Friday, 20 April 2018

Eurovision 2018 song reviews (part 5) - Croatia, Cyprus, Finland, Malta, Montenegro, Poland


THREE WEEKS TO GO! It's all getting very exciting for a Eurovision-obsessive like me, so much so that I forgot to post this update last week (oops!).

Croatia - Franka - "Crazy"
Semi final: 1
My score: 7/10
Chances of qualifying: 4/10
Can it make the top 10? No.
Can it win? Nope.

When following the roll-out of Eurovision entries at the start of the year, it is important not to get one's hopes up about songs based solely on the artist. When a participating artist is announced, I always make the mistake of diving into their back catalogue and then expecting them to send their best to the contest...which rarely happens. This is what happened with Croatia's Franka. Prior to her entry being released, I expected a top 10 contender.

Although I enjoyed Crazy upon initial listen, I was still disappointed at how uncompetitive it is. The production is strong and the hook is memorable...but the chorus lacks impact and doesn't have the 'oomph' that a successful Eurovision song requires. The video is brilliant and lends itself well excellent staging...but she's basically confirmed that the staging will be minimal in Lisbon. My hopes are no longer high for this one...especially since it's in semi final 1.


Cyprus - Eleni Foureira - "Fuego"
Semi final: 1
My score: 8.5/10
Chances of qualifying: 8/10
Can it make the top 10? Maybe.
Can it win? No, I don't think so.

From a slightly disappointing internal selection...to an internal selection that managed to meet my expectations, and then some. It's difficult to be unbiased when judging my motherland's entry, but this  is the first time a Cypriot entry has got me excited since 2012, so you bet I'm gonna stan. Even though Eleni isn't Cypriot, I am delighted that she's finally getting the chance to compete after being snubbed by the Greek broadcaster for years. She's ours now and she's bringing an ethno-bop with a distinct Cypriot flavour - I couldn't be happier. 

She may not be Whitney in the recording booth, but she knows how to perform. With her team going all-out on the visuals (with the help of some not-so-subtle product placement), I have high hopes for how this is gonna look on stage. It's closing semi final 1 in what is a producer-curated line-up, so they clearly have high hopes for this too. All going well, this could be Cyprus' best result in years.


Finland - Saara Aalto - "Monsters"
Semi final: 1
My score: 7.5/10
Chances of qualifying: 6.5/10
Can it make the top 10? Yes, with the right staging.
Can it win? No.

I may be hopeful about Eleni's staging...but that same optimism cannot be said for Finland's Saara Aalto. As much as I enjoy Saara's unapologetically grand and queer approach to performing, it can veer dangerously into tacky territory, which reduces the quality of the song itself. 'Monsters', is a well-produced and catchy dance-pop song, but the staging from UMK made it come off far cheaper than it actually is...which is an issue for a contemporary Eurovision entry. 

As the contest moves away from 'trashy' entries and into a more 'credible' phase, Saara needs to make the leap with her staging or else this may end up not qualifying. Thankfully, she recently announced that the original staging concept has been scrapped and she will be doing something that 'has never been done on the Eurovision stage before'. As someone who isn't really a fan of Brian Friedman's recent work...I'm just gonna try and keep an open mind. 


Malta - Christabelle - "Taboo"
Semi final: 2
My score: 6.5/10
Chances of qualifying: 5/10
Can it make the top 10? No.
Can it win? No.

When staging IS done right, it can really elevate a mediocre song, as is the case for Christabelle's 'Taboo'. Don't get me wrong, this has plenty going for it - the production in the verses is excellent, the song is well-sung and it has an excellent message about mental health. Unfortunately, the message is lost in a sea of cliches and tropes. Also, the use of dubstep makes the production feel dated; the song needed a complete overhaul, but it only got a slight revamp. 

This is essentially a banger-in-waiting, which simply isn't enough to score well at Eurovision. The staging elevated this considerably at its national final, so perhaps it can do the same in Lisbon? Regardless, Christabelle has been making waves in Maltese politics as well as in the UK with her mental health awareness campaign, which is ultimately more important than how well this does in Lisbon anyway. 


Montenegro - Vanja Radovanović - "Inje"
Semi final: 2
My score: 5.5/10
Chances of qualifying: 5/10
Can it make the top 10? No,
Can it win? No.

A very prominent trend in ESC 2018 has been the increase in the use of native language and instrumentation, which no doubt is a reaction to Salvador Sobral's 'credible' win last year. You even had countries like Serbia, Greece and Slovenia insisting that entries had to be sang in their native languages for the sake of authenticity. Montenegro also followed suit, reverting back to the once-popular 'Balkan Ballad' genre that was notably absent from last year's contest.

As a huge fan of the 2012 contest, I am certainly not against ethnic ballads (heck, Greece's song is my favourite song of this year *spoiler*), but this one isn't quite captivating me. Admittedly, it has grown on me since its release and I've come to really love parts of it (especially the final note). Whether this is powerful enough to garner the support it needs to qualify, I'm not convinced...


Poland - Gromee feat. Lukas Meijer - "Light Me Up"
Semi final: 2
My score: 6/10
Chances of qualifying: 8/10
Can it make the top 10? Yes :/
Can it win? No.

From a 'credible' and emotive native language ballad to perhaps THE most generic and disposable entry of the year; we close this update with Poland's 'Light Me Up'. Although many countries have decided to go back to their roots with their entries, Poland clearly didn't get the memo. This has not one ounce of originality or distinctiveness to it, to the point where it is alarmingly familiar. That's said, it's a perfectly competent EDM banger that could do fairly well in Europe after the contest. 

As negative as I sound, I like the hook and enjoy the familiarity of the drop. I have no doubt that this will qualify and I'm not gonna rule out a top 10 finish based on how universally palatable this will be. The potential fork in the road could be Lukas' vocals, which were APPALLING on the night of the national final. I don't care if it's an EDM song; it's not technically challenging enough to justify such an off-key vocal. 


