Weaver's Week 2021-12-19

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This column was published on Wednesday 22 December.

"I've been dreaming about this for seven years," said Maléna. Just to appear on stage is a massive achievement. Salut!

Junior Eurovision Song Contest


Junior Eurovision Song Contest

France Télévisions for EBU, 19 December

Back when Raven was a going concern, we figured that many of the young warriors had literally grown up with the show. For as long as they can remember, children have watched their peers work with James Mackenzie, do battle with the hooded demons, fight for what's right against the forces of darkness.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Maléna: fulfilling a dream just to be here.

Fast forward to this year. Junior Eurovision is in its 19th running. None of the contestants have yet celebrated their 15th birthday; the contest is older than they are. And many of the singers have grown up watching Junior Eurovision, they were wowed by Destiny, wanted to be in Roxy's gang, and bopped along to "J'imagine". And they did what they had to do to get accepted by their national broadcaster.

Winner: "Qami qami"

Junior Eurovision Song Contest To arms, young warrior!

"Qami qami", performed by Maléna, representing AMPTV (shown on screen as Armenia). Maléna was to have joined the contest last year, but the security situation at home was icky and she couldn't travel. A year later, we're graced with a very different song. From the first note, "Qami qami" stands out as something unusual, one to sit up and listen.

Even after three or four listens, we haven't quite put our finger on what "Qami qami" does right. But, by jings!, the song does something very right. It's space pop, a less outré version of the hyperpop we discussed at Senior Eurovision last May. It's an unusual beat, something pulsing that isn't quite normal: not in a threatening way, just in a different way.

The song is pitched lower than any of the others, it's a deeper voice from the pit of the chest. To tread that fine line, to be different and not threatening, that's a massive songwriting success.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Always pushing forwards.†

The lyric talks about how Maléna needs to go to faraway places, find out who she really is. How she'll be like the wind, going everywhere. It's a song about discovering yourself, of pushing your boundaries, like almost every other song at Junior Eurovision. And it's a song about what we've all been through in the past couple of years, the enforced isolation, the sacrifices all useful members of society have made.

None of this would mean a thing if the staging misfired. The staging didn't misfire. It's a pink-and-purple stage, with Maléna and her backing dancers in silver outfits. Something to watch, something to hear. This column feared that it would be a three-listen song, that the voting millions would only appreciate its brilliance after the contest. We're pleased this didn't happen: third with the juries, top of the televote, and a comfortable winner.

Second and third: the recent hosts

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Sara James and her dancing trees.†

"Somebody" came second, performed by Sara James representing TVP (Poland). Winners in 2018 with the infernally catchy "Anyone I want to be", TVP retained the title in 2019 with the suspiciously similar "Superhero". They broke away from the winning formula last year, sending a soft love song. It's back to the steely edge this year, similar to their winners but different enough to feel like progress.

"Somebody" has a meaning, it's brilliantly sung, and conveys its message clearly. On a night of remarkable staging, this song had it all: fluffy pink dawn dresses, dancers in bodysuits, tree branches, CGI doves and flowers. Would it have been a worthy winner? Very much so: second with the juries, second with the televoters, but "Qami qami" had more of a lead in the televote.

And we have to note: TVP are storing up some familiar and awesome stars. Roxy Weigel, Viki Gabor, now Sara James. Ten years' time, which of these supertalents will bring the senior show to Warsaw?

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Enzo and a cast of thousands.

"Tic tac" took bronze position, Enzo represented the hosts France Télévisions. The staging here was all New Year's Eve, Enzo and his flapper friends perform a Charlston-inspired number from inside a clock. They're dressed up to the nines, in bow ties and ultra-smart outfits, and the dominant colour is gold for the winner. With CGI friends on the background, they get round the rule about six people on stage. Favourite with the jury, but a very distant fourth in the televote pack.

We were eager to see how France Télévisions made a Eurovision contest. We've long been impressed with the day-to-day shot direction of almost every show. Even simple shows like Des Chiffres et des Lettres are visually stunning, in a way they've never yet managed in Leeds. Live action events are given a sense of occasion: the tennis at Roland Garros is enhanced by all the awesome cutaways and establishing shots.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Just one of a million sumptuous shots.

