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THE JESC 2018 REVIEWS | Round 3 (Australia, France, Malta, Poland + Wales)

Wherever you are in the world and whatever time it is there, a) hello and b) thanks for coming back to read more of my Junior Eurovision 2018 reviews!

I’m squeezing them in at this point since the contest is happening this weekend…I know, it’s super shocking that I, Jaz, your hot mess of a Eurovision aficionado, am having issues getting things done on time. But once you’ve recovered from said shock, I’m going to shock you even more by getting straight into today’s round of reviews. Obviously this one includes the songs from Australia, France, Malta, Poland and Wales, so you might want to prepare yourself for all the girl power.

Keep scrollin’ on (Maltese wordplay intended) to see what I think of Jael, Angélina, Ela, Roksana and Manw’s JESC contributions and chances, as they take to the stage for the first time to rehearse. Could I be reviewing a potential winner here? Tell me what you think and how excited you are for Junior Eurovision (on a scale of 1 to almost peeing your pants) in the comments.

 

 

We’re back! It’s attempt no. 4 for us Aussies to win Junior Eurovision, and with our results reading better by the year (8th, 5th and 3rd so far) there’s a lot of pressure on Jael to do just that. Now, you can call me biased if you want – I won’t be able to deny it – but I really think we’re in with a shot this time. If not to go all the way, then to do pretty well for ourselves at the very least.

Champion is right there with Speak Up in terms of greatness (only as a power ballad, it’s got a different energy) and it leaves My Girls, and We Are especially, in its dust. Sounding a lot like Beyoncé’s Halo and featuring an arguably better chorus, it may be derivative for a song that’s advising us all to live like we’re original – but by-the-numbers pop is what Australia has delivered to JESC’s doorstep every time, and it’s continued to work in our favour (adult Eurovision = another story). Anyway, the lyrics are no more generic than the English verses/choruses of most of the other entries…or a lot of the lyrics in general if you Google Translate them. This is a song contest for kids we’re talking about, so uplifting messages about being yourself and shooting for the stars and stuff are always going to outnumber deep and meaningful musical ponderings re: the meaning of life and the inevitable existential crisis that hits you when you turn 13 (or was that just me?).

Besides, the real star attraction of this show is Jael herself – she’s got the vocal power of reigning Junior Champion (HA HA) Polina Bogusevich without the English pronunciation handicap. And this song is perfect for her voice. Those tones plus the majestic melody could equal a spine-tingling three minutes on the Minsk stage, assuming that Jael brings her vocal A-game when it counts and we don’t screw up, undercook or overdo her staging (I say we, but I’m taking zero responsibility if it happens). Australia hasn’t exactly been the best role model for live presentations at Junior, so I’m hoping the delegation has built on last year’s interesting-but-not-OTT production for Isabella. If they have, I don’t see how we couldn’t finish on the upper left side of the scoreboard. But like I said, I’m biased. 10 points.

 

 

Bonjour! Longtime JESC fans will remember that France had a fleeting affair with Eurovision’s younger sibling (which sounds wrong, but you know what I mean). It started in 2004 and ended in…well, 2004, when they sent the Frenchiest Song Ever™ to Lillehammer – Si En Voulait Bien by Thomas Pontier. Beginner’s luck and a generally great entry scored them 6th place, but they dropped out regardless and haven’t graced a JESC with their presence since. Until now, obviously. The question is, has that extended vacation been beneficial or has it put them out of touch with what Junior Eurovision is about these days?

For me, France was worth waiting for. Adorable Angélina and Jamais Sans Toi are EXACTLY what I want from a JESC package. She is so cute (and if her parents are inexplicably looking to put her up for adoption, I’ll take her for sure) with all the charm and confidence a kid needs to handle a big performance like the one she’ll be giving in Minsk. And the song is, like Mary Poppins, practically perfect in every way. It’s catchy, energetic and summery; the mix of languages is seamless; it’s contemporary; and it’s neither too junior nor too adult. Basically, all I can hear is the sound of boxes being ticked. France has done everything right with this whether it was on purpose or not, and I salute them for that. The only thing they could potentially mess up is the staging, and since Thomas’ song didn’t require anything but bare-bones presentation, all we can look to if we want to gauge their skills is adult Eurovision. Jamais Sans Toi is not unlike a kid version of Alma’s Requiem, with a similar energy, vibe and sound…and Alma’s staging was underwhelming. Let’s hope France learnt from it and are throwing some backing dancers Angélina’s way (not literally). At the very least they need to make sure she doesn’t get swallowed up by a big stage and/or dizzying aerial shots of Paris. I will be the prayer emoji in human form until I’ve seen this performance.