Updated ranking:

Semi 1 (by chances of qualification)
1. Israel - Netta - "Toy" - 9.5
2. Czech Republic - Mikolas Josef - "Lie To Me" - 8
3. Estonia - Elina Nechayeva - "La Forza" - 8
4. Cyprus - Eleni Foureira - "Fuego" - 8
5. Austria - Cesár Sampson - "Nobody but You"
6. Belgium - SENNEK - "A Matter of Time" - 8
7. Bulgaria - EQUINOX - "Bones" - 7.5
8. Armenia - Sevak Khanagyan - "Qami" - 7
9. Finland - Saara Aalto - "Monsters" - 6.5
10. Azerbaijan - Aisel - "X My Heart" - 6
11. Lithuania - Ieva Zasimauskaitė - "When We're Old"
12. Belarus - Alekseev - "Forever" - 4.5
13. Albania - Eugent Bushpepa - "Mall" - 4.5
14. Croatia - Franka - "Crazy" - 4
15. Iceland - Ari Ólafsson - "Our Choice" - 2

Semi 2 (by chances of qualification)
1. Norway - Alexander Rybak - "That's How You Write A Song" - 9
2. Denmark - Rasmussen - "Higher Ground" - 9
3. The Netherlands - Waylon - "Outlaw In 'Em" - 9
4. Australia - Jessica Mauboy - "We Got Love" - 8
5. Poland - Gromee feat. Lukas Meijer - "Light Me Up"
6. Russia - Julia Samoylova - "I Won't Break" - 8
7. Moldova - DoReDos - "My Lucky Day" - 7.5
8. Hungary - AWS - "Viszlát nyár" - 7
9. Romania - The Humans - "Goodbye" - 6
10. Latvia - Laura Rizzotto - "Funny Girl" - 5.5
11. Montenegro - Vanja Radovanović - "Inje"
12. Malta - Christabelle - "Taboo" - 5
13. Georgia - Iriao - "For You" - 5
14. Serbia - Sanja Ilić & Balkanika - "Nova Deca" - 5
15. San Marino - Jessika feat. Jenifer Brening - "Who We Are" - 1

Overall ranking so far (by personal score - ties broken by preference)
1. Israel - Netta - "Toy" - 9.5
2. Estonia - Elina Nechayeva - "La Forza" - 9
3. Belgium - SENNEK - "A Matter of Time" - 9
4. Denmark - Rasmussen - "Higher Ground" - 8.5
5. Austria - Cesár Sampson - "Nobody but You" - 8.5
6. Cyprus - Eleni Foureira - "Fuego" - 8.5
7. Bulgaria - EQUINOX - "Bones" - 8
8. Latvia - Laura Rizzotto - "Funny Girl" - 8
9. Serbia - Sanja Ilić & Balkanika - "Nova Deca" - 8
10. Moldova - DoReDos - "My Lucky Day" - 8
11. Australia - Jessica Mauboy - "We Got Love" - 7.5
12. Azerbaijan - Aisel - "X My Heart" - 7.5
13. Finland - Saara Aalto - "Monsters"
14. Armenia - Sevak Khanagyan - "Qami" - 7.5
15. Russia - Julia Samoylova - "I Won't Break" - 7.5
16. Georgia - Iriao - "For You" - 7.5
17. Hungary - AWS - "Viszlát nyár" - 7.5
18. Albania - Eugent Bushpepa - "Mall" - 7
19. Croatia - Franka - "Crazy" - 7
20. Czech Republic - Mikolas Josef - "Lie To Me" - 7
21. Malta - Christabelle - "Taboo" - 7
22. Lithuania - Ieva Zasimauskaitė - "When We're Old" - 7
23. Poland - Gromee feat. Lukas Meijer - "Light Me Up" - 6
24. The Netherlands - Waylon - "Outlaw In 'Em" - 6
25. Belarus - Alekseev - "Forever" - 6
26. Montenegro - Vanja Radovanović - "Inje" - 5.5
27. San Marino - Jessika feat. Jenifer Brening - "Who We Are" - 5
28. Romania - The Humans - "Goodbye" - 4
29. Norway - Alexander Rybak - "That's How You Write A Song" - 3
30. Iceland - Ari Ólafsson - "Our Choice" - 3

Friday, 6 April 2018

Eurovision 2018 song reviews (part 4) - Lithuania, Armenia, Austria, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia

With almost month to go until the contest, we power through with the track reviews for Eurovision 2018!

Lithuania - Ieva Zasimauskaitė - "When We're Old"
Semi final: 1
My score: 7/10
Chances of qualifying: 5/10
Can it make the top 10? Very unlikely but I could see a scenario where it could.
Can it win? Nope.

As with the vast majority of this year's national selections, Lithuania's seemingly never-ending marathon „Eurovizijos“ dainų konkurso nacionalinė atranka 2018 did not go my way. On the plus side, the entry they selected is far superior to what they ended up with last year - so yay for that. 

As for 'When We're Old', it's a fairly unremarkable, mousy love song about growing old with that special someone - groundbreaking. Ieva's whispery, affected vocals are really not my thing, but I can admit that she has stage presence and can sell this live. The melody is memorable enough and she's a very charming performer - so I could see televoters and juries alike respecting this. Unfortunately for her, she's in the bloodbath semi and is sandwiched between some of the biggest favourites in the contest - so her chances of qualification are slim. This is a borderline qualifier at best.


Armenia - Sevak Khanagyan - "Qami"
Semi final: 1
My score: 7.5/10
Chances of qualifying: 7/10
Can it make the top 10? Possibly.
Can it win? I don't think so.

Armenia are one of my favourite Eurovision countries, constantly delivering quality bops year after year - Qele Qele, Jan Jan, Apricot Stone, LoveWave, Fly With Me to name a few. They continued to serve quality this year with one of the stronger national selections of 2018. Even though 'Qami' wasn't my favourite to win Depi Evratesil,  its victory was well-deserved. 

I love that this is the first Eurovision entry to be sung entirely in Armenian, but otherwise this is a rather safe entry for a delegation known for taking risks. Even though it takes a while to properly get going, Sevak delivers on the vocals and Armenia have form for staging. I'm fairly confident this will be going through. 


Austria - Cesár Sampson - "Nobody but You"
Semi final: 1
My score: 8.5/10
Chances of qualifying: 8/10
Can it make the top 10? Yes.
Can it win? I don't think so but I won't rule it out.

From one excellent male vocalist to another, we move onto Austria's Cesár Sampson. Internal selections usually bring quality, and this year was no exception. After performing at Eurovision twice before as a backing vocalist, it's time for Cesár to take centre stage. 