France Télévisions didn't let us down. From the opening sequence - soft Christmassy lights filmed around Paris, this was going to be a warm and welcoming show. Celebrities walked through a door - they started with last year's champion Valentina, ended with everyone's favourite uncle Olivier Minne. Every shot, every moment looked a million dollars. It's a sumptuous spectacle, with fine attention to detail.

How much attention to detail? The hosts' cue cards were in portrait form, to show the Eiffel Tower-inspired logo at full height.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Elodie Freyre, Olivier Minne, Carla were the show's hosts.

Eastern promise

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Niko in living colour.

Former USSR republics filled places four to eight. "Let's count the smiles" finished fourth, Niko Kajaia for GPB (Georgia). It's polished and pleasant and upbeat, but this column didn't find it memorable at all.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Sona dressed for the occasion.

"One of those days" came fifth for Sona Azizova, representing Íctimai (Azerbaijan). It had the impossible task of following the home favourite, and was a massive change - where Enzo had been fast and frantic, Sona brought us a heartfelt love song, performed with grace and poise and tremendous vocal power. We found ourselves humming along by the second chorus, proving that it's an instant earworm. But the televote proved elusive, and the song fell away.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Olena sings into the wind.†

"Vazhil" came sixth, Olena Usenko for UA:PBC (Ukraine). An intense, moody, brooding song. Like all of the songs, the presentation had a jaw-dropping moment - in this case, the bit where the catwalk turns to a lava pit and Olena walks along the golden path like it's the Surely Impossible Way of the Warrior.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Tanya floats above her backing dancers.

Another astounding presentation for "Mon ami", Tanya Mezhentseva representing RTR/C1R (Russia). She starts the performance cycling on static bikes with a bunch of friends, then hops off as they meet others on the way. And then she goes off and jumps on a circus hoop, literally elevates herself over the circle of friends as if she's above them all. Not sure they intended that interpretation.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Alinur and Beknur brought the back-projection.

"Where is Kazakhstan?" asks Richard Osman at least once a week. "Eighth place" the new correct answer: Khabar Agency's entry "Fairy World" - performed by Alinur & Beknur - finished low by the broadcaster's exacting standards. It's a duet between a young lad in a silver suit and his friend who uses a wheelchair and has Lego arms. Literally. Every KA entry has looked wonderful on screen, but that's less of an advantage tonight when France Télévisions has pulled the stops out for everyone.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Trees dotted around the stage as dancers performed.

The opening act featured Ofenbach, two DJs playing a medley of their hits. There was also a small dance troupe, the rouges et blancs et bleus: one of the colours turned up in each postcard, dancing the show into all corners of France. Interval act was last year's winning songwriter Barbara Plavi singing her new song "Voilà", and last year's winner Valentina performing a candy-cane infused version of "J'imagine".

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Candy canes and Christmas trees for this year's performance.

Let's rock

An unusual amount of hard rock at this Junior Eurovision. This could be the Måneskin effect, the Senior Eurovision champions proved that great guitar music is popular.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Elizabetta has powerful vocals and a great song.†

Elizabetta Lissa performed "Specchio (mirror on the wall)" for RAI (Italy). It felt like a younger version of Måneskin, Jess taking Tracy Beaker's famous style and making it her own. We were blown away by this one, took us right back to when L7 and Sleater-Kinney were fashionable. Unlike that fortnight in summer 1993, Junior Eurovision features great camerawork, and Elizabetta can sing properly.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Maiú stands before his backdrop.†

"Saor (disappear)" was the best entry carrying the name "Ireland" this year. Maiú Levi Lawlor performed for TG4. Unlike certain other songs, his background was all CGI this background, no fiddly paper tricks. It's another fast rock song, and was filmed with reduced colour. This caused some confusion in the press centre, where apparently they saw full colour throughout, not what we saw on screen. A compelling number, something that grabbed our attention by the lapels and kept us focussed on the screen. We'll remember how it looks, even if we don't like the song, and it turned out that very few people liked the song.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Dajte Muzika, this year's only group.†

Also stuck in the lower half, "Green forces", MKRTV's entry performed by Dajte Muzika (that's "North Macedonia" on screen). Four kids sing and dance about the climate emergency, global heating, ecological disaster, and all that.

