Review Part XII: Israel, Georgia and Azerbaijan

Hello everyone, and welcome to the 12th part of the MfE review! Keeping up the current pace, we’ll finish sometimes next week, which will clash with rehearsals. I wouldn’t necessarily mind that, but if you’d do, please tell me in the comments. I could probably do some extra reviewing on the weekend then. Now let’s move on to Israel, Georgia and Azerbaijan!

Israel: Hovi Star – Made Of Stars

After the adventures with Armenia last time, we move on to a classic Eurovision nation that has preserved a little ethnic stuff in most of their entries. Israel has ensured this homegrown touch for a long time by mandating at least partially Hebrew lyrics, which often caused their songs to be overly aggressive (2014) or extremely emotional (2013/2010), because the language doesn’t really sound too suitable for other things. Ditching it last year seems to have helped their results.

Not only a classic Eurovision nation, a classic genre too apparently. A little bit of soft yet powerful emotional male ballad for you. For my taste, this drags way too much cheese strings, to keep that wonderfully Swiss image. Only after about two minutes this gets going, and it is actually quite beautiful in its overblown emotionality. Basically, it’s an English and male version of Rak Bishvilo to me. Not that the two sound so similar, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a common slow start that goes into a crazily emotional ending. It’s more positive here though.

But what is it with Israel’s Eurovision entries and Tel Aviv? I bet if they’d win they’d even hold it in Jerusalem, but reference Tel Aviv in the song again. And weirdly, we see the guy who is not Hovi finish the graffiti, then applying it, and then taking the form away when Hovi walks across the picture. Someone failed at cutting here or what? The video is incredibly generic for a song called Made Of Stars, but it looks beautiful. And I like the drones, looking like a XCOM Gremlin. There’s not really much to say about this song except that I am wondering if Hovi can pull it off on stage, but I assume he can, so I’ll rate it as the solid average it is, with 5/10.

Azerbaijan: Samra – Miracle

Azerbaijan is a rare case of a nation that had it’s best days after its debut and has recently been thrown off track (or rather didn’t bother as much anymore after their victory). So, what about Samra? Will she make Azerbaijan the Land Of Eurovision again? As keen on hosting every little event as they are, they surely should have a will to win.

Given that their glory days are over, it kinda makes sense that Azerbaijan turns to the past for this song. Unfortunately, they turned to a time where they didn’t even exist except as a Socialist Soviet Republic. Their song is surprisingly 80’s in the chorus, given that it seems to start out as a pretty average boring pop song. Well, it becomes a beefed up average boring 80’s pop song, so no big difference. It’s becoming pretty obvious now that they seem to have run out of options of Farid Mammadov or Safura level that they were always only good at selling mediocre songs (and buying Maltese televotes).

At least they keep finding good looking singers, cause that’s probably the only thing keeping part of the audience interested during their songs. Just that the target group’s gonna be smaller this year. Also, the skirt Samra is wearing in the video is pretty surely the longest she ever wore during a performance of that song? For a three minute song, this contains awfully few lyrics, and that shows. It feels incredibly long. And I wonder how horrible your date was if it takes a miracle to save you? Well, I’d probably need more than one to save my date if this was playing. Sorry, but this is uninspired, repetitive and feels as if someone got tired of their job halfway through – 2/10.

Georgia: Nika Kocherov and Young Georgian Lolitaz – Midnight Gold

I think it’s interesting how different the approaches of the three Caucasian countries are recently. Armenia and Azerbaijan started out pretty conformist with a little hint of ethno, until the former sat one out and came back more alternative and the latter declined in quality but never changed its approach. Well, Georgia always was the odd one out, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn’t. This year?

Starting out with a good bit of indie rock is a key to my heart, guys. I’m even gonna forgive you for the unnecessary long band name. Especially as they keep going that way. I am really torn about the electronic way this takes in the second half, which makes it feel kind of disconnected and not very coherent. Also it blends all together, I can hardly make out any instruments which gives it a very dirty unfinished sound. Recognizable, and I love it, but probably alienating the average Eurovision viewer on first listen?

This would probably better be called Lyrical Gold. “When I came to your smell on my skin”. From a band called Young Georgian Lolitaz. Should I be scared? It’s at least the first time I’ve seen such a open description of… acts that can lead to children in a Eurovision song. And it just gets better. Stealing your date’s cigarettes? Clever move, Nika… saves you some money.”Ten hours are missing from memory, I vaguely can recall pain and pleasure mixing in one bowl” – heavy hangover or a really weird BDSM practice? My Slowianie was a children’s show compared to this! Well, Eurovision is aired past 9pm after all. No harm done, quite the opposite. With the electro part I can’t give this what Georgia deserves for it, but it remains a strong 8/10!