With one of the best videos of the year, I have high hopes for the staging. If they get the staging right, I could see this contemporary slice of gospel pop make the top half of the scoreboard, top 10 at a push. Semi one may be a bloodbath, but I could see Cesár making it out unscathed. 


Georgia - Iriao - "For You"
Semi final: 2
My score: 7.5/10
Chances of qualifying: 5/10
Can it make the top 10? Probably not.
Can it win? No. 

One of the first acts to be announced...with the last song to be released; Georgia's entry this year is a bit of an enigma. It probably has the least amount of hype out of all the entries, and yet I could see magic happen when this hits Lisbon, especially with those incredible harmonies.

After just missing out on a spot in the final last year, I'm sure just making it to Saturday night would be a victory for Georgia. Because of how weak open semi 2 is this year, I'm not willing to rule this out just yet. Perhaps the public will fancy a spot of ethno-jazz and chuck this a vote?


Hungary - AWS - "Viszlát nyár"
Semi final: 2
My score: 7.5/10
Chances of qualifying: 7/10
Can it make the top 10? Possibly.
Can it win? No. 

On the topic of genre diversity, we move onto a slice of Hungarian post-hardcore. Like many, I wasn't *quite* sure what I was listening to, but with repeated listens this turned out to be quite the banger. Success at Eurovision is very much dependant on atmosphere and emotion (see: Salvador Sobral last year), so I can see a lot of merit in this. 

Although one could dismiss this as being too aggressive and off-putting to do well at Eurovision, I would argue the contrary. This is completely unique in this field and will pick up support from what I call 'anti-eurovision fans' (people who watch the show to bitch, moan and generally be miserable) - and that could see them into the final and out of the bottom 5. Oh, and the key change SNATCHES.


Latvia - Laura Rizzotto - "Funny Girl"
Semi final: 2
My score: 8/10
Chances of qualifying: 5.5/10
Can it make the top 10? No.
Can it win? No. 

I'm far less confident about the success of Latvia's entry this year. Mid-tempos are notoriously difficult to get right at Eurovision; they're too slow to dance to, too up-tempo to evoke emotion and generally highly dependant on staging. Luckily for the Latvian delegation, they have an excellent vocalist and performer to tie this all together.

With an unfortunate running position in semi 2, I've recently become a lot less confident in the ability for this song to make the final. 'Funny Girl' lacks a hook, and for that I cannot see this connecting with televoters. Regardless, I think Laura can bring this to life in Lisbon and deliver a performance to be proud of. 


Updated ranking:

Semi 1 (by chances of qualification)
1. Israel - Netta - "Toy" - 9.5
2. Czech Republic - Mikolas Josef - "Lie To Me" - 8
3. Estonia - Elina Nechayeva - "La Forza" - 8
4. Austria - Cesár Sampson - "Nobody but You"
5. Belgium - SENNEK - "A Matter of Time" - 8
6. Bulgaria - EQUINOX - "Bones" - 7.5
7. Armenia - Sevak Khanagyan - "Qami" - 7
8. Azerbaijan - Aisel - "X My Heart" - 6
9. Lithuania - Ieva Zasimauskaitė - "When We're Old"
10. Belarus - Alekseev - "Forever" - 4.5
11. Albania - Eugent Bushpepa - "Mall" - 4.5
12. Iceland - Ari Ólafsson - "Our Choice" - 2

Semi 2 (by chances of qualification)
1. Norway - Alexander Rybak - "That's How You Write A Song" - 9
2. Denmark - Rasmussen - "Higher Ground" - 9
3. The Netherlands - Waylon - "Outlaw In 'Em" - 9
4. Australia - Jessica Mauboy - "We Got Love" - 8
5. Russia - Julia Samoylova - "I Won't Break" - 8
6. Moldova - DoReDos - "My Lucky Day" - 7.5
7. Hungary - AWS - "Viszlát nyár" - 7
8. Romania - The Humans - "Goodbye" - 6
9. Latvia - Laura Rizzotto - "Funny Girl" - 5.5
10. Georgia - Iriao - "For You" - 5
11. Serbia - Sanja Ilić & Balkanika - "Nova Deca" - 5
12. San Marino - Jessika feat. Jenifer Brening - "Who We Are" - 1

Overall ranking so far (by personal score - ties broken by preference)
1. Israel - Netta - "Toy" - 9.5
2. Estonia - Elina Nechayeva - "La Forza" - 9
3. Belgium - SENNEK - "A Matter of Time" - 9
4. Denmark - Rasmussen - "Higher Ground" - 8.5
5. Austria - Cesár Sampson - "Nobody but You" - 8.5
6. Bulgaria - EQUINOX - "Bones" - 8
7. Latvia - Laura Rizzotto - "Funny Girl" - 8
8. Serbia - Sanja Ilić & Balkanika - "Nova Deca" - 8
9. Moldova - DoReDos - "My Lucky Day" - 8
10. Australia - Jessica Mauboy - "We Got Love" - 7.5
11. Azerbaijan - Aisel - "X My Heart" - 7.5
12. Armenia - Sevak Khanagyan - "Qami"
13. Russia - Julia Samoylova - "I Won't Break" - 7.5
14. Georgia - Iriao - "For You" - 7.5
15. Hungary - AWS - "Viszlát nyár" - 7.5
16. Albania - Eugent Bushpepa - "Mall" - 7
17. Czech Republic - Mikolas Josef - "Lie To Me" - 7
18. Lithuania - Ieva Zasimauskaitė - "When We're Old" - 7
19. The Netherlands - Waylon - "Outlaw In 'Em" - 6
20. Belarus - Alekseev - "Forever" - 6
21. San Marino - Jessika feat. Jenifer Brening - "Who We Are"
22. Romania - The Humans - "Goodbye" - 4
23. Norway - Alexander Rybak - "That's How You Write A Song" - 3
24. Iceland - Ari Ólafsson - "Our Choice" - 3

Friday, 30 March 2018

Eurovision 2018 song reviews (part 3) - Estonia, Iceland, Israel, Russia, San Marino, Serbia.

In this update, I review the top 2 songs in the odds...as well as numbers #40 and #41, so once again, quite the range in terms of quality...

Estonia - Elina Nechayeva - "La Forza"
Semi final: 1
My score: 9/10
Chances of qualifying: 8/10
Can it make the top 10? Yes.
Can it win? Yes.

