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THE EBJ EUROVISION 2018 REVIEWS: Round 1 (Armenia, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta + the Netherlands)

Hello there! I bet you thought this day would never come – the day when I’d finally get my Euroshiz together and do what every other ESC website has been doing for a month.

REVIEWS!!!

Okay, so you might have known I’d kick things off eventually if you’re familiar with my sloth-like tendencies (never visit this blog for breaking news, because it won’t be breaking by the time I talk about it). Now that there are four weeks to go until Lisbon’s first semi final, though, you’re about to be flooded with my verdicts on all 43 songs competing in Eurovision 2018. It’s a review tsunami, so strap on your lifejackets and take a big breath!

For Round 1, my high-tech random selection process – in which I copy-pasted a list of the countries, closed my eyes and pointed at it 43 times – resulted in Armenia, Cyprus, Hungary, Malta and the Netherlands being the fortunate first group to be judged (you’ll have to wait a while for the lucky last). So if you want to see how I rate Sevak, Eleni, AWS, Christabelle and Waylon, you came to the right place.

Check out my reviews, vote for your favourite of today’s five, and share your thoughts in the comments. Pretty please?

 

 

My thoughts If you’d told me a few months ago that Tamar Kaprelian would not be representing Armenia at Eurovision this year, I would have had a very melodramatic meltdown. Poison (Ari Ari) is an ethnopop masterpiece after all (Disagree? CASH ME OUSSIDE, HOW BOW DAH?!?) and when I listened to the snippets of everything else Depi Evratesil had to offer, I didn’t hear anything as awesome. As Donny Montell knows, love is blind…but it also made me deaf to the potential of eventual winning song Qami. I honestly can’t even recall hearing a snippet of Sevak’s power ballad – the first all-Armenian language song sent to adult Eurovision – even though I definitely did. Yet all it took was one look at/listen to his national final performance for me to forget about Poison (almost – a banger is always a banger) and fall head-over-heels for Qami. ‘Wind’ as it translates to – and it’s a safe assumption that he’s talking about the force of nature, not the aftermath of a particularly spicy vindaloo – ticks every box on my mental checklist for epic ballads. It’s a slow burner that starts off subtly before exploding at the end of the second chorus (kind of like the 0-100k/ph dynamism of Aram Mp3’s Not Alone). It’s haunting and mysterious. The melody is stunning, and the repetition of the title gives us non-Armenian speakers something to latch on to. Plus, the contrast between the delicate first half and Sevak’s vocal and visual strength (there’s wearing your heart on your sleeve and then there’s wearing your abs on the outside of your shirt) makes the overall package vulnerable and powerful at the same time. I know a lot of fans aren’t as psyched about this one as I am, but every year there’s one song I adore that not many other people seem to (and it can either bomb, or kick butt in the actual contest like Origo last year). I do think there is room for Qami to do some butt-kicking in Lisbon, this not being a ballad-heavy year and Sevak having the kind of song that could be a mind-blower if it’s staged right. But that’s more of a hope and prayer than a prediction, so don’t hold me to it!

2017 VS 2018? 2018, hands down (sorry, Artsvik).

My score 12

 

 

My thoughts Speaking of ethnopop masterpieces…enter Cyprus! Strutting in wearing a catsuit and a pair of sky-high heels, of course. Last year I was pleasantly surprised by Hovig’s Gravity, which was constantly compared to Rag & Bone Man’s Human – familiarity doesn’t breed contempt with me, I guess. I’m mentioning the comparison because once again, Cyprus has delivered a great pop song that happens to fit neatly into the mould of one I’ve heard before – in this case, a bunch of songs from Helena Paparizou’s back catalogue. Is there anything wrong with that? Umm, NO. Don’t get me wrong, I applaud originality, and Lisbon is lucky to have it in the form of Israel, Ukraine etc. But even a Paparizou album filler would be welcome at Eurovision, and since we can’t have the queen herself performing one (though she did record a version), Eleni and her Fuego are the next best thing. I love this, and it was an instant love strengthened by the fact that ‘You got me pelican fly fly flying’ is legitimately one of the lyrics. That IS original! I feel like this song was engineered especially to appeal to ethnopop tragics like myself because, in that department, it does everything right. Simple, neatly-rhymed verses + a chorus made up of hooky melodies and yeahs (which can be exchanged for ohs) + a memorable riff played on a traditional instrument = this, and every other ethnopop entry ever. Basically, it’s Aphrodisiac (Greece 2012) with a 2018 magic wand waved over it. With the product placement from the music video out of the question for the live ESC performance, and Eleni sure to be looking as hot as the fire she’s singing about, my only concern is how she’ll sound. The lives of hers I’ve checked out have been fine – albeit feat. some heavy lifting from backing vocalists – but I have heard she isn’t the most reliable live performer. Still, if Jedward can sing seemingly in tune (with their backup vocalists’ mics turned way up) then anyone can. And if someone can point me in the direction of proof that Eleni is actually a top-notch singer and convince me that I shouldn’t be worried, they’ll get a gold star. I really want this to be Cyprus’ fourth finalist in a row, not their first DNQ since 2013.