For our money, "Green forces" paled in comparison with the other two rock songs. "Specchio" was a great song, it's going to be one of those forgotten gems we come back to in five years and think, "why didn't this win?", before remembering "Ah, 2021". "Saor" had a coherent message, the visuals added to the lyric, even if you don't understand a word of Irish. "Green forces" just took the shaky camerawork and flickery backdrop, it made it difficult to watch, punishing us for paying attention. The group vocals aren't as good as they might be, and this is one of very few songs we cannot call brilliant.

True to ourselves

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Levi makes the difficult look easy.†

"Reír" by Levi Díaz for TVE (Spain). Watch the first few seconds of this performance again. Look at the little beckon he gives to the camera just before he starts to walk. Levi is a star, and he knows it. Vocal talent, how he's the focus of attention even with one of the night's busiest presentations. Thanks to Levi, it never threatens to tip into "hot mess" territory. And yet we cannot hum the song to you five minutes later.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Can we make an obvious Peaky Blinders joke, or should we just fadoway?†

"O rapaz", performed by Simão Oliveira for PRT (Portugal). The final performer is decided by a random draw. This year, the final performance is some genuine fado, performed by a young man in horn-rimmed specs and a flat hat. It's completely different to everything that's gone before, it's authentic to Simão and technically excellent. The juries were not impressed, but the televoters absolutely loved it, Simão came in third place on the online vote.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest TVP's spokesperson enters the Eurovision Opening an Envelope contest.

Scores at Junior Eurovision are still an interesting hybrid. The jury vote still ranks the top ten in the traditional "douze points" manner. It produces clear winners and losers - this year, five songs scored over 100 points from the juries, nothing else broke 75.

The home viewers contribute by an internet vote, which is open for about 48 hours before the show, and for about 20 minutes during the show. Home viewers have to vote for precisely three songs, no more and no fewer. Points are then dished out in proportion to the number of votes received: roughly 4000 votes to 1 point.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Every shot from the green room is almost a Renaissance painting.

Every vote counts, even those cast for "any song" so folk can vote for their actual faves. Every song is going to get a basic floor, something like 2.5% just for turning up. In a field of 19, the most popular song is not going to get huge numbers, "Qami qami" topped the poll with 9.7%. The result is to compress the margins, only about 80 points between the most popular and least popular song.

The winner won't be decided only by the public vote. The winner won't be decided only by the juries. Both will need to validate each others' favourites. A song that does well with the public but sinks with the juries - like "O rapaz" - cannot win. A song that does well with the juries but not at home - like "One of those days" - cannot win. Both elements combine to make the winner.

The rest of the competition

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Kaya's gorgeous opening moments.

A short section about couples. "My home", Ike & Kaya for PBS (Malta). A soft and gentle opening, an extreme close-up on Kaya in a glorious flower seat, she's singing about how life could be a fairy tale. Then Ike brings in his rap, and shows how the couple have got to work together to live in their fairytale. We found this very wobbly in the music video, but the stage presentation was top rate.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Denislava and Martin are intense.

"Voice of love", Denislava and Martin for BRT (Bulgaria). They're singing in their own little tent! How cute! It's a simple song, very uplifting, very feelgood. We came out thinking how this could fit onto Kelly Clarkson's new Christmas album in a heartbeat: it's a heartwarming and lightly schmaltzy song.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest The greatest feat of storytelling in the entire contest.

"Children's eyes" was sung by Jovana and Dunja for RTS (Serbia). On a night of great staging, this was the absolute apex. Two artists - complete with berets - live in their own fantasy world. They meet at a mirror, and sing at each other, before they tentatively start to explore each others' world. And part as friends. Whether by accident or design, there's a faint callback to "Molitva" in the chorus, and "Children's eyes" gave us the same warm-and-fuzzies. The televote rewarded this staging.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Pauline and her army are coming to get you.†

"Imagine us", performed by Pauline for KiKA (Germany). The opening song is chosen at random, and this was a spectacular draw. It's an anthem to get stuck in your head. Pauline and two chums on stage, cartoon figures on the background. It's got a passing similarity to last year's winner, but only if you look for it. Another year, this would have soared, but this is 2021 and the standard is sky high.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest A group hug for the friends.