For now I’m going to wrap things up with a plot twist: in spite of everything I’ve just said, France isn’t currently right at the top of my JESC 2018 ranking. But that’s just testament to how epic this edition of the contest is. I’ve got Angélina about 7th as of right this second, and I’m still going to give her 10 points.

 

 

With two JESC trophies in their display cabinet and a bunch of other respectable results to their name, Malta shouldn’t be underestimated in this contest. Sure, I personally overestimated them last year, thinking that Dawra Tond was a possible/probable winner (when it eventually finished 9th…oops). But still, this is an island that gives Junior all they’ve got, every year. Ask me if I think they’ve done the same in 2018 and I’ll hesitate for five minutes before saying ‘I thiiiiink so?’.

Marchin’ On actually fits the mould of every Australian JESC entry ever more than it does previous Maltese songs – we Aussies are the lyrical cliché masters after all, and Ela belts out some big ones. ‘As one army we’ll give our all, fearless, not afraid to fall’? ‘Find the light that shines bright deep within’? You’d think countries with English as a main language could be more creative than that. But hey, I’m not here to criticise children (too much). Lyrics like those – and the grammatical disaster that is ‘Whether if you’re big or small’ – aside, there is something appealing about Marchin’ On overall. The melody is nice, the atmosphere is uplifting and the chorus is catchy and memorable. Ela is a great vocalist too, though she’ll be hard pressed to outdo the mind-blowing performances of Gaia Cauchi, Destiny Chukunyere and Christina Magrin in that department (I’m convinced that both Maltese and Georgian kids get deported if they can’t sing). There might be a bit of x-factor missing here, and in what has shaped up to be a super competitive contest, I don’t know if this has the steam to move ahead of six or eight other contenders. Yet I still have a sneaking suspicion Malta will do quite well in Minsk.

Assuming their staging is on point, the only obstacles to success would be a) the big bunch of contender countries I just mentioned, and b) Marchin’ On being kind of unsure of itself. It’s mid-tempo, not really a power ballad but definitely not a piano ballad, and missing a “moment” – Ela’s vocal gymnastics towards the end seem a bit desperate and tacked on just because she can pull them off. Okay, so maybe she won’t do that well – and I’ve talked myself out of a third Maltese win, I think – but there’s a possible spot for her on the lower left side of the scoreboard. Upper right at least. To clarify, my predicted range for Malta at this stage is 8th-13th, and my score for them is 7 points.

 

 

Poland is one country that’s made a cracking comeback to a Eurovision event – kind of like Bulgaria at adult Eurovision, but on a smaller scale (and with a little less success). They dropped out of JESC after two consecutive last places in 2003 and 2004, and didn’t return until 2016. Since then they’ve sent two stunning ballads and two sensational female soloists to the contest, with Alicja Rega achieving their best result ever last year (though I think Mój Dom deserved to be higher than 8th because HOLY KIELBASA, IT’S AMAZING!!!). It’s female soloist no. 3 for Poland in Minsk, but The Voice Kids winner Roksana isn’t packing a big ballad in her suitcase.

Funnily enough, when the song title was revealed I assumed Anyone I Want To Be was definitely going to be a ballad, and a cheesy one at that – but I was wrong. It’s actually hard to categorise this song (at least in one or two words) so I’m going to say it’s ‘contemporary radio-friendly pop with urban and rock influences and a whole lot of attitude’. So much attitude that Roksana’s almost too nice to pull it off, but I think she just manages to get away with it. I’m a big fan of this track in general – it’s catchy, fun and has some edge, making it totally age-appropriate but not unappealing to voters and jurors who are *ahem* a little way away from their childhood/teenage years, like myself. I especially love the pre-chorus and any of the parts that are in Polish. That leads me to my only real issue with AIWTB, which is the pretty messy mix of languages. There’s English and Polish all over the place, and it makes the whole thing feel less than cohesive. I would have preferred the entire song to be in Polish, at least up until the last chorus (a more traditional trend of shoehorning English into LOTE entries). But the song is good enough in every other way for me to ignore the bilingual elephant in the room.