2017 VS 2018? This is like choosing a favourite child. NOPE. Not happening.

My score 10

 

 

My thoughts You’ve got to give Hungary credit for never sending the same song to Eurovision twice. Their bounce-around approach has, since their 2011 comeback, given us dance pop, electro rock, an acoustic alt-ballad, EDM, a charity song, anthemic rock and an ethnopop slice of heaven (Joci Papái was my favourite last year and is still a true musical love of mine). In 2018 we’re getting something different again with hardcore(ish) rock/metal/I’m clearly not an expert on the genre of AWS’ Viszlát Nyár but it sounds intense to me. It’s certainly the most hardcore, rocky song competing in Lisbon, and while that will help it stand out, such songs don’t always go over well at the ESC (I can’t imagine juries going nuts over this). The fact is that the demographic AWS are aiming at is not found, in droves at least, in the Eurovision audience (if someone did a Venn diagram to demonstrate it, the two fan bases would have a pretty tiny overlap area). I’m definitely not the kind of person who would readily abandon their pop sensibilities for anything involving screaming to music. So you might be surprised to learn that I actually like this. Like, not love (á la Origo, which I said I’d marry in my review last year if I could) but yes, I dig it. It reminds me a little of Dead By April’s Melodifestivalen entry Mystery, which I was obsessed with back in 2012 – it features the same mixture of soft moments and intense, scream-your-lungs-out moments that a) make it dynamic, and b) stop it from totally alienating people who aren’t regular purveyors of hard rock. As always, Hungarian sounds alluring and mysterious as the language of choice (is there a genre it doesn’t work with?), especially in the verses. Overall, Viszlát Nyár might be well outside my top 10 for the year, but there are only two or three songs I dislike and this is not one of them. I’m a big supporter of Hungary in the contest and I do hope AWS give the country their 8th consecutive qualification…but I think it could be a tough task. The best comparison song would be Softengine’s Something Better, which did very well for Finland in 2014 but was a lot more accessible (and the screaming was confined to the last twenty seconds or so). I don’t expect Hungary to perform as impressively as that if they do make the final, and TBH, I’ll live if they don’t. Still, it would be nice to have some rock on hand to spice up the best Saturday night of the year.

2017 VS 2018? It’s a no-brainer – Origo all the way.

My score 7

 

 