In a year of national finals not going my way, Estonia's Eesti Laul was a rare exception. La Forza hit my like a truck at first listen and I've been obsessed ever since. With such a powerful studio cut, I was intrigued/concerned to see if she could replicate the same magic live. Turns out, this is even more impressive live, with crystal clear vocals and excellent staging (including a light up dress - my favourite).

Currently one of the main fan favourites (/'fan wanks') of the year, I hope the juries don't tank this like they have past opera entries. Although, I'm hoping Elina's performance will give this the credibility it needs to win jury support. If it can, this could do very well indeed...


Iceland - Ari Ólafsson - "Our Choice"
Semi final: 1
My score: 3/10
Chances of qualifying: 2/10
Can it make the top 10? No way.
Can it win? Absolutely not.

After 2 consecutive (and undeserved, imo) non-qualifiers, it appears that our Icelandic friends are going for the hat trick...because this song is absolute garbage. Despite having possibly the weakest national selection of the year, they still managed to swerve 5 better options by picking this dated mess.

Though admittedly well-sung, that's pretty much the only thing to note here. The song is dated as hell and the lyrics are trite - just your standard, empty call for world peace. It's a shame because Iceland is one of those countries I want to root for, but this year they've made it very difficult...


Israel - Netta - "Toy"
Semi final: 1
My score: 9.5/10
Chances of qualifying: 8/10
Can it make the top 10? Yes.
Can it win? Quite possibly.

Despite the song title, Israel didn't come to play this year. Even Eurovision casuals know about Netta - the official video currently has over 9 million views on youtube, is charting on iTunes in multiple countries and is the top of the odds by a landslide. 

Having delved into her previous work, I was HYPED the moment she won HaKokhav HaBa (A.K.A 'The Next Star' - the Israeli selection show). Once details of the song began to emerge closer to the reveal, I knew we were in for a banger. And what a banger it is; distinctively Netta, distinctively Netta, punchy lyrics, impactful delivery, instant hook, chicken noises - this has it all.


Russia - Julia Samoylova - "I Won't Break"
Semi final: 2
My score: 7.5/10
Chances of qualifying: 8/10
Can it make the top 10? Yes.
Can it win? Oop...maybe ?

Full disclosure: I had very low expectations for this entry once I saw that confirmation that Julia would be returning. I didn't rate 'Flame Is Burning' last year, and I rated Julia's vocal capabilities even less. That said, I was glad to see the Russian delegation stuck to their word in terms of letting Julia represent them this year.

This turned out to be one of the biggest surprises of the year for me. I mean, my expectations were low, her English hasn't exactly improved and her diction certainly hasn't...but this is the kinda basic Sia-esque bop I was waiting for. As long as they beef this the fuck out with an army of [loud] backing singers, this could actually be pretty good in Lisbon...


San Marino - Jessika feat. Jenifer Brening - "Who We Are"
Semi final: 2
My score: 6/10
Chances of qualifying: 1/10
Can it make the top 10? Nope
Can it win? Not a chance in hell...

Ah, San Marino. San Marino remind me of that friend, you know, the one that constantly makes destructive and nonsensical life decisions despite your attempts to steer them on the right path. You know the one. Sometimes it's entertainment (in a cheap 'drama!' sorta way), but most of the time it's just a bit tragic.

San Marino were literally presented with the best chance of them ever getting a top 10 finish (in the form of Sara de Blue's glorious 'Out Of The Twilight'), and what did they do? Fuck it all up, of course. I mean, I can appreciate a trashy white girl rap now and again, but this is pushing it for me...


Serbia - Sanja Ilić & Balkanika - "Nova Deca"
Semi final: 2
My score: 8/10
Chances of qualifying: 5/10
Can it make the top 10? HIGHLY doubt it.
Can it win? No.

From a shit show of a national selection, to one that surpassed all of my expectations. Despite having 17(!) songs in their final (only 2-3 of which were actually good),  Beovizija 2018 was one of the most well-produced, entertaining and enjoyable selections of the year. Of course, it helped that my favourite act won.

Proudly Serbian, unique and spiritual, but also fun and danceable; 'Nova Deca' is an absolute delight and exactly what I want from Serbia at Eurovision. The fact that the act contains 6 people is unfortunate, because the staging could do with a dancer or two (fun fact: the EBU only permits a maximum of 6 people on stage per entry). Regardless, I'm hoping this manages to qualify because it would add a long to the grand final line up, both linguistically and genre-wise.


Updated ranking:

Semi 1 (by chances of qualification)
1. Israel - Netta - "Toy" - 9.5
2. Czech Republic - Mikolas Josef - "Lie To Me" - 8
3. Estonia - Elina Nechayeva - "La Forza" - 8
4. Belgium - SENNEK - "A Matter of Time" - 8
5. Bulgaria - EQUINOX - "Bones" - 7.5
6. Azerbaijan - Aisel - "X My Heart" - 6
7. Belarus - Alekseev - "Forever" - 4.5
8. Albania - Eugent Bushpepa - "Mall" - 4.5
9. Iceland - Ari Ólafsson - "Our Choice"

Semi 2 (by chances of qualification)
1. Norway - Alexander Rybak - "That's How You Write A Song"
*2. Denmark - Rasmussen - "Higher Ground" - 9
*2. The Netherlands - Waylon - "Outlaw In 'Em" - 9
*4. Australia - Jessica Mauboy - "We Got Love" - 8
*4. Russia - Julia Samoylova - "I Won't Break" - 8
6. Moldova - DoReDos - "My Lucky Day" - 7.5
7. Romania - The Humans - "Goodbye" - 6
8. Serbia - Sanja Ilić & Balkanika - "Nova Deca" - 5
9. San Marino - Jessika feat. Jenifer Brening - "Who We Are" - 1

Overall ranking so far (by personal score - ties broken by preference)
1. Israel - Netta - "Toy" - 9.5
2. Estonia - Elina Nechayeva - "La Forza" - 9
3. Belgium - SENNEK - "A Matter of Time" - 9
4. Denmark - Rasmussen - "Higher Ground" - 8.5
5. Bulgaria - EQUINOX - "Bones" - 8
6. Serbia - Sanja Ilić & Balkanika - "Nova Deca" - 8
7. Moldova - DoReDos - "My Lucky Day" - 8
8. Australia - Jessica Mauboy - "We Got Love" - 7.5
9. Azerbaijan - Aisel - "X My Heart" - 7.5
10. Russia - Julia Samoylova - "I Won't Break" - 7.5
11. Albania - Eugent Bushpepa - "Mall" - 7
12. Czech Republic - Mikolas Josef - "Lie To Me" - 7
13. The Netherlands - Waylon - "Outlaw In 'Em" - 6
14. Belarus - Alekseev - "Forever" - 6
15. San Marino - Jessika feat. Jenifer Brening - "Who We Are"
16. Romania - The Humans - "Goodbye" - 4
17. Norway - Alexander Rybak - "That's How You Write A Song" - 3
18. Iceland - Ari Ólafsson - "Our Choice" - 3

Friday, 23 March 2018

Eurovision 2018 song reviews (part 2) - Belgium, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, The Netherlands, Norway, Romania.