Review Part XI, now larger: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Austria, Armenia

Eurovision is coming closer and closer, and that means that from now on, we have larger reviews of three songs per episode! Say Yay! And in consequence, there won’t be a review that features entirely non-English language songs. There would have been one today with Bosnia & Herzegovina’s Bosnian Ljubav Je and Austria’s French Loin d’Ici, but Armenia joins them in English for round 11. So now you know the countries, let’s go!

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Deen & Dalal feat. Ana Rucner & Jala – Ljubav Je

It kind of makes sense for the only country in the competition that has a “and” in its commonly used name to send a group of artists which contains “&” two times. I guess they just couldn’t decide on a group name or so, but the explanation with the & is as good as any other. So, how will the returner from Bosnia – in more than one sense – do?

Goodness, whats the thing with the Balkan and dramatic strings? I can’t think of a song from there that didn’t try to sound “western” and missed out on their strings. The first two minutes are nothing more than a balkan ballad with some extra energy and drama poured onto it (and slightly sped up), but it’s a good one. This is no Korake Ti Znam-esque “by numbers” song, it has way too much power for that. Not cutting edges either though. And then comes the place where it takes either a brilliant or a terrible turn. Enter Jala. Bosnian rap in such a song is definitely risky, but also memorable. It goes against the golden rule of not using rap music though, but what if it’s so well “hidden” in a pretty impressive balkanesque piece?

There is, however, a lot more wrong with it once you start the video. Let’s start by Ana’s cello – please give her a real one, cause that looks pretty ugly. And then come Deen and Dalal, who both fail to show another emotion than complete concentration during the entire three minutes. Do they ever even look at each other? The best thing about the visuals and performance here is Jala’s beard, really. I like the song, and I think their voices go together very nicely, but this presentation better be better. So far, it’s no more than 5/10.

Austria: ZOË – Loin d’Ici

Which country has sent the only completely French song of the year? Austria. Apparently we need a random French song from time to time, like we got in 07 with Cyprus. And like that one, it’s a little bit of a fan favourite with a not very predictable outcome with the general public. Let’s see if it’s back to Vienna or back to Zero.

Actually, this song could not be anything else than French. Of course I am not a specialist either, but to me, her French skills seem pretty perfect. I’d totally believe you if you said she’s from France. And the song fits this very well too. It’s about fifteen years too late with it’s Alizée-ish vibe, but that may not be a bad thing if she can sell it as rétro. Unfortunately, the Alizée comparison is not the only one to make. It also has a hint of cheapness that looks like straight out of Kate Ryan’s song drawer, and we all know how that ended.

Looking to the video (or rather NF performance) now, this is incredibly sweet. The background looks like a washing powder commercial, and so does her dress. And the treadmill thing is a nice illusion but also looks a little cheap. You know, like the magician who makes it a joke to “accidentally” show his audience occasionally how the trick is done. Actually, it fits Eurovision pretty well, cause the entire song is a show as well. A little issue may be that in the live performance, ZOË (is she Belarussian?) never really seems to reach the power she does in studio, or makes it sound a little angry rather than euphoric. But hey, maybe they can change that! A little sweetness surely won’t hurt between the rather dark Czechia, Cyprus and Estonia, and I give 7/10.

Armenia: Iveta Mukuchyan – LoveWave

And now the most impressive one year break of all times. Armenia took a break in 2012 to make a point against Azerbaijan, but came back transformed from by-the-book wouldn’t be missed ethnic pop nation to a modern, serious competitor. They kinda lost track with their genocide commemoration moment totally unpolitical worldwide family reunion last year, but are they back on track in a year with no such historical background?

Wait, who is doing this spoken word intro? It’s not Iveta herself, is it? I adore the fact this devotes almost a third of the song to introduction and stuff that’s not really connected to the song, and I exceptionally like that part. I had a random dislike for this – given my love for Aminata and Justs, I somewhat expected to like it – but it’s slowly getting to me. I still think it’s trying a little too hard and went too far down the noisy route (especially compared to Heartbeat) to be as captivating as the Latvians. Also very important I’d say: This song never seems to breathe. It’s three minutes (or 2:10 rather) of full power, interrupted only by a small ethnic part we have heard multiple times from now by the Armenians. And the title definitely should be #LoveWave.

Then there’s the video, showing a style I love. If they base their staging on it in any way, it’s likely to look really, really good. Well, it probably will anyway cause there’s Iveta on stage, who has lost the Hotness Vote of ESCnation to Francesca of Italy by only one point. Once again Armenia has come up with something that I’d never have expected from them when they announced their one year break in 2012, and that works very well. I like seeing Eurovision opening up to new styles and stuff, but to be honest, LoveWave doesn’t do it for me personally. And that’s why I can only give them a 4/10, but please, Armenia keep trying!

After we’re done with Armenia, we visit two Caucasian neighbours next time together with the stars. Join us again for Israel, Georgia and Azerbaijan!