My thoughts Not for the first time – they did it last year too – Malta is sending an artist to Eurovision who’s tried to represent them before with a better song than the one they’re actually getting to go with. In Christabelle’s case, 2015’s Rush really should have been her Eurovision song, but it finished 2nd in MESC that year (Saddy McSadface). And so, three years later, we’ve ended up with Taboo, a mostly Maltese production feat. input from Thomas g:Son (shocking). I’ve developed a bit of a love-hate relationship with this song, though now I think about it, those words are probably too strong – ‘like-dislike’ would be more accurate. Basically, there are parts of it I really like and others that I really don’t. First, the negatives: it may not be as lyrically lame as past Maltese entries, but it’s all over the place with metaphors and similes, making it fairly nonsensical and the message confusing (apparently it’s about mental health struggles, ICYMI). The chorus in particular bugs me like crazy – it seems like the songwriters wanted it to be meaningful, but it turned into a mess of words that happen to rhyme with ‘animals’ (criminals, miracle, *my brain explodes*). The dubstep break is my other main gripe with Taboo, just because it feels passé and could have been left out to no great loss. Positives-wise, there’s good energy, a hypnotic beat, a contemporary-sounding melody, and an overall approving nod for Malta choosing something like this. And I have to mention the MESC performance, which was OTT but very cool at the same time…even if it might be hard to replicate on Lisbon’s LED-less stage. To her credit, Christabelle is a likeable performer with a decent voice, providing she’s not running a marathon or doing star jumps constantly during a performance (code for ‘don’t make her move too much, Team Malta!’). I think Taboo has a better chance of qualifying to the final than Claudia’s Breathlessly did last year – that proved us all right when it went nowhere. But in semi two, where five or six countries could easily advance from the first half alone, Malta’s odds are 50-50, and the shock value will be minimal whether they qualify or not. Unfortunately they’re performing just three songs before Sweden, and Benjamin is armed with an uptempo song accompanied by a slick, impressive stage presentation – much like Malta, but better. And with Sweden being almost a dead cert to qualify, if one of the two is going to be sacrificed to the DNQ gods, it will be Malta.

2017 VS 2018? 2018 fo sho. I’d rather break the taboo than be breathless.

My score 6.5

 

 

My thoughts The first question to ask someone who’s about to hear Outlaw In ‘Em for the first time is ‘How do you feel about country music?’. If their answer is ‘Not good’, then they won’t be giving it douze points, or anything close. Waylon’s solo Eurovision entry is without a doubt the countriest country song I’ve ever come across. Every lyric, every guitar lick – even the title – is dripping in the genre, and makes me feel like an idiot (or should I say ‘good for nothin’ varmint’?) for not wearing a cowboy hat. Of course, as soon as the song’s over, normal cowboy-hatless life resumes. I have to say, I do enjoy a country song or 65, but I’m more of an easy-listening cruisy country fan, as opposed to a rip-roarin’, honky-tonkin’, gun-totin’ type. In that sense, you can understand why I much prefer Waylon feat. Ilse deLange (a.k.a. The Common Linnets) with Calm After The Storm to this entry. The fact that Outlaw is so darn country – to the point where it’s about to fall off a cliff edge into Cheesy Canyon – is a turn-off for me, even though I appreciate the go hard or go home mentality (a half-assed country-tinged track for Waylon? No sirree). It reminds me of Achy Breaky Heart too much to take seriously, only it’s too fast to boot-scoot to. I know I’m in the minority here, but I don’t want all of y’all to challenge me to a stand-off just yet. I’m not totally, 110% anti-Outlaw. On the plus side, I like the lyrics: unlike Malta, the theme here is clear and consistent; and the rhyming is beautiful, which makes the overall package sound neat. The song is unique (in this competition, anyway) and definitely memorable. And Waylon is a great performer even when he’s not locking eyes with Ilse – in Portugal he’ll be making eyes at the camera instead, and I’ll imagine he’s staring straight into my soul (in a sexy way, not a demonic way). Will he end up staring down the barrel of qualification, though? The betting odds say heck yes, but I have to wonder if this song is going to be too divisive. It does come to life more on stage than in studio, so I can see it meeting expectations on the night/s that count most. Yet the mass appeal needed for a win isn’t there, and I can’t see a Common Linnets result in Waylon’s future either.

2017 VS 2018? 2017. Girl power and incredible harmonies > full-on country extravaganza.

My score 6.5

 

 

And that, guys, is Round 1 done and dusted. Five down, 38 to go in less than four weeks.

SEND HELP.

Then, when you’ve dialed 911/000/whatever your country’s equivalent is on my behalf, you can take a look at today’s mini-ranking:

  1. Armenia (12)
  2. Cyprus (10)
  3. Hungary (7)
  4. Malta (6.5) 
  5. The Netherlands (6.5)

So it’s Sevak who takes the top spot, which is obviously not a shock to me because I already knew how I felt about these five songs (let me hear you say ‘DUH!’). Now the question is, can Qami hold on to the #1 position as the EBJ 2018 reviews continue? You’ll have to stay tuned – and subscribed, hint hint – to find out. Opt in for new post email alerts in the sidebar, or find me on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram (all @EurovisionByJaz) to make sure you don’t miss a thing!