"Stand by you" was sung by Anna Gjebrea for RTSH (Albania). The one about strong friendship groups: they literally knock over the word "Bully" and gently remind us that tween friendships are deeper than anyone remembers. Anna is the queen bee in a friendship group, because friends keep each other together and have each other's backs. The group hug at the end is as inevitable as it is joyful.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Cherry blossom, at this time of year.†

"Mata Sugu Aō Ne" was performed by Ayana for NPO/NOS/AVROTROS (Netherlands). A coherent staging, with plenty of Japanese cultural elements - cherry blossoms, kites, paper walls and shadow play - used sensitively. Heartfelt, tugs at the heartstrings, but fell completely flat. In part because it's a weak song, and in part because it's following the exuberant "Tic tac" and the powerhouse "One of those days". This song turned into Europe's sorbet, a palate-cleanser for what's ahead.

Next year... in Yerevan

Already, AMPTV have said that they'll host next year's Junior Eurovision. It's great news for the tourist industry in Yerevan, though we must resign ourselves to losing Íctimai. There's absolutely no love between the governments supervising those two broadcasters, to the point where armed forces have been doing battle.

And we must ponder an unfortunate what-if. We know that Íctimai's jury would not vote for the AMPTV entry, AMPTV's jury would not vote for the Íctimai entry. Both songs appear with the certainty that one jury could give them something, but will give them nothing. Other entries - those from TVP, FT - suffer no such detriment. Had AMPTV lost by just a point or two, we'd always wonder if they'd been robbed. It's a mercy that the political ill-feeling didn't alter the result.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Tears of joy for Maléna.

But let's give credit where it's due. Maléna worked hard to get where she is today. The culmination of a dream, with so much more ahead.

In other news

No winners this time on Takeshi's Koh-Lanta. The French version of Survivor finished last week, with all the finalists disqualified. After the merger, the contestants secured food from outside sources, namely a hotel on the island. There were also strong suggestions that finalists had agreed to divvy up the money whoever won. Adventure Line Productions, who make Koh-Lanta for TF1, say the 100 000€ prize money will go to charity. A new series will follow next year.

Quizzy Mondays saw Birmingham continue their hot buzzer action on University Challenge, defeating St Andrews by a good distance. We look forward to the qualifying quarter-final against Reading, that'll be a cracker in February. A tough but fair Only Connect QF saw the Ramblers beat the Muppets, and lots of questions this column would have got in 80 seconds but couldn't crack in 40. Dom Walker won on Mastermind (the author John Clare was his specialist).

On 20 December, Sarah Trevarthen aced Mastermind, racking up a total of 28 points - excellent in any era, sensational in the current series where people only get about 30 questions. Only Connect finished its quarter-finals with Data Wizards beating the Discothèques thanks to Animal Crossing, Eredivisie teams, and the singing career of Nick Knowles.

Highlights for the Christmas break. Thursday 23rd has celebrity editions of The Wall (BBC1), The Cube (ITV), and Scotland's Best Dog final (BBC Scotland). Christmas Eve gives us The Greatest Snowman (C4) and I Can See Your Voice (BBC1).

Christmas Day: Strictly Come Dancing, The Wheel, Blankety Blank return to BBC1, The Masked Singalong on ITV, Bake Off on C4. St Stephen's Sunday: The Big Fat Quiz of the Year (C4) goes up against All Star Musicals (ITV).

Boxing Day Monday: The Voice Kids starts its three-night romp (ITV). Only Connect has the first of four festive specials (BBC2). Lingo makes a move into just-about-primetime (ITV, from Tue). Celebrity editions of Quizness (C4, Wed) and I Literally Just Told You (C4, Thu).

New Year's Eve: Masterchef Champion of Champions (BBC1), the Christmas University Challenge final (BBC2), and news reviews to remind us of the year. Must we? Really?

New Year's Day: The Masked Singer begins its new series (ITV, continues Sun), Bake Off has old contestants back, and Taskmaster has a special edition (both C4). A new run of The Great Pottery Throw Down starts on Sunday 2 January (C4).

We plan to be back on 2 January with a few words on the year gone by. Until then, good health to you and those dear to you, and compliments of the season.

Photos marked † are © EBU / Andres Putting, used under the EBU's general promotion release. All others are from EBU / France Télévisions broadcast.

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