 

Review Part (Lighthouse) X: France & Croatia

Today, two more nations have to face the wrath of my ears. A nation that won five times which is almost as unbelievable as it is for the UK when you only watch at recent stuff, and a nation who has never won, which is almost as unbelievable. Well, they kind of did win once, in 1989, but that’s not under their name. Welcome to the review court, France and Croatia.

France: Amir – J’ai Cherché

Having watched and listened to every French song since 2006, you really wouldn’t believe that this country has won the contest five times. Even when they seem to be trying, like Kaas in 09, it does sometimes come out well but never sounds anything like a contender. I personally love this very French type of music, but when the only chanson très français to ever have any success is Italy’s “re-debut”, something must be wrong with the French.

Amir’s song is probably the first time the French go for both modern and competent at the same time in a long long time. It’s a very summery, guitar-ish affair, which is of course the way to my heart, but it does it in a clever way. I’m pretty sure that being a not-100%-normal pop song is the best way to success in many years, and this is exactly that. It’s simplistic and accessible enough to be liked by many people – the melody can appeal to pop fans, the acoustic guitar approach is good for the slightly more independent and alternative minded listeners – but it’s remarkable enough to be remembered. And last but definitely not least, J’ai Cherché is insanely catchy.

The reason for this could lay at least partially in the decision of changing from full French to the language mix. While I love the French language and am somewhat fluent in it, it kind of is less instant than English for most of us. I would never place the blame for the recently bad results of France on language, but I am sure it played a role in some cases. And with the French verses they kept a large piece of identity as well. And now my “major” critic: I am overly bugged by the inconsistency of tenses in the song! He’s singing “J’ai cherché” throughout the verses, so he’s clearly singing about the past. But why is is “I’LL BE looking for you” in the chorus??? This is more disturbing than it should be. France has definitely made a comeback here, and this shall be rewarded with 7/10.

Croatia: Nina Kraljic – Lighthouse

The Croatians have one win that was not to their name, dating from 1989 as a crumbling Yugoslavia, and “crumbling” is the description for Croatian victory hopes in the latest time. After six top 10 places in seven attempts in the late 90’s, it just kind of went away until Croatia itself went away for 2014 and 2015. It’s definitely nice to see them back again, and their entry is probably the best received ex-Yugoslav entry this year.

It is kind of nice to see a ballad from this part of the world that doesn’t sound like it for once. But then, if it was from Ireland (which it defintely sounds like), I would probably not enjoy it more than your average balkan ballad. The flute things are definitely quite nice, but they also get a bit annoying quickly. It has some cool details, like that one guitar strum that doesn’t make sense at all but fits the song quite nice, but the overall impression of the thing just isn’t the best. It’s quite repetitive and tends to just flow along without leaving an impression beyond “this is quite okay I guess”, and then explodes into a dramatic sequence where the tone of her voice is oddly annoying.

Now the presentation of this in the embedded video is absolutely gorgeous. While there are some clues this is actually shot in Croatia, it once again looks pretty… Atlantic. I would again have guessed Ireland or maybe northern France if you asked about the scenery. It’s quite weird to have an entry that seems to be showing its roots until you learn it’s actually from an entirely different part of Europe… In the  video above, Nina cannot be seen, and while that’s a little mean I think that’s not a bad thing. I think her voice totally doesn’t fit what you’d expect when you see her – which is fine, just another element in a row of things that don’t really fit together in this entry. And while I like the hair, she is not exactly the definition of looking charming or so, which I somewhat expect in this song when I heard it first. To be honest, I wouldn’t really wanna meet her in the dark. Well, that shouldn’t really be a reason to deduct points. There are enough others though, which is why I only give 5/10.

See you next time, with some far away love and the only entirely non-English review episode in this year: Bosnia & Herzegovina and Austria!

 

Preview IX: Bulgaria & Lithuania

I didn’t expect that to happen, but it did: We have two returners meeting up for today’s round of review. Ninth episode of Music for Europe vs. Eurovision features a Lithuanian whose first appearance featured a blindfold and a Bulgarian whose first appearance featured Bulgarian and one of the better haircuts of Eurovision. Please welcome the country of drums and water and the country of the world’s most complicated and long NF system: Bulgaria and Lithuania!

Bulgaria: Poli Genova – If Love Was A Crime

To this day, Na Inat is by far my favourite Bulgarian entry despite my recent appreciation of Water. So of course I was excited to hear they’re back with Poli Genova, and of course my expectations for her were high. The awesomeness of her hair is still the same (or even improved) so I was optimistic.

