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Douze Points: The NZ Jury Favourites From the 2019 Grand Final

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Do we owe you a Congratulations or a ‘maybe next time’?

Our unofficial New Zealand jury of superfans with questionable musical expertise have deliberated and debated over our collective top ten favourites from the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2019.

We’ve made our choice, our opinions are on the line, and here they are. Tell us what you think on Twitter, @eurovisionNZ.

Use the navigation buttons above to scroll thru our picks.

1 Point: San Marino

San Marino – Serhat with ‘Say Na Na Na’

Serhat has become something of a Eurovision legend. Failing to reach the Grand Final in 2016 with ‘I Didn’t Know’, Serhat captured hearts all the same. He pulled thru and did it this year, and just makes it into our Top 10. Serhat blends his sultry tones with classic disco and just the right amount of kitsch, without ever teetering into the territory of cheesy. His presence in the grand final will bring a rare explosion of joy for joy’s sake, and the performance is quintessentially Eurovision: how it works at all is a total mystery but you know, deep down, it absolutely does.

2 Points: Norway

Norway – KEiiNO with ‘Spirit in the Sky’

We have to admit: this was nowhere near the top of our list before they ended up commanding the stage at their semi-final this week. The trio was never meant to go together: you had two of three getting into the weeds of their electronic pop heartland, while some other dude was going hard into the Nordic folk somewhere off on the edges. It all just sounded so disconnected. And yet, they take their positions across the expanse of the Eurovision stage and they take control. Fred Buljo‘s joik solos flow thru the pop vocals of Alexandra Rotan and Tom Hugo effortlessly, like they were always meant to be together and shame on us for thinking otherwise. Fog sweeps across the stage while the backdrop zooms you across mountainous landscapes before launching you into space to zoom around there too. It’s a completely captivating performance that energises the crowd in the venue and the viewer at home. To the converted, as we are, we’ve finally seen the light.

3 Points: The Netherlands

The Netherlands – Duncan Laurence with ‘Arcade’

It’s Eurovision mastery when a performer’s vocals are intimately matched to their stage performance, and The Netherlands are true masters. As a total package, Duncan Laurence takes you thru an ethereal journey across emotion, fragility and vulnerability. Everything is considered. A bigger piano would’ve felt too dominating; at odds with the pervasive smallness that Duncan sings about. The lighting is subtle and focused, coming to a sun-like peak near the end of the song. It feels just moments away from exploding, and yet just as in the song, it whips away and ends leaving you to recover wondering ‘what just happened?’. The song was a slow-burn for us, though, and still we have yet to see what so many other fans are seeing in the song. It’s a wonderful song coupled with an impressive performance, but we’re have yet to find the winning vibes in ‘Arcade’. If it truly is a slow burn as we suggest, this may put Duncan’s ultimate success at risk. And if we’re wrong, we’ll still be happy.

4 Points: Switzerland

Switzerland – Luca Hänni with ‘She Got Me’

Some think Eurovision is an exercise in formula: attractive (male) star performer, tight choreography and electronic drops will probably do you pretty well. We couldn’t ignore the entry that does this the best this year. Luca Hänni pulls together an infectious performance with an irresistible hook that will stay in the voters mind for the many hours of the grand final show, no question. His performance has improved from rehearsal to rehearsal to semi-final to rehearsal. It was exactly the right move for Switzerland, ending the qualification drought and getting Europe up to dance while doing it. This is one of maybe two (three?) songs from this year’s line-up that would not be out of place on Top 40 radio. Some people take issue with songs that sound popular, like this one does, and we’re not sure why. This is formulaic, we’ve heard it before, and it appeals to everyone – including us.

5 Points: France

France – Bilal Hassani with ‘Roi (King)’

We were less than convinced when we reviewed Bilal Hassani and ‘Roi’ after Destination Eurovision. It sounded like an homage to something great, rather than itself being great. Bilal’s vocal performance also left us wanting and we were generally left feeling underwhelmed by the French choice. However, since then, they have made the best of a ‘just good’ song and created an incredible strong performance that features a captivating story. Opening with a digital skin over Bilal’s profile (in the style of Lady Gaga at the 2016 GRAMMY® Awards), those familiar with the Destination Eurovision version of ‘Roi’ will immediately hear that Bilal is now singing in a slightly lower register. This is to his advantage as he clearly struggled with the higher notes at Destination Eurovision. In another contrast to the original, less of a focus is placed on Bilal’s personal journey in favour of two dancers who progressively join him on-stage. The helps us to find ourselves a bit more in the lyrics of ‘Roi’ that flow seamlessly between French and English. In all, France puts on a inspired show that draws us in and weaves legitimate threads of an intricate story. Where the song falls short of being a true power anthem, Bilal’s performance, excellent staging (that puts to use the mechanical elements of the stage better than most) and tweaked-for-the-better vocals shoots the French entry into our top 10.