As promised, here is part 2 of my Eurovision reviews, which conveniently features some of my favourite AND least favourite entries of the year, so expect gushing and ranting in equal measure...because I have some feelings...

Belgium - SENNEK - "A Matter of Time"
Semi final: 1
My score: 9/10
Chances of qualifying: 8/10
Can it make the top 10? Yes.
Can it win? Yes

One of my most anticipated internally-selected entries; Belgium have yet again delivered pure QUALITY with their entry - a smooth, warm and smokey Bond theme-esque mid-tempo with the visuals to match. To top it all off, Laura Groeseneken is not only an excellent vocalists, but a downright lovely person AND she works for IKEA - legends only.

Belgium really haven't put a foot wrong for me since 2015, where Loic Nottet marked the start of a near-flawless run of top 10 finishes, including a 4th-place finish with the incredible 'City Lights' last year. Can they continue this trend? I hope so, but this is a much riskier entry then what they usually send and success will be highly depend how they stage it...


Bulgaria - EQUINOX - "Bones"
Semi final: 1
My score: 8/10
Chances of qualifying: 7.5/10
Can it make the top 10? Yes, maybe.
Can it win? I really don't think so.

Speaking of countries with a lot of hype surrounding them, we move to Bulgaria, who were #1 in the odds before their song even dropped. Why, you might ask? Well they've finished in the top 5 for the past two consecutive years, including the transcendent BOP that is If Love Was A Crime by Poli Genova. 

Unlike said entry, 'Bones' didn't grab me straight away. At first I was put off by the pretentiousness of the Bulgarian delegation's pretentious-ass promo strategy - everything from the name 'EQUINOX' to their official twitter referring to the act as not a band, but a 'common framework.' BS aside, this song packs quite the punch,  especially in the production department. 

My concern with this entry is that it could quite easily be a total car crash. With 5 vocalists and not a whole lot of actual harmonies, this could really end up falling flat, both vocally and visually. My hope is that they put Zhana Bergendorff and her wonderful voice front and centre, but let's see...


Czech Republic - Mikolas Josef - "Lie To Me"
Semi final: 1
My score: 7/10
Chances of qualifying: 8/10
Can it make the top 10? Yes.
Can it win? I hope not.

One of the fan favourites straight out of the gate, the hype surrounding this track has barely died down since January, which is pretty impressive. What makes it more impressive is that this is an entry from the Czech Republic, who have famously struggled with the televote in the past - and no, I'm still not over them getting zero from the televote back in 2016 with the glorious 'I Stand'.

In all honesty, I think the only reason why this is so popular is the surprise factor of the Czech Republic sending a contemporary pop song sung by a young, charismatic male artist. This is a bit white-boy-trying-to-be-a-Jason-Derulo for my taste but I still bop on occasion...


The Netherlands - Waylon - "Outlaw In 'Em"
Semi final: 2
My score: 6/10
Chances of qualifying: 9/10
Can it make the top 10? Yes.
Can it win? Nah.

Despite finding this incredibly grating on first listen (for several reasons), I've come to appreciate this entry a lot more recently - albeit just for the fact that it contributes to this year's impressive genre diversity. On top of that, this has a great melody and an instantly recognisable hook that will get the public on side.

My issue(s)? Well, aside from the fact that Waylon seems far more interested in plugging his album than the contest itself, I find this ever-so-slightly tacky in its delivery. Of course, I'm not a fan of country music at the best of times so this was never gonna light my fire. There's also something quite...I dunno...'embracing dad' about his whole Nashville cosplay act? Regardless of my opinion, I can see this reaching the left-hand-side of the leaderboard on Saturday night, although I'd rather it didn't...


Norway - Alexander Rybak - "That's How You Write A Song"
Semi final: 2
My score: 3/10
Chances of qualifying: 9/10 :/
Can it make the top 10? Yes. :/
Can it win? Yes, this screams 'accidental winner' :/

Urgh...this. I'm against the idea of former winners returning to the Eurovision in general (unless you're Germany's Lena, that is), but ESPECIALLY when they come back with a turd of a song - like this. Alexander Rybak's 'Fairytale', despite having the largest statistical victory in the history of the contest, is actually a pretty polarising winner. As someone who wasn't too keen on the song to begin with (which won back in 2009 - the first Eurovision I remember watching in full), the fact that he has decided to return leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. 

Embarrassingly simplistic, jarring, cheap, annoying...and almost cynical in how basic and primitive it all is...I have no doubt this will be lapped up by the public. I almost respect how calculated this all is. And before you think the juries can kill this, remember that the sheer power of his name, which is known even by passing Eurovision fans, will guarantee it some jury points too. Depressing, huh? 


Romania - The Humans - "Goodbye"
Semi final: 2
My score: 4/10
Chances of qualifying: 6/10
Can it make the top 10? No.
Can it win? God no.

From one of the few entries this year that I actively dislike to another, we move to Romania's mess of a song. If I had to describe this in a word, it would be FRUMPY - the band is frumpy, 'The Humans' is perhaps the frumpiest band name I've ever seen, the outfit change in the national final performance was frumpy and, yes, the song itself is frumpy. 

To expand my vocabulary ever-so-slightly - this is a dated, tacky, dull mess. It's always a rough time when the 6th best song in the national final (at best) ends up winning, but the fact that it won the televote is even more frustrating. Imagine picking up the phone and voting for a song as useless as this? Cannot relate, as won't millions of viewers during semi final 2 (I hope). Although, since Romania has both a strong diaspora and a 100% qualification record, I'm worried this will sneak through to the final despite being objectively bland.