Ugh. It’s not love that’s a crime, it’s crushing the hopes of this poor writer in such a way that is. Look, I am all for changing up your style and can very well understand why she’d want to, but whenever I heard her performing the two back to back I can’t help but find If Love Was A Crime remarkably overshadowed by her first try. Which is a pity, because it’s not a bad song in its own right. But I am the Eurovision household’s guitar boy after all. This is way too electronic, too pop, too tame, too conventional to catch my attention, and it won’t be saved by a line of Bulgarian or the (unbelievably effective) short sounds in the background. Overall, it’s incredibly effectively and well produced and pretty surely the most competent and professional Bulgarian entry ever. But that’s exactly part of why I prefer Na Inat. It lost the rebellious individualist soul that was there back then.

Even the lyrics and the visuals sorta grew up. Away with the youth rebelliousness of “Fuck the bad signs I’m gonna make it to the top”, here comes three minutes of singing about love. Again, it’s super well done, there’s nothing to criticize, but to me who loves a good share of rebellion, it leaves a big load of disappointment as well. And I know this is very unfair – it’s not as if this was bad, and I comparte it to one of my favourites – but she set the bar so high herself. I may not be the target group though, and she’s clearly aiming for success. And not bad so. I will honour that with 6/10.

Lithuania: Donny Montell – I’ve Been Waiting For This Night

Lithuania has been lagging behind the other two Baltics lately, sometimes justified and sometimes not. But generally they tend to be a bit more boring and conservative, breaking that up only occasionally (hello, Vilija!) – it’s the Denmark of the Baltics so to say. And this year they tried to live up to the expectation, one could think. Even the eternally long NF was not too exciting anymore. Did it at least produce something good?

Oh my, they were confident with this huh? Shooting the video in Stockholm and all that. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but it looks like Donny will pay a lot for that night by the looks of this girl he meets, doesn’t he? I mean, a girl who is not wearing pants smoking outside a bar in an empty street all alone and acting like that with a guy she just met. It raises suspicions. It does give a totally new meaning to Love is Blind though, I guess.

Musically, there’s not really anything to say, is there? I assume he was only filming it in Stockholm cause he needed to go there and pick up the song after all. It’s about the most Swedish thing possible apart from a bunch of köttbullar and crispbread in a IKEA shelf painted blue and yellow. This is a typical case of something that will look (and do) great in a lower budget NF just because it got an actual production and someone who can sing enough to not make it painful but will fall right on his never-smiling face in May. About the same trap Switzerland keeps walking into. I kind of wanna be harsh, but it doesn’t even let you do that. And thats why it saves itself 4/10 points.

That concludes the returner night. Be back next time when I am looking for a Lighthouse with France and Croatia!

Review Part VIII: Norway & Sweden

We move up north, to the must successful area of the last years. Today’s review combines nine victories and the three highest point totals of all times, but also a total of 13 last places – eleven of which for the same country, the rather unlucky Norway. Can they improve their already impressive stats or will the Nordics have to give up their recent superiority?

Norway: Agnete – Icebreaker

Let’s start with what is probably the most hit-and-miss nation of Scandinavia. Norway has had good and bad result strings, and despite their record of eleven last places they never managed two of them in a row. Despite their not really constant effort, the semifinals are not a common trap for Norway. They have only failed twice to qualify, but more than enough, not much was there to follow the qualification.

I found it hard to hear at first because the overall style and vibe of the song is quite different to me, but the first verse is basically Euphoria’s backing track. Which would totally be a good attempt, and promises a good song. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. There have been multiple complaints about the tempo change, but I am not disturbed by it. I am disturbed by multiple other things, such as Agnete only partially reacting to the changes in the beat. There is a nice buildup in… not speed per se, probably rather intensity, between the first and second verse, but you wouldn’t notice in her singing. Even the more powerful chorus feels as if she just speeds up and sings louder, but never breaks the ice (see what I did there?).

And then there’s the performance, which is simply unintentionally hilarious. While the weird dancer in that… thing goas crazy, steam goes off and everything is trying to be energetic in the chorus, we have Agnete walking around like she just doesn’t care. If you just saw the performance, you’d assume it’s Azerbaijan or Ukraine or so, and that we’re in 2006. Which would also explain why her dress looks like it’s made of paper. I don’t know how a staging with such a structure and effort can look so cheap, and why they did bother to put it all up if it’s so much “been there, done that”. It kinda fits the song I guess… which gets 3/10.

Sweden: Frans – If I Were Sorry

The hosts are here! Last time they hosted, they chose a very normal looking young man who sang a midtempo love song, which was a very nice effort but not anything else. For Sweden, it was a little underwhelming actually. Some may say the same about Frans, who is not really what you have in mind when you think about Sweden and Eurovision – a very normal looking young man who sings a midtempo… breakup song?

When I watch the video, I instantly have guitars in my mind, so I am regularly surprised to notice that for the majority of the song, there is actually not a guitar. The sound, especially the instruments chosen, have a nice summery feeling to me and a little deep house vibe. It sounds like something waiting to be remixed by Robin Schulz, and that’s generally not bad. It’s very modern in a different way than the Baltic futurists, something that sounds urban and a little hipsterish even, judging by Eurovision standards. The “broken” melody is a very nice change in a sea of vocal showoffs, and is needed, cause frankly Frans isn’t the person for vocal showoffs.

