A Balkan ReYUnion

Thanks to the Croatians (probably) being back, we finally got all the Yugoslav countries back in place, plus another Balkan returner in Bulgaria. This is reason enough for me to take a look back at the last attempt of all the Balkan returners – and for fun, let’s throw in the Yugoslavs who stayed as well. Just as a little, pointless Monday evening review to celebrate the return of Croatia, Bosnia and Bulgaria.

SLOVENIA 2015: MARAAYA – HERE FOR YOU

We start in the North with a song that was a pre-contest favourite kind of sinking with the performance – for me it was the other way round, I only appreciated this once the contest came around. Some of the lyrics are brilliant to me – “a million times already you’ve denied it” is a way of fitting the rhythm I would never have come up – and Marjetka’s voice is great once you got used to it. Also, until now I never realized what an interesting use of reverb this whole thing has. Somehow Raay kind of put it where one wouldn’t expect it, giving the whole thing a nice “washed out” feeling.
The criticism was always aimed at performance though, and there I can see some issues, even though they are not the ones mentioned before. Raay looks like he’s unaware of being filmed at times, which is funny and terrible at the same time, and the dress really looks like an old curtain. Nevertheless, the piano thing before the chorus is catchy as hell and her performance sounds very solid to me, and I think this got seriously underrated.

CROATIA 2013: KLAPA S MORA – MIZERJA

Going a little South, we meet the first returner. Croatia’s last effort is the first one bringing me to Diggiloo – my Croatian is a bit rusty. Whenever I listen to this (which is quite often as I like it) I am surprised how Italian it sounds. Even the lyrics are emotional on a Grande Amore level, and very poetical if the translation on Diggiloo is anything to go by. Musically, I am pretty sure this got a revamp between studio and stage as the live version sounds much more bombastic to me – which doesn’t really translate to boombasticness here, because somehow everyone and everything is a bit by itself and drifting apart in the end. It’s a pity, because in its calm parts Mizerja is pure beauty, even if it is a bit kitsch.
The performance is not bad per se, I just get the feeling the harmonies between the singers are off a little (unless they’re meant to sound like this, in which case there’s a voice or two too much in there) and the stage doesn’t really flatter them. It’s all very Takasa, isn’t it? I would have gone for a purely black and blue scheme and made it look more like street music. Look at Romanca for a Croatian example.

SERBIA 2015: BOJANA STAMENOV – BEAUTY NEVER LIES

Okay, this is one of the moments I just completely don’t understand fans. (Somehow those get produced by Serbia regularly…) I mean, it’s a screaming mess with basically nothing speaking for it except the voice of Bojana. And the lyrics, I have to admit – the first lines never fail to take me in despite me knowing I dislike the second half of it. However, as surprisingly good the opening is, as terrible do the moments after the change sound when Bojana isn’t singing. This is hands down one of the most indifferentiated mixes I ever heard. I’m wearing my studio headphones and still can hardly make out single instruments.
It would probably help if the performance wasn’t both enhancing the impression this is a mess and exploit every cliché along the way, from the Ku Klux Klan backings to the sign language. Also, I saw Bojana in Amsterdam on the street (not dressed for the stage) and she’s way less fat than the dress implies – which makes me wonder if she’s hiding an additional backing under it.

BOSNIA & HERZEGOVINA 2012: MAYA SAR – KORAKE TI ZNAM

Right now I really wish that had never happened, because then I’d get to listen to Love in Rewind instead. Instead I got this painted-by-numbers Balkan piece. The lyrics use some nice images (I particularly like “You’ve never lived alone in a spider’s web like I have”) but overall just once again makes me wonder if the Balkans were so depressing before they turned into a warzone as well. The music is nice in isolation, even though the first verse suffers from a terrible balance between voice and backing track. However, as we all have heard other Balkan ballads before, good things like the strings after the chorus simply turn boring at best and involuntarily funny at worst.
It really doesn’t help that Maya herself enacts the song’s sadness as much as she can, or that she suffers from a bad case of Kyriakou breath. Visually, there isn’t much that can go wrong with a song like that, but the Bosnians still managed to find a few things. First off, with that costume, she looks like she actually spent some time in a spider’s web alone. And then, as nice as the stage does look, there’s really a whole lot of nothing going on. Not a good idea if the song itself already doesn’t offer any excitement…

MONTENEGRO 2015: KNEZ – ADIO

Somewhere after 2013 Montenegro decided to stop being creative and start being successful instead. Zeljko penning a song for a local star was the obvious choice I guess, and it didn’t turn out too bad. Even if Diggiloo fails me here, my Eurovision Montenegrin is enough to guess it’s another sad love song. You can tell where it comes from by the over-30-second-intro, and the song itself is usual Zeljko bombast-kitsch as well. Even though he added a beat to it and made it a little faster – which really helps it. The opening melody is once again beautiful. Those Yugos really have a feeling for them, don’t they?
Knez’s performance is, as far as I can judge, spot on – certainly a reason for the placement he got. The stage is beautiful, even though I am still not convinced by the blue to red change. Somehow the movements look very odd looking at them isolated, but put them together and they become wonderfully poetic.

BULGARIA 2013: ELITSA & STOYAN – SAMI SHAMPIONI

We leave Yugoslavia for the sake of including the last Balkan returner. First, this is definitely challenging Serbia 15 for the titles of hugest mess and flattest mix in the first part. Once the drums kick in, it does get better, but the problem is still that this is relying heavily on the drums while they are not really present throughout the first verse. It’s almost as if Lordi played the first minute without their guitars or something. Also, they throw they can find at this song, musically speaking. The didgeridoo (or whatever it actually is) is just plain over the top.
“Plain OTT” is a good description for the performance as well. What looked kinda cute in Elitsas movement in 2007 now looks something between “Director told me so” and aging variété dancer. And the backings are such an obvious ripoff of the Russian grannies that it hurts. Plus, the bagpipe guy is SCARY!

MACEDONIA 2015: DANIEL KAJMAKOSKI: AUTUMN LEAVES

This is pretty much Slovenia on a lower level – the beautiful song going bad with the performance. Now the lyrics are still great, even if they are a little easy. But what’s there not to like about “I see your colours change to red and gold” when singing about a dying relationships? (Except that I beg to differ from the notion that starting one is “easy like the month of June”). The R’n’B feel they gave this is completely unnecessary, but in the parts untouched by it, the arrangement is much to my liking. The problems really start with the performance.
Really, what did they think when they put him into a shirt closed with a line of black tape? Or a show that looks as if a wannabe ghetto kid tries to act like a mean detective? It doesn’t help that Daniel is everything but spot on in the first lines, which are decisive for pretty much the whole feeling. Overall, this is a perfect example of a series of forgettable mistakes adding up to one big failure.

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