24 November 2018
From Shine Bright in Tbilisi last year, to Light Up in Minsk for 2018, the Junior Eurovision Song Contest isn’t trying to fool anyone with its intentions. A select crop of precocious kids trying to burn holes in the hearts of Europe or, at least, Eastern Europe. Eastern Europe dominates the list of entries yet again as the contest struggles to maintain a consistent stream of entries from Western countries. Even the Balkan countries have mostly lost interest.
In order to prop up the entries to a “record 20”, another two non-member countries in Kazakhstan and Wales were invited to join Australia, while Israel was a late entry to help it promote next year’s senior event in Tel Aviv. Azerbaijan and France returned after a break so long that I don’t even recall them being in it before. Also of note is English seems to be encroaching more and more into the songs for non-English speaking countries and it won’t be long before it’s 100%. Although, with the likes of Poland and Russia at 50% or more, it’s only a matter of time before we’ll never hear the likes of Dutch and Armenian at JESC ever again. Damn!
Entries this year are a decent bunch, with a bit more uptempo stuff and less of the whiny ballads. With the eternal JESC problem of many voices not yet developed, girls, especially, can sound so piercing to ears. Georgia’s winner of 2016, Mariam Mamadashvili with Mzeo, is the classic example, and would even test the combination of earplugs, earmuffs and the cone of silence from Get Smart to dampen all the noise. There’s a boy or two extra this year among all the girls, as well as Taylor from Ireland. Overall it promises to be a nice, interesting show. It’s a shame we in Australia won’t be afforded a live 2am broadcast by the host ABC Me. An absolute disgrace. A replay will be shown at 6pm Monday night. So much for swamping the live online voting to vote for our home country. Not that I would.
While I endorse the idea of more kids’ themed songs in Junior Eurovision, Albania‘s is a nice beat and not much else. Trying too hard to be a kid’s song doesn’t work. It must come naturally. The home country Belarus features a pretty boy and a rap/hip-hop kind of thing, which probably explains why I don’t like it much. No doubt it will do well. Wales is a snooze-fest while Azerbaijan, the voice is too whiny otherwise the song is ok. Malta, ordinarily bringing great stuff, is a warbling mess this year, while it’s a standard ballad from Serbia.
Credit to LEVON from Armenia for spelling his name correctly in the song. It was one of the first entries out and therefore one of the last I saw because I checked them initially in reverse sequence. I appreciated we got another fun song because most of the rest were slow and dull to that point. Australia brings a cliche and formulaic song that is saved by the most mature voice in the competition in Jael Wena. Georgia is well produced with an infectious chorus. I really warmed to Israel on first listen with its pleasant ethnic ballad feel, before others surpassed it.
Say Love to Ukraine because it’s one of the more interesting songs this year, and has really grown on me. Plenty of energy, lots of fun, and a megaphone. Netherlands are a duet performing an epic power ballad called “Samen” (much to my spellchecker’s persistent and dirty minded chagrin). It translates to “together”, so perhaps the spellchecker is not far wrong anyway? Italy is another duet, and with an ultra cute couple. It has that typical dramatic Italian feel and has a glorious grand finale. Stupendo! Oh, I love Portugal so much, especially the energetic vibe of the song and Rita is so cute. It probably just doesn’t do enough to justify a top 5 spot.
Then there’s Kazakhstan. Clearly they are trying really hard with a big song and a superb talent in Daneliya Tuleshova. Even though it’s often been stuck in my head, personally they are trying too hard, as Ozine Sen (Seize The Day) is a bit all over the place. It lacks continuity and is trying to do too much. I expect they will do well and gain plenty of novelty votes for being a debut and curious country. Kazakhstan have been eager for entry into senior Eurovision itself so no doubt this appearance in Minsk is being treated as a major audition opportunity. In all fairness, they should be invited to Eurovision. In 2019 too! The constant favouritism to Australia is beyond absurd now.
The Fab Five
5) Ireland – Taylor Hynes – IOU
The irony that non-English countries are moving to more and more English whereas countries like Ireland and Wales with predominantly English speakers and English speaking revert to their Gaelic and Welsh. That’s ok, because it’s hard to understand Irish people at the best of times so now there’s an excuse! This is such a fun, retro and catchy song, and Taylor has a male-sounding voice, which probably shouldn’t be a surprise, as everyone dressed like that in the 70s. Seriously! Nice bonus of cameos by Ireland’s 2018 entrant Ryan O’Shaughnessy and previous winner and multiple entrant, Niamh Kavanagh.
4) Poland – Roksana Wegiel – Anyone I Want To Be
So much English in this song, and it switches around quite often, making it less noticeable. In fact, the first few listens I thought the first half was all English. Roksana (or Roxie to her friends, family and ultra cool Eurovision bloggers) is like the Polish Avril Lavigne with that angry, energetic rock vibe going, and long, swishy hair – and hopefully without the temper tantrums that saw Avril sit bored and disconnected in a TV interview until a live koala was brought out (true story!). Roxie won The Voice Kids Poland, impressively too, so is well rehearsed on stage and can produce live. If Roxie can be anyone she wants to be, she should just be herself, because she’s good enough.
3) France – Angelina – Jamais Sans Toi
This is the real Junior Eurovision. Such a fun, boppy song, and I love the way it builds during the verses and then into the energetic chorus . It translates to “never without you” and is about best friends meeting again so it’s such an appropriate message kids would feel too.
2) Russia – Anna Filipchuk – Unbreakable
As I was initially viewing the songs in most recent sequence on youtube, there was such a clear dearth of fun songs that, as Russia approached, I was thinking “save us Russia”. That they did, as did a few songs after them and released later. Unbreakable is such a similar song to Poland in music and feel, and even in language breakdown. The main difference is Russia splits it 50/50 with Russian and English, whereas Poland is mostly English in the first half before reverting to Polish. Regardless, Unbreakable is a great modern song with a powerful feel, and that swarm effect of kids’s voices as backing vocals always sounds good. Anna looks so cool too, and you can never go wrong with a panda in your video. Unfortunately the abrupt and total switch to English hurts it enough to prevent Russia being my #1 for the third straight year. The problem is that without understanding the lyrics, you listen to music on a different plane – simply the sound, music and vibe of the song. Suddenly hearing English causes you to break out of that, often never to be rescued. So perhaps a few lines of English is enough before switching back. Anna Filipchuk says she’s been singing since she was a kid. They grow up so fast these days.
1) FYRM Macedonia – Marija Spasovska – Doma
A haunting ballad and such a beautiful, mature voice, this is one I can listen to over and over and over again, and could easily grace the senior Eurovision stage. The beauty of this song is Marija simply sings the song. There’s no high-pitched bawling, and certainly no screeching. Marija even has “molitva” in the lyrics. Star!
Ignoring the foibles of the live online voting system to be “used” again (I couldn’t access it last year like millions others), Russia seems to always do well, and there’s no reason that won’t be the case this year. Italy will stand out and likely appeal further to the jury because of the interracial message it sends. Unfortunately I don’t see FYR Macedonia do well as winners need big moments or something really unique to gain attention. FYR Macedonia is simply your classic, nicely sung beautiful song, and these often get ignored. I sense it will Kazakhstan. Ignoring the small issues I have with it, they will likely be all ignored as Daneliya will Light Up the stage with her big, well produced song and vocals. Secretly, I hope Kazakhstan wins too, to justify an immediate invitation to Tel Aviv 2019.