His singing is pleasant and fits the song, but there are a few dropped notes whenever I hear the song. In his defense, though, I am covering the song on guitar and it is a lot more difficult than it looks like on the first view. The staging they used in MF is really effective too as it’s basically a non-staging apart from the backdrop. And I love how they don’t make you look at the backdrop with the words and symbols, it’s just kind of there. Big thumbs up for yet another understated sweet home entry from the Swedes. You know you’re good when you don’t have to “use” your home entries for a big one, and I appreciate that with a good 7/10.

We’ll be picking up speed now to get things done before the first semi, and next time – likely tomorrow – is a night I’ve been waiting for, cause we’ll finally learn what would happen if love was a crime. Stay tuned for Bulgaria and Lithuania!

Review Part VII: San Marino & Czechia

Tonight we got two countries that have not always got what they deserved. One of them qualified when it really shouldn’t have, the other didn’t when it should have multiple times. Of course, that’s only my opinion that will be heavily contested – I can guarantee you that if Czech Republic Czechia is named as a multiply robbed country. But first we move to another rather unsuccessful country.

San Marino: Serhat – I Didn’t Know

San Marino’s biggest recent success has likely been liberation of the reign of Mr. Ralph Siegel’s iron fist rule over the country’s Eurovision effort, giving us the triple Valentina Monetta (who I am still convinced used to work as a camgirl based on her first song’s lyrics – “Now I’m gonna see my friends / goodbye network fans” in combination with “do you wanna play cybersex again?”) and the best description for most Sammarinese entries – “NO!”

So, everyone seems to have that down as the dire catastrophe we have come to expect from San Marino (rightfully so usually). But in this case, I’d say it is also a little bit of self-fulfilling prophecy. I am (unfortunately) aware of the older version of this, which was true Sammarinese terribleness, but they have done quite the revamp! This is basically Turkey, and given by the sound playing in my local Döner stands, the Turkish music scene lags about 10-20 years behind the Western European. Which makes this a perfectly well retro thing. And Serhat is probably old enough to have experienced disco first hand.

Unfortunately, he never really gave a convincing performance that I’d know of. Which is probably gonna be a handicap. Or rather definitely is gonna be a handicap… along with the fact that Serhat looks distinctively unlikeable. To me, this man oozes arrogance in a “I paid for this stage, this entry, this country” way which is probably part of the act, yet still not very inviting. Nor does he look good. And the lyrics still confuse me. “I didn’t know that you’re freezing the time”? Well, San Turkey kind of avoided a total failure like last year – which was still enough to beat Switzerland – here, but this is usually staying far far away from qualifying. A little reward for the disco effort included, I give 4/10.

Czechia: Gabriela Guncikova – I Stand

The next nation to come up has been so nice to conveniently shortening its name from Czech Republic to Czechia in time for this review. Thank you very much for that, you’re making my job a lot easier! As Czech Republic, this country provided two or three favourites for me. Mala Dama and Hope Never Dies (pretty well describing my love life together, incidentally) have definitely achieved this status, and then there’s the guilty pleasure Aven Romale, undeservedly getting zero back in 2009. So how does Czechia fare?

Gabriela Guncikova is providing us with another ballad, once again rather athmospheric but not as dark as the Vaclav/Marta combination of last year. This is, as expected, causing me to like it a bit less, but I am not entirely representative in terms of ballads sung by female solo singers. Actually this is very well produced I’d say. It got a nice sound that I like despite the thing being out of my genre preferences. Far out. The bassline, as Overthinking Eurovision nicely pointed out, is beyond uninteresting though. Seriously. That thing bores me to death if there wasn’t a voice over it.

For a vocal showoff, Gabriela is probably the right singer, even though I have no idea how she will hold up in a live setting. But she gives the impression she could pull off a song. Visually, I doubt the Czechs could fuck this up at all. For this kind of song, the singer tends to be the main element of the staging, and Gabriela’s definitely a looker. As are some of the graphics in the video. The main critic point here – apart from me just not being too fond of the genre – are the uninspired generic ballad lyrics. I will hold back from writing them down, cause she makes sure to sing everything often enough so that you understand it all. With a bonus point for the voice – 5/10.

Next time, we visit two Nordics. Should you need an icebreaker, you can always talk about what you’d do if you were sorry. Damn, that was a terrible word play. But I’m not sorry. Come back next time for Norway and Sweden!

 

Review Part VI: Latvia & Belarus

Welcome to the sixth part of this review series! After two combinations of East and West, we return to a purely ex-Soviet duo today. What won’t change, however, is that we match a winner to a non-winner. So we have the land of the Beaver and the land of the complicated NF’s for you tonight – make some noise for Latvia and Belarus!