Before I sign off and in turn stop begging you to follow me on social media, I do have another question:

 

NEXT TIME The Lisbon reviews are just revving up…and if I want to get them finished before Eurovision happens, I need to get a move on. Drop by on the weekend when I’ll sit myself down on the EBJ judging panel to critique Azerbaijan, Estonia, Poland, Romania, and Spain!

 

Until then,

 

 

 

SELECTION SEASON 2018 | Nine more songs, an Estonian decision + Swedish second chances!

Holy guacamole, guys! If you thought the last four or five Saturdays were busy when it came to the ESC NF calendar…then you’re not entirely wrong, they totally were. But this Saturday is on another level, because we’re about to find ourselves with five more songs for Lisbon. FIVE, I TELL YOU!!! THAT’S FOUR MORE THAN ONE!!!

In addition – and I won’t use aggressive all-caps on you this time – Lithuania is edging ever closer to the end of Eurovizija (so they say, but I’ll believe it when I see it) and Sweden’s penultimate Melfest show has arrived. Nights like this are exactly why ‘Super Saturday’ was coined, and I am pumped. Are you?

Here’s a rundown of the evening:

  • Estonia (Eesti Laul final)
  • Finland (UMK final)
  • Iceland (Söngvakeppnin final)
  • Lithuania (Eurovizija heat 8)
  • Poland (Krajowe Eliminacje final)
  • San Marino (1in360 final)
  • Sweden (Melodifestivalen Andra Chansen round)

As usual, I’m going to review everything major that went down in ESC terms this week, and I’ll also be talking Estonian eventfulness and Swedish shenanigans (that’s Eesti Laul and Melodifestivalen, for those of you who’d prefer I speak like a normal person). Sorry if you were hoping for a UMK (Monsters please), Poland (Delirium please), etc ramble. Maybe next year, if my time management skills have become superhuman by then!

 

 

Let’s rewind to last Saturday, which saw Hungary, Latvia, Moldova, Slovenia and Ukraine take their picks for Portugal. Enrolling in the Class of 2018 were: AWS with Viszlát Nyár; Laura Rizzotto with Funny Girl; DoReDos with My Lucky Day; Lea Sirk with Hvala, Ne!; and Mélovin with Under The Ladder. Along the way we lost BQl and Tayanna, who’ve now finished second two years running in EMA and Vidbir respectively – but it wasn’t for nothing. My favourite choice of last Saturday night was Latvia’s (as they continue to bring it for the fourth year in a row…we’ll see if they get rewarded this time). Having not had the time to follow Supernova at all this season, I had no idea what to expect when I checked out Laura’s winning performance. Afterwards, all I could think was ‘Wow!’ – so you could say it took me (pleasantly) by surprise.

Over in Sweden, the fourth and final semi of Melodifestivalen ended with direkt qualifications for Mariette (shocking) and Rolandz (*sigh*), plus Andra Chansen tickets for Felix Sandman and Olivia Eliasson. It wasn’t a jaw-dropper of a show by any means – Mariette was the favourite, Rolandz obviously is the Owe Thornqvist of 2018 (as I suspected) and Felix will probably get to the final via the scenic route – and it doesn’t look like this week’s AC round will see any major surprises either…OR WILL IT?!? More on that later on in this post.

The NF action didn’t all go down on Saturday: Sunday night was Armenia and Romania’s turn to crown a couple of champions. Armenia could have gone any which way after pre-Depi Evratesil fave Tamar Kaprelian didn’t even advance to the final – and they opted for the first song performed on the night, Qami by Sevak Khanagyan. Now, I do want to keep my poker face on as much as possible until I officially review the entries for Lisbon, but I just have to say that I totally forgive Armenia for letting Tamar go (i.e. we may have lost a bop, but we’ve gained a GORGEOUS ballad in its place). As for Romania, who settled on Goodbye by The Humans…well, I think I need some grow time on that one. The lack of yodeling is something we’ll all have to get used to.