To end on a positive, she has a lovely voice. So that's something.


Until next week, here's a recap of the numbers so far:

Semi 1 (by chances of qualification)
*1. Czech Republic - Mikolas Josef - "Lie To Me" - 8
*1. Belgium - SENNEK - "A Matter of Time" - 8
3. Bulgaria - EQUINOX - "Bones" - 7.5
4. Azerbaijan - Aisel - "X My Heart" - 6
5. Albania - Eugent Bushpepa - "Mall" - 4.5
6. Belarus - Alekseev - "Forever" - 4.5

Semi 2 (by chances of qualification)
1. Norway - Alexander Rybak - "That's How You Write A Song"
*2. Denmark - Rasmussen - "Higher Ground" - 9
*2. The Netherlands - Waylon - "Outlaw In 'Em" - 9
4. Australia - Jessica Mauboy - "We Got Love" - 8
5. Moldova - DoReDos - "My Lucky Day" - 7.5
6. Romania - The Humans - "Goodbye" - 6

Overall ranking so far (by personal score)

1. Belgium - SENNEK - "A Matter of Time" - 9
2. Denmark - Rasmussen - "Higher Ground" - 8.5
3. Bulgaria - EQUINOX - "Bones" - 8
4. Moldova - DoReDos - "My Lucky Day" - 8
5. Australia - Jessica Mauboy - "We Got Love" - 7.5
6. Azerbaijan - Aisel - "X My Heart" - 7.5
7. Albania - Eugent Bushpepa - "Mall" - 7
8. Czech Republic - Mikolas Josef - "Lie To Me" - 7
9. The Netherlands - Waylon - "Outlaw In 'Em" - 6
10. Belarus - Alekseev - "Forever" - 6
11. Romania - The Humans - "Goodbye" - 4
12. Norway - Alexander Rybak - "That's How You Write A Song" - 3


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Friday, 16 March 2018

Eurovision 2018 song reviews (part 1) - Albania, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Australia, Denmark, Moldova.

Um...hi!

Yes, just when you thought I had finally given up on this blog, the power of Eurovision compelled me to come back. It is no secret that I love Eurovision, so this year I thought I'd try to expand my coverage beyond just a few posts before the final.

What many people don't know is that there's way more to Eurovision than just the big show on a Saturday night in mid-May. Indeed, the Eurovision Song Contest is actually a 5-month affair starting from the first national selection shows for entries in January and concluding with post-final analysis in May. Though many don't tune in until the very end, nerds like me follow the process from start to finish, including streaming various native-language semi finals on Saturday nights...instead of going out and socialising like a regular person.

Anyway, I did all that for the past couple of months so you don't have to, you're welcome! Fast forward to the 12th of March, and we finally have our 43 participating entries - a combination of national final winners and internally-selected artists, culminating in one of the most linguistically and stylistically diverse contests we've seen in recent years, with 14 non-English languages being represented and genres ranging from metal, opera and ethno-folk to your typical Eurovision power ballads and eurobangers. There is truly something for everyone.

Inspired by one of my favourite Eurovision content providers, ESCInsight, I have decided to adopt a similar format to their excellent 'Jukebox Jury' podcast series, in which a panel come together to discuss 6-7 entries per week in the run-up to the contest, and judge them by an arbitrary 'Hit', 'Miss' or 'Maybe' scale. So with eight weeks to go, I will be reviewing 3 songs from each semi final every Friday (hopefully), before writing up some predictions for the semi and grand final shows during Eurovision week. It's a daunting task but I love talking about Eurovision, so I'm determined to see this through.

So without further ado...

Albania - Eugent Bushpepa - "Mall"

Semi final: 1
My score: 7/10
Chances of qualifying: 4.5/10
Can it make the top 10? No.
Can it win? No.

As the first song selected for this year's contest, I've had plenty of time for Albania's entry to gradually grow on me. Unfortunately for Eugent, you only have one shot to impress voters across Europe, and I fear that this isn't instant enough to compel people vote this into the final. Albania's Festivali i Këngës was one of the few national selections that I didn't follow at all, so I cannot say that there were any more competitive alternatives, especially considering Albania's past entries (no shade, I like a lot of them).

As for positives, I love that Albania is finally sending a song in Albanian, instead of selecting great native language song and butchering it by translating it into English...badly. Unfortunately for them, a lot of other countries got the same memo and this year now has one of the most diverse set of songs we've had in ages, with double the number of native language entries than we had last year.

In summary, this is a good song by a great vocalist, but unfortunately, Armenia are in the same semi final with a better draw, a better song and a better singer. Semi final 1 is a bloodbath of a semi final, so I don't see this making the final, which is a shame.


Azerbaijan - Aisel - "X My Heart"

Semi final: 1
My score: 7.5/10
Chances of qualifying: 6/10
Can it make the top 10? Highly doubt it.
Can it win? No.

This is a difficult one. Azerbaijan is one of the strongest and most consistent participating Eurovision countries, having never failed to qualify in its 10-year history at the contest. However, this song is uncharacteristically weak by Azeri standards - it's generic, it's a bit basic and it's a waste of an excellent and talented artist, who could've brought something really spectacular to the contest if she stuck to her usual style of ethno-jazz. Oh, and the lyrics are AWFUL...

All that being said, this is a bop. The chorus is one of the most instant out of all the 43 songs and I have no doubt that Aisel's fantastic vocals will elevate this when it gets to Lisbon. As I said earlier, semi 1 is a bloodbath and there are no guarantees, so Azerbaijan need to pull their finger out, or else this could easily not qualify in such a strong selection of entries. The fact that they revamped the production merely days after its first release tells me that the delegation itself is as worried as I am. Will this be Azerbaijan's first ever non-qualifier? It will depend on the staging...


Belarus - Alekseev - "Forever"

Semi final: 1
My score: 6/10
Chances of qualifying: 4/10
Can it make the top 10? No.
Can it win? No.

From an excellent vocalist to...Belarus' Alekseev. The instrumental for this song is actually kinda great - very Eastern, very well-produced...it's just a shame that he cannot seem to be able to sing a single note in-tune live. I'm not a fan of his vocals even when he's autotuned to shit in the studio cut, so maybe his voice just isn't for me...?