Latvia: Justs – Heartbeat

Latvia used to be my pet country that nobody understood how I can even stand their stuff, let alone like it. Nevertheless, if I had to choose a series of entries of one countries, I may go for Probka, What For?, Angel In Disguise. Last year, the Latvians suddenly returned to the good side for fans and general public as well, so what would have made more sense than let Latvia’s saviour Aminata return this year as a songwriter?

Aminata’s handwriting is all over this, and the beginning of it is so deliciously showing it that it’s not even fun. There’s not really a lot of music, but what is there is used very, very effectively. Little sounds that fall into the right place in the rhythm as if they were there just by coincidence. This noise that washes through the back of the room. The way the drums are almost lacking for the first bars but you somehow don’t even notice if you don’t listen to it. It’s one of the rare cases I wish I had a karaoke version here. And then, on the top of it, Justs’s voice. It’s not classically beautiful, but it’s captivating, and if he’s missing notes, it’s in a way that doesn’t hurt. Purely from the vibe of it, the feeling it gives me, I love this song already.

Now Latvia has changed to the Supernova format which has the advantage that, compared to other countries, we get quite a finished package to judge. And the stage does kind of remind me of Aminata’s as well, the whole thing just oozes her style. Definitely a good thing. Again, lots of red and white, no props, just Justs and lights. Which is a really great concept in its simplicity, and definitely works. I can totally see this working on the bigger stage in Stockholm too, and it’s one of the songs where I am very curious on the staging. Judging by Aminata’s recent success, this should definitely do well, and I hope it does because I love it. Feeling generous today, so there you go, Latvia: 9/10.

Belarus: IVAN – Help You Fly

When I started getting into ESC, Belarus got a rather good result with a Kirkorov song and a male Lady Di. Later on, this is the nation that gave us Anastasia Vinnikova, TEO (notice how weirdly fund of caps they are?) and Eyes That Never Lie, for which I will always be thankful. However, there was also 3+2 and Hasta La Vista, which are harder to apologize. And finally, last year they had a cool video which they completely didn’t translate to their staging. How about this year?

This year, they took the route that apparently every Eastern country takes when they don’t know where to go (Moldova?) and turned to cheap dance music that sounds like straight from 2003. However, that is not always a bad thing, and there is some stuff in the song which is at least acceptable, like the little melody things in the background which I am a sucker for. And then there is the overall fun & dance factor, always important at Eurovision, which Help You Fly is very good in. So, unlike Moldova, there is actually some good stuff hidden in it. But it is truly hidden, mainly by IVAN’s performance which oscillates between not exactly perfect and downright bad.

Which is also a good way to describe Belarus’s staging. The wolf backdrop has nothing to do with the song, but does look awesome (not exactly perfect). And then there’s IVAN, who looks rather ridiculous – especially with the mysterious approach they took in the beginning – and his movements (downright bad). To top it off, the Belarussians decided that they had spent too much time without being weird and added plans about performing with living wolves and without clothes, while the other way round would definitely have been much better. Also, if he really is to perform naked, “It’s time to release yourself before you can let go/I will help you learn how to fly” sounds even worse than it already does. I fear Belarus is butchering this one at least as bad as last year’s, which is actually a pity. But I’m here to judge it all, so no more than 3/10 (that’d be 4 if IVAN could get the whole song on-key for once).

That’s it for today. As always, hopefully you enjoyed it – let me know here or on twitter/ESCnation/by postcard/yelling at my house… or join again next time when I have to tell you I didn’t know if I stand. It’ll be time for San Marino and the Czech Republic Czechia!

Review Part V: Serbia & Iceland

Two days after we took care of Germany and Moldova, we have another combination of east and west for you today, as well as a combination of winner and non-winner (two times winner again even, if you include Yugoslavia!). And for the second time in this series, there is a returning artist with Greta Salome – this time without Jonsi – for Iceland. Let’s hear what the two have to offer in 2016!

Serbia: ZAA Sanja Vucic – Goodbye (Shelter)

Serbia has very quickly become a “traditional” Eurovision nation after the eastwards expansion, even though one could argue they always were through Yugoslavia. They had a tendency to keep to a certain sound or feeling that always seemed present to me in Serbian entries, which is definitely a good thing. This year’s Sanja Vucic did keep that, using the strings and quite a bit of drama in its favour. Listening to it on headphones but in the “background” as I write this introduction, it kind of keeps my attention, which enough others didn’t.

The song has quite present rhythmic strings, which I adore, and a trademark Yugo melody (see the Balkan ReYUnion or the Macedonia review for more on Yugo melodies) which I have to grown to love as well. Actually the drums and whatever else is coming in is, for me, rather disturbing the whole thing. And the video shows that Sanja can sing. Once again, the Serbs have produced a nice voice, but unlike last year, there is more to the song that I can like. Nevertheless, they have once again failed to keep the drama under control and push me away with it. That is, however, not the biggest problem.