The week ended with two ‘ta-da!’ moments – a.k.a. on Friday, Cyprus and The Netherlands unveiled their entries at last. Eleni Foureira’s Fuego is the ethnopop banger I’ve/we’ve all been waiting for, and once again I think Cyprus has the competitive edge over Greece (I’m still not over Gravity finishing lower than This Is Love last year. JUSTICE MUST BE SERVED). Waylon’s Outlaw In ‘Em – revealed as his Eurovision pick after five consecutive nights of musical possibilities – is not an ethnopop banger (shocking). Instead it’s a full-on, no-holds-barred twang-a-langin’ country anthem in which he is sporadically possessed by Jon Bon Jovi circa 1987. I’ll leave you to wonder (until review time) whether that’s a pro or a con as far as I’m concerned.

 

 

I wanted to talk a little bit about Eesti Laul, which isn’t an NF I usually follow from go to whoa – I’ve barely had time to glance at it this year – but it can always be relied on to spit out some really interesting songs that would never be mistaken for Melfest rejects (they’re just so inherently Estonian somehow).

A few semi finals ago there were 20 potential successors to Koit & Laura’s Verona in play; now, 10 remain (DUN DUN DUN!) and tonight is the night for Estonia to name the best one (hopefully, although we all have a different opinion of which one that is) winner.  

  1. Young, Karl Kristjan & Karl Killing feat. Wateva
  2. Sky, Eliis Pärna & Gerli Padar
  3. Knock Knock, Nika
  4. Thousand Words, Sibyl Vane
  5. Home, Stig Rästa
  6. Laura (Walk With Me), Vajé
  7. La Forza, Elina Netšajeva
  8. (Can’t Keep Calling) Misty, Frankie Animal
  9. Drop That Boogie, Iiris & Agoh
  10. Welcome To My World, Evestus

The top three in the odds are Elina, Stig and Vajé (well, they were when I wrote this), but are any of those acts in my personal top three? Short answer: yes. Long answer: keep reading.

 

My favourites

La Forza I initially listened to this after hearing Eurofans left, right and centre raving about it, and I didn’t feel it much at first (probably because my expectations were higher than Elina’s glass-shattering soprano notes). But a few listens later, my skin is goosebumping during the chorus. Elina’s performance looks and sounds like nothing else in Eesti Laul 2018, and nothing else in Eurovision 2018 at this point. She is stunning, vocally flawless, and the wearer of a skirt bigger than Aliona Moon’s and just as arresting.

Home Ott Lepland did it to me in 2012, and now it’s Stig who’s making me want to fly to Tallinn ASAP and propose to him on the spot. What a romantic! As always, I’m surprised to see him back in the comp considering he looks like he stumbled across it by accident but decided to just roll with the punches. That aside, I adore this song. It’s sweet and heartfelt without being gag material (FYI, Stig, this is me telling you that I’m currently free for GoT viewings).

‘Why didn’t you wake me up? Game of Thrones was on!’.

Young This is too cute, gosh darn it! One of the Karls even has BRACES, for heaven’s sake (I think it’s one of the Karls…there are a lot of cooks in this kitchen and I’m confused). No, it’s not the most distinctive song on the planet (and it won’t win tonight) but it’s fresh and fun, which gets a YAASSS from me.

 

Who’s going to win it?

I don’t want to discount anyone and look stupid later (which has already happened a handful of times this selection season), but in my mind the most likely winners are Stig and Elina (not to be mistaken for the Stig and Elina duo of 2015). And I can narrow it down even further than that, because I just don’t think Home is powerful enough to outshine La Forza – though that depends on what Estonia is looking for. Stig gets the authentic, singer-songwriter vote; Elina has the ‘wow!’ moments (La Forza is one long ‘wow!’ moment in itself, actually). I’m thinking it’ll be wow over ‘aww!’ this time.

Oh, and to cover my butt…my underdog winner prediction would be Sibyl Vane or Frankie Animal.

 

What do you think? Who’s getting on the plane to Portugal on behalf of Estonia, and will their microphone work once they get there?