It’s great to see Poland doing something different after the last few ballads they’ve sent, without reverting to dated pop or the lacklustre stuff that saw them finish dead last twice back in the early Junior Eurovision days. I just hope they can stage this in the right way, because it needs something less basic than the ‘stand there and sing in front of a pretty LED background’ formula that worked fine for Nie Zapomnij and Mój Dom. I’m thinking backing dancers, lots of colour and possibly the theft of the Netherlands’ costumes from 2016. It will be interesting to see what is done with this, but I have high hopes. We know Roksana can sing – you don’t win The Voice by wailing like we all did when Finland didn’t qualify to the ESC final last year – and she’s singing a very good song. So, if the performance is in keeping with singer and song quality, there’s no reason why Poland couldn’t potentially equal or better that 8th place from Tbilisi. I do prefer Mój Dom – that’s a douze pointer for me – but AIWTB is worth a round of applause and a top 10 result. 8 points.

 

 

After Kazakhstan, Wales’ RSVP to the JESC 2018 party was the biggest jaw-dropper of the year. There’d been rumours of participation in the past, but it was far from being a done deal that they’d compete in either JESC or the ESC…until now, when anything is possible (and I mean ANYTHING, in a world where Bulgaria can just up and withdraw from Eurovision at the top of their game). So here we are with Berta by Manw, a song that has (thankfully) been revamped and is ready to represent Wales – if not win, or even come close – for the first time.

Now, I’m all about that ‘the more the merrier’ mentality, but I was hoping Wales would make more of a splash with their debut when the day finally came. Now it’s here, I am a little disappointed (particularly when I think about what Kazakhstan is bringing to the table – i.e. a song that could win the entire contest). There’s nothing majorly wrong with Berta. It’s a nice song actually: dreamy and soothing, with a chorus that makes Welsh sound very pretty (because truth be told, it’s not the prettiest language on the planet). And Manw’s voice is perfectly suited to this type of song. But in terms of competition songs that can attract enough attention to rise above the rest, it’s missing something. Drama? A catchier hook? Variety? I’m not sure, but I know it’s not bringing its musical A-game. I can’t imagine Berta outshining the likes of L.E.V.O.N, Your Voice, Ózińe Sen, Samen, Say Love…I could carry on, but that would make Manw feel bad if she miraculously happened to read this.

In all fairness, I have been wrong about this kind of thing before – and there are always songs that do far better in JESC than expected – but I will be in a state of shock for months if Wales makes the top 5, or even the top 10. Either way, they should come back next year and give it another go, because it’s hard to understand exactly what works at Junior Eurovision on the first try. As an Australian, I can admit that we didn’t get it initially, and even now we’re still figuring it out. And Wales has to be commended for putting on a national final in their attempt to figure it out, and ending up with an entry that’s decent if not dangerous. I like Berta and I will listen to it post-show, but I won’t be voting for it. 6 points.

 

  

15 down, 5 to go! With another group of this year’s participating songs critiqued by yours truly, here’s the mini-ranking for this round:

  1. France (10)
  2. Australia (10)
  3. Poland (8)
  4. Malta (7)
  5. Wales (6)

As much as the biased fan inside me wants to put Australia on top, I have to bump Angélina above Jael by a croissant crumb because Jamais Sans Toi is just so infectious, fun and summery (and as we’re heading into summer here in Australia, I guess I’m in a sunny mood). Poland is sitting pretty in the middle with a strong 8 points, followed fairly closely by Malta and Wales. I’ve mentioned again and again how high-quality I think this competition is, and the fact that my least-liked song of the day is one I still enjoy and can give a reasonable score to is proof of that.

How about you? Is this 16th edition of Junior Eurovision floating your boat more buoyantly than ever before, or do you reckon we’ve had better contests in the past? Which of today’s reviewed entries is your personal favourite, and could any of them win the whole thing? Let me know below.

 

NEXT TIME By process of elimination, you’ll know which countries I’m yet to review – and in a few days’ time the wait will be over! Step right up Albania, Ireland, Italy, Macedonia and Ukraine, because I’m shining my spotlight on all of you…and y’all know I believe that honesty is the best policy.

 

See you then!