6 Points: Iceland

Iceland – Hatari with ‘Hatrið mun sigra’

There is so much to say about Iceland’s anti-capitalist, techno-dystopian, BDSM performance group, Hatari. It’s hard to divest Hatari from the political platform upon which their very existence is based, but for the purposes of Eurovision evaluation, we’ve tried our best. And, we love what we hear. At its heart, we find very, very, very good music. It’s rough, it’s wrenching and it’s confronting. The singing is harsh (and, yes, it is singing) over a thumping pop-rock melody, yet we are treated to moments of something sparkly and twinkle-like. Sadomasochism is Hatari’s vehicle for its message. What is that message? The beauty of ‘Hatrið mun sigra’ – as we read it – is that it stands in for whatever unrelenting struggle you most identify with. What you really want to say to your boss? It’s that. The horrid day-in day-out of your routine existence? It’s that. With this interpretation, we become Hatari. And why wouldn’t we back ourselves for once? Top 5.

7 Points: Czech Republic

Czech Republic – Lake Malawi with ‘Friend of a Friend’

Oh, we would be lying through our teeth if we said we didn’t love our boys from Czechia. We loved the studio version from the first listen, and then even more every listen after. But, bands at Eurovision have a … tricky relationship and we were a little bit worried for their chances on-stage. We shouldn’t have been, because our boys from Czechia put on a live show that’s just as delightful as their song. It’s delightfully peppy, bright and full of energy. The band members zip and zap around the stage, while clever visual effects take them up and down too. The song’s chorus is a real earworm which is bound to serve them well thru a crowded field of largely same-same. We just wish we were there to party with them!

8 Points: Italy

Italy – Mahmood with ‘Soldi’

Would we be wrong to suggest that, for reasons beyond us, Italy has so-far failed to capture the hearts of Eurovision fans? This is one of our absolute standouts. The song expertly mix and mashes style of hip hop, pop and R&B with masterstrokes of songwriting foreground at just right the time throughout, from the delicious hooks to the compelling percussive claps. In fact, there’s nothing else like it at Eurovision. We’re taken on a journey that’s clearly intimate, clearly personal, often dark, and yet, it’s almost impossible to resist belting out the lyrics with Mahmood. If Italy can capture enough hearts, this could do even better than we all might be expecting. We’d do well to keep an eye on this one.

10 Points: Sweden

Sweden – John Lundvik with ‘Too Late For Love’

We probably writhed our hands over this one and its placing more than most. One on hand, it’s nothing particularly special from Sweden. Much to the chagrin of many a Eurofan, they consistently send performers of an extremely high-calibre and John Lundvik is the latest iteration of that pattern, so there’s little new here. However, our job is not to compare Sweden to Sweden but Sweden to the rest of Europe and, on that measure, they undoubtedly stand out as leagues ahead again. John sounds better live than the studio track and his captivating stage presence is undeniable. There was a moment during the second semi-final where one of the hosts kind of awkwardly questioned/stated that John took the better of the two songs he wrote for this year’s show (the other is the United Kingdom’s entry, ‘Bigger Than Us’). It was an awkward moment butttttttt how awkward can awkward be when it’s the truth? The meshing of soul and gospel pop is first class and comes it at the right time: to a dramatic crescendo towards the end of the song. It convinces you at the end that, yes, this is Sweden doing Sweden again, with maybe a slight detour. It’s great, it’s quintessential. It’s not too late, John. We love you!

12 Points: Australia

Australia – Kate Miller-Heidke with ‘Zero Gravity’

Accuse us of some Trans-Tasman bias. Do it, we don’t care because I can’t let you keep me down anymore.

This is it. This pure Eurovision perfection. It’s musically experimental, it’s a vocal powerhouse, it’s staging mastercraft and it’s utterly captivating. It is performance art in its purest sense and it should be richly rewarded for it. Kate Miller-Heidke has the voice of angels and yet she says loudly and clearly that’s she’s far, far more than that. By plain virtue of her ability to ascend a giant pole, fly thru the air atop said pole and belt out notes that some of her fellow performers could only dream of, she shows us that she is a performer – an artist.

‘Zero Gravity’ is a visual experience without an equal for the TV viewer, and it’s clear that Australia have become the venerable expert at designing performances made for television. For the first-time viewer, it’s almost as if you’re not watching a live broadcast anymore. What you’re seeing is so absurd – so literally out of this world – that belief suspends itself, all the while asking “how is this happening?”. And then, in an instant, the song answers that very question with a dramatic reveal of how this is happening and that, yes, you are still watching a live performance. That’s not something you’re bound to forget easily.

Out of the options, ‘Zero Gravity’ is the song that this decade of Eurovision deserves to be closed out with. It has already earned its place in Eurovision lore; it just remains to be seen whether it will be remembered as a Grand Prix champion, too.

The Grand Final of the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest takes place Sunday 19 May at 7:00 AM in Tel Aviv, Israel.

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