunes Electronic Chart in the UK. In December 2014, fifth single ‘Desire’ dropped, climbing to #22 on the UK Singles Chart, which was a giant leap for mankind improvement on the performance of all their previous material. The band made guest appearances on the singles of several other acts last year too, featuring on ‘Illuminate’ by Tourist (known as a Grammy-winning co-writer of Sam Smith’s ‘Stay With Me’), and on ‘Sunlight’ by Belgian DJ and producer The Magician.

January 2015 arrived, and Years & Years found themselves winners of the prestigious BBC Sound Of… award, given to the most promising new music talent of the year, and previously handed to the likes of Adele, Ellie Goulding, Jessie J and Sam Smith. They were also nominated for the Critics Choice Award at the Brits, held earlier this year.

As if that wasn’t enough, then IT HAPPENED. ‘It’ being Years & Years’ sixth single, ‘King’, released in March. The song not only went straight to the top of the UK charts, but became a worldwide hit too. reaching #1 in Bulgaria, Slovakia and Croatia and the top ten in Australia, Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands and Poland.

Years-And-Years-King-Late-Night-With-Seth-Meyers-Desire-2015-performance

Y & Y giving the US a taste of ‘King’ on Late Night With Seth Meyers, April 2015.

The success of ‘King’ was followed by the band’s first album, Communion, released in July. Penned entirely by Olly, Mikey and Emre (with help from a few established songwriters), it entered the UK and Irish album charts in the top spot, also flying high in Australia, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland (BROAD APPEAL ALERT!), before topping the US Dance/Electronic Album Charts (AMERICAN BREAKTHROUGH ALERT!).

As of October 2015, the boys are waiting to find out if they’ll be named Best UK & Ireland Act at the MTV EMA Awards taking place later this month. Previous winners of such regional EMA awards include Helena Paparizou, Lena, Loreen, Manga, Marco Mengoni, Sakis Rouvas, Voltaj and Who See (there’s a common thread there, but I just can’t figure out what it is). Whether Y & Y take that prize home or not (it’s unlikely, given that One Direction is also nominated and have won it the past three years running), and whether they ever make an appearance at Eurovision or not (also unlikely, but remember – this is a post full of wishful thinking), I’m hooked on their musical stylings. Communion is the best album I’ve heard all year – possibly ever, in fact (and no, I’m not being paid to say that). I can’t wait to hear what else they can do.

 

SOUNDS LIKE…

Speaking of hearing stuff…if you’re not familiar with the Y & Y archives, what can you expect to hear when you do get jiggy with it?

For the most part, synth-based electropop, with an 80s tinge that somehow doesn’t sound 80s at all (so it’s not quite an example of the ‘Eighties Coming Back’ that Ruffus had in mind). What I mean is, while the synths smack of a different decade, the electropop that’s often combined with R & B and/or house elements is ultra contemporary. It’s so cutting edge, actually, that you might want to wear protective clothing while you’re listening.

Communion is 110% hip (I’m down with the kids, y’all), boasting the kind of lush, layered production heard in Margaret Berger’s ‘I Feed You My Love’. And that production is present on both club-ready tracks like ‘King’, and non-soppy ballads such as ‘Eyes Shut’. All in all, it’s the kind of album that’s all killer and no filler.

It’s hard to come up with a Eurovision sound-alike for Y & Y, as we’ve never really heard anything similar on the contest stage before. However, if you were a fan of Estonia or Greece in 2014, and Belgium, Latvia or Slovenia in 2015, you might find something to fangirl/fanboy about here.

 

DISCOGRAPHY

  • Traps EP (2013) feat. ‘Traps’ and ‘You & I’
  • Real EP (2014) feat. ‘Real’
  • Take Shelter EP (2014) feat. ‘Take Shelter’ and ‘Breathe’
  • Y & Y EP (2015) feat. ‘Desire’ and ‘Memo’
  • Communion (2015) feat. ‘King’, ‘Take Shelter’, ‘Desire’, ‘Shine’ and ‘Eyes Shut’

ynyd

 

THE HIT LIST

‘King’ It may not be the song that started it all, but it is the song that made Y & Y famous. I’ll give you a Euro if you don’t get that chorus stuck in your head (and I don’t even have a Euro. That’s how confident I am. Confident and purely in possession of Australian money).

 

‘Shine’ More laid-back than ‘King’ but just as infectious. You could totally slow dance in a club to this track, at that point in the a.m. when energy levels have waned and the crowd is mostly made up of drunk people leaning on each other so they don’t fall to the floor.

 

‘Eyes Shut’ Why subject yourself to a lame lady ballad or man moaner when you have ballads like this at your disposal? There’s no eye-rolling required here, folks.

 

‘Worship’ Dance-worthy, but without the doof-doof beat that gives you a migraine, this is one of my definite highlights from an album with no lowlights.

 

‘Sunlight’ Chances are you’ve heard this before (especially if you’re Down Under and a regular blaster of mainstream radio, á la moi) but you may not have known who was behind it. Now you do. If you did already, then that’s fine too. Whatever.

 

 

WHY EUROVISION?

I don’t have the necessary math skills to tally up the reasons Years & Years should get their butts on a plane to Stockholm (or wherever we end up for Eurovision 2017, given that pesky UK selection announcement). So here are my top three:

  • Their sound Swooping in on the success of “atypical” entries like ‘Rhythm Inside’ and ‘Love Injected’ could be hugely beneficial for the struggling UK, and Y & Y’s trademark electropop fits that slightly misshapen mould. Plus, anything that isn’t a preachy peace-and-love ballad would be welcome, yes?
  • Their stage experience Having performed at music festivals like Glastonbury, on countless tour dates and on TV, these guys can deal with both crowds and cameras. Frontman Olly is the star of the show during live performances, and he’s got no shortage of energy to get audiences going – but he can also eyeball a lens like Loïc Nottet. At Eurovision, their performance would make use of background and lighting rather than props (think Softengine and Sanna Nielsen), making it simple but effective. After witnessing the UK throw everything, including the BBC’s office Christmas light collection, at Electro Velvet’s performance, some minimalism would be a relief.
  • Their credibility Although the UK didn’t make it to the left-hand side of the scoreboard in Copenhagen, I think they did themselves a big favour sending Molly and ‘Children of the Universe’ to the contest. Cool, contemporary and totally respectable, the entry was a step in the right direction. Anything Y & Y could contribute, IMO, would pick up where Molly left off – i.e. even if they crashed and burned, they’d be representatives the UK could be proud of.
CIheJmxWEAAo1CA

Did I mention that Olly looks great in glitter? Here he is rocking mahusive chunks of it at Glastonbury Festival.

Well, I’ve convinced myself…but then again, I wasn’t in need of convincing. The important question is, how do you rate Years & Years as prospective (by which I mean ‘as if, but humour me, won’t you?’) flag-flyers for the United Kingdom, now that I’ve plied you with information about them?

 

BUT WAIT…THERE’S MORE!

If you need a daily Y & Y fix like I apparently do now (how did I survive twenty-three years without them?) there’s no shortage of places you can visit to get it – and to pester them re: Eurovij. Peer pressure may be frowned upon, but it is effective!

Official SiteYouTube | FacebookTwitter |Instagram

 

With that, I’ve said all I wanted to say for today (I think) so until next time, I’ll leave you to ponder this: if you had the power to pick the next UK representative, who would you choose – and why?

 

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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.

lHg4pbTZPM4-0

 

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

 

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?