The biggest problem, as much as I hate to say this, is Sanja herself. First of all, when I saw her face the first time, the thought that shot into my mind was “she looks like an Amy Winehouse parody”, and while that could be a good thing, it’s not in this case. Her styling does not really flatter her in my opinion (the mic does though!), plus there’s the weird movements she does. And I am sceptical how the song will translate to a ESC stage when she’s not surrounded by a bunch of strings (innuendo not intended). What I have to point out positively are the lyrics – they positively remind me of Running and it’s nice not to hear a lovesong or not-so-deep meaning “I’m so sad” thing that still has coherent lyrics. Even though I always understand “I lick my boobs”, but hey, why not? I am not 100% convinced, but we all know Serbia has done much worse. 6/11!

Iceland: Greta Salome – Hear Them Calling

Iceland decided for a tested way of doing things and send a returning artist. They usually keep a rhythm of good and bad changing every year in my book – Sjonni’s Friends broke it in 2011, being my second dislike in a row, but since then it’s been intact again – and a “tradition” of being called out last in their semis, which does usually make me quite anxious for one of my favourites every other year. Will Greta continue the patterns and hear them calling out Iceland last in May?

One thing I like about this song is how every single change in it kind of “makes sense” when you hear it, yet it doesn’t really give away what it’s gonna do in the beginning. The slightly folky guitar bits combined with a energetic electronic danceable chorus is a combo I was always going to like. And at least to me, whose knowledge of Iceland is reduced to Eurovision, TV, geography class and riding Blue Fire (no advertisement intended), this does create an association with Iceland in my mind despite not coming across as ethnic. I think that in a year with many international-sounding, not very special entries, this can help their chances a lot.

Comparing performances of Nordic NF’s to others is always tricky, given that they are usually so much more finished than most other preselections. But this one is presenting us with a show I could see on a Eurovision stage. I really like how they don’t give you a proper shot of Greta’s face for such a long time despite filming her frontal for most of the time, and the whole lighting and backdrop enhances that not really defined Icelandic feeling for me. While there has been more than enough talk about the chest explosion thing – and it does indeed look weird – the rest of the concept works very well for me. And unlike last year, Greta has proved she can actually hit notes. I hope and predict that Iceland can be welcomed in the finals again this year, and I give it slightly generous 8/10.

This was a pair of rather high votes compared to the last one, and certainly a more enjoyable review session for me. Will that be the case next time as well? Find out and let your heartbeat help you fly with Latvia and Belarus!

 

Review Part IV: Moldova & Germany

Welcome to the fourth part of the reviewing series! There’s still a lot to come, and thankfully there’s still some time until May, even though it is approaching quicker and quicker. Today, we will get to the first “classic” Western nation as well as the first Big 5 nation – Germany – and before that, we’ll pay a visit to the specialists for weird performances, volcano dresses, scantily clad police and epic saxophones: Moldova!

Moldova: Lidia Isac – Falling Stars

Moldova has presented us a nice overview of their musical scene over the last years, even though I hope for them that it’s not actually representative for Moldovan music. Among the Moldovan entries, there has been a lot of stuff which I liked – most of which many others disagreed on (hello, Cristina!) – but also some stuff I liked less. And generally a lot of rather cheap things. Like quite a few we’ve already looked at, they’re up for a hattrick, but in their case it’d be a negative one. Can Lidia Isac keep Moldova from the third NQ in a row?

Moldova is back to where they have been last year – not the Ukraine, and not the “NYPD”, but the land of cheap dance music. It’s always a bad sign if the first 50 seconds of jury-pleasing are my favourite part of a song, and in this case, they definitely are. This song sounds as if DJ Antoine spent a holiday in the East and put it together there. The only thing I can say in favour of this is that Lidia is not nearly as slappable as Romanyuta was, otherwise this gives me pretty much the same feeling. Except that Falling Stars lacks last year’s hook (and lack of clothes).

I do, however, love the lyrics – they’re brilliantly foreshadowing this song’s fate. With this song, yes I believe you will be torn in pieces, Moldova. And while I doubt that this prime example of factory dance music (of an outdated Moldovan factory) will make anyone a star, if you already were one before, you’re most likely falling. Even though I doubt that it will be a particularly bright fall. I actually did not want to be that harsh on Moldova, but with SunStroke Project, Zdob si Zdub and Pasha, you did lay the bar a little too high to come up with something like this twice in a row. Sorry, but I fear I can’t give you more than 3/10.