With better male singers in this semi and a lack of potential for Eastern Bloc voting...I really don't see this qualifying, despite this being bizarrely popular with fans. His staging in the national selection was the only thing I liked about this, so maybe that could carry him through? But I sincerely hope it doesn't, because the man cannot fucking sing.


Australia - Jessica Mauboy - "We Got Love"

Semi final: 2
My score: 7.5/10
Chances of qualifying: 8/10
Can it make the top 10? Yes.
Can it win? It's a long shot, but I'm not gonna rule it out completely.

Before I talk about the song, lemme just get some ground rules out of the way - no one is allowed to ask 'wait, what is Australia doing at the Eurovision??!' anymore. It has been four years, it's beyond tired at this point. Quite frankly, I don't care what new country participates, as long as they bring quality entries (which Australia do - mostly) and they're members of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) (which Australia are), I have no complaints.

Last year, their entry was terrible, got a measly 2 points from the televote and yet got dragged all the way to the top 10 by the damn juries. This year, I sincerely hope that they can get the backing of the televote like they did back in 2016. Since Jessica is a seasoned and charismatic performer with an anthemic slice of empowerment pop, I think they might just do that. I wouldn't be surprised if this ended up being Australia's 4th top 10 entry in a row. I didn't even particularly care for this when I first heard it, but now it has become stuck in my head and I cannot seem to get it out - which for a Eurovision song is almost always a good sign...


Denmark - Rasmussen - "Higher Ground"

Semi final: 2
My score: 8.5/10
Chances of qualifying: 9/10
Can it make the top 10? Yes.
Can it win? Yes, I think this is a dark horse.

If you were wondering what Tormund Giantsbane was doing to pass the time now that Game of Thrones is on a two-year break, you now have your answer. In one of the rare moments where my pick to win actually won, I was delighted to see this viking bop triumph in Dansk Melodi Grand Prix back in February. I heard the studio cut in the run up to the selection and I was instantly hooked by its polished production and sweeping chorus. 

This is anthemic, epic, fresh and has a broad, universal appeal that I believe will see it sail (ha) straight into the final and quite possibly into the top 10 on Saturday night. They haven't nailed the staging quite yet, but with the stage in Lisbon literally being in the shape of a boat, I have faith that the staging will be as epic as this song deserves.


Moldova - DoReDos - "My Lucky Day"

Semi final: 2
My score: 8/10
Chances of qualifying: 7.5/10
Can it make the top 10? Yes, whether you want it to or not.
Can it win? No.

Okay, unpopular opinion but I bloody love this. Frequently found at the bottom of most fans' rankings this year, I place this ditty in my top 20. Sure, this may not be particularly fresh or current, and yes, it's incredibly cheesy...but a bop is a bop. I would even go as far as to say that the chorus is one of the best in the competition this year - it's huge and insanely catchy.

This is a lot of fun and the staging concept will for sure help this to stand out. Nobody expected Moldova's entry last year (the banger that is 'Hey Mamma') to do particularly well, and yet it finished in the top 3. In a semi final full of lacklustre songs and ballads, I can see this standing out from the pack and booking Moldova yet another spot in the final.


So there you have it! 6 down, 37 to go...next week I will be reviewing 6 more entries and rating their chances in the contest. And because I love making lists, here's a bunch of 'em:

Semi 1 (by chances of qualification)
1. Azerbaijan - Aisel - "X My Heart" - 6
2. Albania - Eugent Bushpepa - "Mall" - 4.5
3. Belarus - Alekseev - "Forever" - 4.5

Semi 2 (by chances of qualification)
1. Denmark - Rasmussen - "Higher Ground" - 9
2. Australia - Jessica Mauboy - "We Got Love" - 8
3. Moldova - DoReDos - "My Lucky Day" - 7.5

Overall ranking so far (by personal score)
1. Denmark - Rasmussen - "Higher Ground" - 8.5
2. Moldova - DoReDos - "My Lucky Day" - 8
3. Australia - Jessica Mauboy - "We Got Love" - 7.5
4. Azerbaijan - Aisel - "X My Heart" - 7.5
5. Albania - Eugent Bushpepa - "Mall" - 7
6. Belarus - Alekseev - "Forever" - 6

Tuesday, 26 December 2017

My top 50 albums of 2017

It's been quite the year, hasn't it? I'm sure my lack of posts will tell you that this has been an extremely busy year for me. I've still managed to find the time to write for my student newspaper, including reviews for Kelela's Take Me Apart and Tegan and Sara's The Con X Covers album.

I often hear people complain about political music and argue that music and politics should be kept separate. Quite frankly, that is an opinion for the privileged and for the weak. Art is and has always been a reflection of the world around us and when the world is in turmoil, music should reflect that. But, you know, feel free to listen to 'relatable' multimillionaire Ed Sheeran sing about necking ciders on a park bench with his mates and sharing strawberry laces with his crush or whatever the fuck people enjoy listening to, I guess. 

At a time where the mere existence of women, queer people and people of colour (especially those with intersectional oppressions) has been politicised, seeing artists who identify with those labels coming out fighting and showing excellence has been a joy to see. 

Honourable Mentions 
Girl Ray - Earl Grey
Everything Everything - A Fever Dream
Emily Haines - Choir Of The Mind
Grizzly Bear - Painted Ruin
Anna of the North - Lovers
Torres - Three Futures
Shugo Takumara - TOSS
Alex Lahey - I Love You Like A Brother
Katie Von Schleicher - Shitty Hits

50. Nadine Shah - Holiday Destination 
49. Tei Shi - Crawl Space 
48. Julien Baker - Turn Out The Lights
47. Phoebe Bridgers - Stranger In The Alps
46. Molly Burch - Please Be Mine
45. Wolf Alice - Visions of a Life
44. Loyle Carner - Yesterday's Gone
43. Briana Marela - Call It Love
42. Rose Elinor Dougall - Stellular
41. Ibeyi - Ashes

40. EMA - Exile In The Outer Ring
39. Vagabon - Infinite Worlds 
38. Austra - Future Politics
37. HAIM - Something To Tell You 
36. Fleet Foxes - Crack-Up
35. George Maple - Lover
34. Tyler The Creator - Flower Boy 
33. Susanne Sundfør - Music For People In Trouble
32. Carmen Villain - Infinite Avenue
31. King Krule - The Ooz