 

 

Kristianstad is the name (does Sweden has a Kostovstad tucked away somewhere?) and Andra Chansen is the game, people. The eight songs that finished 3rd and 4th in their respective Melfest semis throughout February will be chopped in half tonight, with four acts to join Benjamin Ingrosso, John Lundvik, Samir & Viktor, LIAMOO, Martin Almgren, Jessica Andersson, Mariette and *takes a breath* Rolandz in the final. The AC round is often made up of both the obvious and the WTF (results-wise), making it well worth watching even if you’re impatient for the final to just get here already.

Speaking of things just happening already, I’m going to get straight into the duels and share my thoughts on who I’d like to win, and who probably will.

 

Duel 1: In My Cabana, Margaret VS Cuba Libre, Moncho

First up, two songs that both make me want to go on holiday to a tropical island. Given that Moncho couldn’t have been paired with Mendez for a duel, In My Cabana VS Cuba Libre is the next best thing. There should be a clear winner here – i.e. if Margaret doesn’t walk away with victory in this battle, then there will be something very weird going on in the world (or at least on Planet Eurovision). Then again, I never expected Moncho to get to Andra Chansen in the first place…so I shouldn’t underestimate him again. Still, it’s GOT to be Margaret.

Who should win (IMO) Margaret

Who WILL win Margaret

 

Duel 2: All The Feels, Renaida VS Never Learn, Olivia Eliasson

Here we have a female soloist in black and fluorescent sports-chic, singing a slick and modern dance-pop song, versus a female soloist in black and fluorescent sports-chic, singing a slick and modern dance-pop song. Well, you can’t say Renaida and OIivia aren’t evenly matched. Having both in the final wouldn’t make a lot of sense, although I do like both songs. But Renaida is the superior performer – her energy and confidence sell All The Feels at a price I’m more than willing to pay, whereas Olivia struggled to perform Never Learn with conviction. I do think this could be the most closely-fought duel of the night considering how similar the options are – sometimes it’s a lot easier choosing between pizza and cake than choosing between pizza and pizza.

Who should win (IMO) Renaida

Who WILL win Renaida

 

Duel 3: Every Single Day, Felix Sandman VS Songburning, Mimi Werner

We all have our painful AC duels – the ones that are bittersweet because we love both songs and want them both to score a spot in the final. This is mine for the year, in case you hadn’t guessed. I love Felix and his Frans impersonation (Felix is totally sorry, though) plus the bare-bones staging that made the whole thing feel genuine. And yep, I also love Mimi’s country cracker that was staged to perfection (colour scheme, backup drummers and fire curtain were all on point) even if her vocal was wobbly at times. Oof. At the end of the day, my heart (the one in my chest, not the on-screen Melfest app one that drives me INSANE) says Felix a little louder than it says Mimi. Based on his impressive Spotify stream count (it’s more like a flood) and Mimi’s lack thereof, I’d say we’ll be seeing Mr. Sandman in Stockholm next Saturday.

Who should win (IMO) Felix

Who WILL win Felix

 

Duel 4: Patrick Swayze, Sigrid Bernson VS Everyday by Mendez

Sunny slice of Scandipop goes head-to-head with Latin pop summer song – but who comes out on top? I have been back and forth on this one more times than Sanna Nielsen has filled out Melfest application forms. My personal preference is Mendez, but Sigrid and the effervescent Patrick Swayze have grown on me since the Karlstad semi. And I just don’t know what will win out in the end! SEND HELP.

Who should win (IMO) Mendez

Who WILL win Mendez…or Sigrid. One of the two for sure.

 

I’ve showed you mine, now you have to show me yours! Who would you bet on to make it out of Andra Chansen tonight?

 

 

NF UPDATE: What’s up next?

  • 4/3 Portugal (Festival da Canção final)
  • 10/3 Norway (Melodi Grand Prix final), Sweden (Melodifestivalen final)
  • 11/3 Lithuania (Eurovizija final)

 

We are so close to the end of national final season, which is sad – but there’s something satisfying about having a freshly-full house of Eurovision entries to talk about. May the best songs win this weekend (the best according to me, that is, because I’m selfish and want things to go my way musically), and may you enjoy whatever you choose to watch!