Germany: Jamie-Lee – Ghost

Instead of what may be my favourite song of the whole NF season, Germany sent a girl with an interesting thing on her head. Jamie-Lee Kriewitz followed a tradition among young German females going to ESC and deleted her last name for contest purposes. Or maybe she did rename herself to Jei-Mi Lee. Given that her last name is “Kriewitz”, I assume Eurovision commentators all over Europe are thankful for that decision, even if it would have been funny to compare all the different attempts at pronouncing it. Let’s turn to the song now – can Germany improve after Ann-Sophie’s joint last place of 2015?

Now, I think that this has a brilliant sound for a song called “Ghost”, but there’s a big problem with it. I tend to forget it very quickly. To her benefit, she’ll be visible during Eurovision and the whole manga thing does certainly help making her recognizable, but the song itself, in my opinion, isn’t. This is a pity because I am trying to like it, and she seems very likable, but how can I like a song if I forget it in five minutes? It’s something that I kind of remember when hearing it again, but I wouldn’t ever be able to hum it to you or something like that.

One way to liking this is, like Moldova, through the lyrics – and this time even without poisonous sarcasm! There’s a few images in them that the reader in me loves (“Like a dragon to his gold / We’re still holding on” or “Can we get an alternate ending?”) but I also can’t understand what she’s trying to say. However, nobody will care in the end anyway, so why should I? This song is something odd to me. I try to like it, but not only do I forget it quickly, it also completely fails to touch me in any way, similar to A Million Voices did last year. I assume it may be some kind of overproduction or something like that, but there is just nothing there for me. I can’t see anything wrong with Ghost though, which is why Germany receives a solid 5/10.

Thank you for reading this, and can you Hear Them Calling? It’s not for saying Goodbye, it’s us, for the fifth reviewing session featuring Iceland and Serbia!

Review Part III: Macedonia & Albania

I have not been able to review much this week, mainly due to the Curling World Championships taking place in Basel and me, as a curler myself, spending quite some time there. So, there hasn’t been much reviewing (for which I’ll make up this week) but I am now proud owner of an original Team Sweden jacket. But with the final over now, we can focus on the important things in life again: Macedonia and Albania!

FYR Macedonia: Kaliopi – Dona

On the top of the list of returning artists stands this Macedonian, responsible for the Former Yugoslav Republic’s last qualification back in 2012 with the awesome balkan ballad-meets-guitar rock song Crno I Belo as well as Macedonia’s first NQ (at their first attempt) back in 1996. This means that she has seen the lights of a Eurovision stage a few weeks before I have first seen the lights of the world. Quite impressive, isn’t it? How will Kaliopi fare on her third attempt though?

First thing I notice is something I often notice with Yugoslavian ballads – they tend to have an incredibly beautiful and at least slightly melancholic melody in them. Dona is no different, and Kaliopi’s team leave no doubt that they are experienced enough to know what it takes. They didn’t do any obvious mistakes regarding quality of the song and sound, and that alone makes it sound pretty… serious. Despite going over the top sometimes, they have succeeded in always making it obvious this is suspected to be a completely serious song, even if it comes with possibilities for drama queens to shine.

Unfortunately, it also looks and sounds like this – experienced, sometimes to the point of routine. It ticks boxes, but not always in the good way. The “overly pompous deserted building” videoclip, the dramatic sound with the strings and the little background elements, all providing some more beautiful Yugo melodies, all that looks like straight from the manual for this kind of song. And did she always have such a Loreen-ish look? I decide to be kind on the textbook element approach to the song, and honour the fact that it still stays pretty memorable together with Kaliopi’s awesomeness. 6/10.

Albania: Eneda Tarifa – Fairytale

Welcome to Albania – country of the random guitar solo, the Swiss National Football Team, the ë and apparently the English song with Albanian title. Until Eneda Tarifa nicely decided to rename her song to Fairytale, earning her a much earlier spot in this review. For Albanian qualifications there seems to be a simple pattern: my like = kiss of death for them. So, will I think much of Fairytale or will it qualify?

I am actually trying to like this because I think her voice is pretty cool, and the first verse has a great darkness in it. What annoys me is the wailing chorus, but I assume that’s quite a good strategy: Lure people like me in with the verse and attract laovers of the screamy female with the chorus. I assume quite a lot will depend on the staging of the chorus part and her performance. If they go for shouty drama and wind machines I think she’s doomed, but an appropriate presentation could make you think that there’s more to it and make me like it (and therefore doom her entirely, so she IS doomed anyway).

Does the video hint at what way they’ll choose? It doesn’t really. But the way that they went for a video that focuses on her and some weird scenery stuff that could well be a backdrop (the destroyed mechanical things) I somehow have a gut feeling it will not be what I wish for. The history of Albanian stagings does somehow not make me more hopeful, so there’s quite a possibility I will dislike Albania in the end and they will qualify. However, there is nothing in it to actually hate it, and even some parts to like. I’ll settle for a nice average 5/10.

Soon, we will focus on the Ghosts of Falling Stars with Part IV, featuring Moldova and Germany!