30. Arca - Arca
29. Alvvays - Antisocialites
28. Laura Marling - Semper Femina
27. Kedr Livanskiy - Ariadna
26. SZA - CTRL
25. Tegan and Sara - The Con X Covers
24. Charli XCX - Number 1 Angel
23. Kendrick Lamar - DAMN.
22. Chelsea Wolfe - Hiss Spun
21. Hundred Waters - Communicating

20. Aldous Harding - Party
19. The xx - I See You
18. London Grammar - The Truth Is A Beautiful Thing
17. Jane Weaver - Modern Kosmology
16. Zola Jesus - Okovi
15. Lydia Ainsworth - Darling of the Afterglow
14. Waxahatchee - Out In The Storm 
13. Japanese Breakfast - Soft Sounds From Another Planet 
12. Julie Byrne - Not Even Happiness
11. Perfume Genius - No Shape 

10. Fever Ray - Plunge

Fever Ray's self-titled debut is one of my favourite albums of all time and this somehow met the impossibly high expectations I set for its follow-up. From the brash aggressiveness of 'Wanna Sip', to the twinkling sapphic synths of 'To The Moon And Make' and the Baltic, cinematic curveball of 'Red Trails'; Karin gave me everything I wanted.

Highlights: Wanna Sip, To The Moon And Back, Red Trails

9. Tove Lo - Blue Lips

I was seriously debating whether I should be putting such a recent album this high in my but I came to the conclusion that I would still adore this if it came out months before. I've been following Tove for years now (she has also been following me for years now...on Twitter, that is), but Lady Wood (her last album) nearly turned me off her entirely. Thankfully 'Disco Tits' came along and now I'm full back on board. To my surprise and delight, she came through with an album full of tracks of the same quality. 

Highlights: Disco Tits, Bitches, Hey You Got Drugs?

8. MUNA - About U

At a time where synthpop is often looked down upon and deemed 'generic', 'hollow' and 'meaningless', LA rising stars MUNA come along with one of the most polished and consistent debuts of the year. Packed full of huge choruses, shimmering melodies and powerful lyrics, About U carries a punch. Aside from 'After' being bland and unnecessary, this album is perfect. 

Highlights: So Special, Around U, Everything 

7. Valerie June - The Order Of Time

I have been waiting for the follow-up to Valerie's Pushin' Against a Stone for years and she finally came through with exactly what I wanted - a more polished and evolved version of her already pretty-darn-great sound. I had the pleasure of seeing Miss Valerie perform this live back in the summer and it was honestly one of my favourite gigs I've ever been too.

Highlights: Shakedown, Astral Plane, Got Soul 

6. Lana Del Rey - Lust For Life 

I love everything this women does (literally, everything) but this might just be the best body of work she has put out so far. Lust For Life is one long-ass album and yet it doesn't drag to me. There is structure and there is purpose to the sequencing and every song has its place - from the trap-infused first half to the acoustica reflective 60s sheen of the second half; this is the first time Lana seemingly knows what she's doing and executes that fully. Gone is the girl singing about 'daddies' in a 'red dress under the pale moonlight' and here is a woman taking on the fucked up world we inhabit. I'm so proud to see it. 

Highlights: Love, Cherry, Get Free

5. Kelly Lee Owens - Kelly Lee Owens

A bit of techno, anyone? I think it's high time that someone the genre fused techno with a pop sensibility and Kelly has done just that. 'Techno has no vocals!' Kelly sings all over this mf thing. 'Techno is boring!' Listen to Lucid. 'Techno has no hooks!' Listen to Throwing Lines. This is the best electronic album of the year, hands down. 

Highlights: Lucid, C.B.M, Throwing Lines

4. Sampha - Process

I actually forgot this came out this year until someone on campus started playing '(No One Knows Me) Like My Piano' on a public piano and I was suddenly transported back to February. My taste in music can be deemed misandrist (clock there being like...7 men in my entire top 50), but I adore everything about this album. The production is gorgeous, this voice is incredible and the songwriting is second-to-none. 

Highlights: Blood On Me, Kora Sings, (No One Knows Me) Like The Piano

3. Lorde - Melodrama

After a rocky-ass roll out, I'm still astounded at how good this record ended up being. I wasn't too sure about any of the singles at first and yet somehow they all suddenly became incredible the moment I pressed play on the album? It manages to be relatable to me in this exact point in my life without being try hard. The lyrics are bold. The production is ambitious. The song structures are challenging. The sequencing is impeccable. This record is everything. 

Highlights: The Louvre, Liability Perfect Places

2. Kelela - Take Me Apart

Considering that I can only fully enjoy this record at night time, I don't even know if I would love it as much if it came out in the summer. But it didn't - it came out in perfect time for me to stay in most nights and blast it from front to back with a cup of peppermint tea and a scented candle burning. Again, I've already discussed why I adore this ad nauseam in my review for my student newspaper, so read that instead.

Highlights: LMK, Truth Or Dare, Blue Light

1. St. Vincent - Masseduction

No surprises, I can comfortably call Annie my favourite artist at this point and so 40 minutes of her breathing into a mic would've still placed on this list. It helps that Masseduction is a genuine artistic achievement and marks her most polished body of work today. Rather sound like a broken record (much like my vinyl copy of this because the packaging is fucking garbage, cheers Annie), just listen to the album for yourself. 

Highlights: Los Ageless, New York, Young Lover









Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Best of October

Hiya!

Apologies for the lateness, I currently have deadlines coming out of my ears (is that even a phrase? hmm) but I've found some time to do a quick update.

Q4 has continued to deliver top-notch releases, with Kelela and St. Vincent releasing two of the best albums of the year so far. On that note, I recently wrote a (gleaming) review of Take Me Apart for my university's newspaper, which you should absolutely check out.

Songs
St. Vincent - Pills
Kelela - Blue Light
Fever Ray - To The Moon And Back
Loreen - '71 Charger
BANKS - Underdog
MUNA - Relief Next To Me
Tei Shi - Say You Do

Albums
St. Vincent - Masseduction
Kelela - Take Me Apart
Fever Ray - Plunge
George Maple - Lover
Tegan and Sara - The Con X Covers
King Krule - The Ooz
Julien Baker Turn Out The Lights
Alex Lahey - I Love You Like A Brother
Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith - The Kid
Lawrence Rothman - The Book Of Law