ESC 2017 Review: Croatia – Dueling Voices

I have some mixed feels about Croatia this year. This is one of the few songs I can’t give you a real answer on if I like it or not and the reason it’s this “high” in my list is that this is the crossroad between things I kind of like and things I kind of hate, which seems fitting for this song.

These are my own PERSONAL rankings of what I think of 2017’s Eurovision songs but I’m also going to make some bold predictions about the eventual fate of the song. These will probably be very wrong for a variety of reasons including I have no idea what almost half the artists sound like live or what type of staging and song changes could be made. There’s plenty of songs that have been let down by their staging (2016 Spain for example) so in the end they’re just guesses in the dark.

Country: Croatia
Artist: Jacques Houdek
Song Title: My Friend
My Ranking: 30th (out of 43)
Semi Final: 1st Semi Finals
Final placement prediction: NQ

Croatia is probably a beautiful country. One day I’d love to visit and it’d be even better if they could host Eurovision and show me the wonders of a country that will be known for the next 5-10 years as “that place where they filmed Game of Thrones” but this year will not be that year. How do I know this? Because this song starts off with a spoken word segment. I’m getting a little ahead of myself. Croatia is no slouch and has entered Eurovision 22 times, not winning but once getting all the way to 4th place back in 1996. They took some time off after 2013 before rejoining the contest last year and it really helped a little – they qualified last year if only to place 23rd out of 26 but that was after a long streak of failures to qualify so it’s progress. They also have one of my all time favorite songs, Boris Novković’s “Vukovi umiru sami” [Wolves Die Alone, Eurovision 2005] so that’s some points in their corner.

Jacques Houdek (born Željko Houdek) is a 35 year old singer/song writer. He has had an extremely long and industrious career in Croatia including singing for the government several times, released many songs and albums, winning awards for TV, songs, artistry, song writing, and even a Christmas album. He in the past [2005] held some anti-gay sentiments but has since recanted them [2011] but that still leaves him in an uneasy position for a lot of people in Eurovision. I want to believe in my heart he has changed over time. Either way with enough awards under his belt it’s not surprising that his song is interesting and fresh I suppose, though it’s not quite modern I would say.

(As a funny side note, Jacques actually looks quite like Guy Fieri in a lot of pictures and it makes me burst out laughing sometimes.)

As for the song, I don’t know where to start so we’ll start at the beginning. It’s a spoken quote from Albert Einstein. I already feel like I’m being trolled. Albert Einstein is the punchline to many viral memes I have to debunk. Will they use this live? I’m pretty sure they will because Croatia is a majestic nation of daring do-ers based on last years costume choices alone. After we get past the quote we get what I would generously call boy band style meaningless platitudes. This is slightly better than Poland’s mishaps with a rhyming dictionary or some of the “English” we’ve gotten in the past so if the song was just that I wouldn’t blink too hard. But oh. It is not. Again, this is a meme in song form so what happens next will really blow your mind! Instead of boy band style we switch to opera style, in Italian. A lot of people on the first listen don’t realize it’s the same man doing both but it is. The Italian lyrics are like A2 level Italian so it’s basically on par with the English and the song offers very little in message besides a “do your best” attitude.

The problems present themselves almost immediately. The non-obvious one is that there is a violin “solo” which kills part of the song. The second problem is how to you stage a man singing two different parts? Is this a Victor/Victoria thing with a half and half costume? I can’t even imagine. The most obvious problem is that around the 2:20 mark he is singing both parts at the same time and hitting two different notes. Since you can only use live voice on stage this presents a real problem. Do you have someone else be his back up singer and lose all impact of the gimmick you neatly created or do you favor one part over the other making the song possibly sound more awkward or compressed? The whole thing relies on Jacques being able to smoothly and consistently for three entire minutes pull off a ridiculous vocal feat of switching styles, registers, languages, and octaves. Despite never having seen this man live, I don’t think he can do it. The feat is too much.

That all being said, the song is awful. This is a gimmick more than a song and hilariously forgettable despite all the stops it pulls out. I think it will end up like Georgia’s 2012 entry “I’m a Joker” (which I am the only person who liked that song so I see the irony) where really clever and well delivered vocal tricks just come out confusing for the majority of people once they’re in front of you. There’s only so much innovation people are willing to put up with and if people couldn’t understand the usage of whistle notes in “1944” they’re certainly not going to appreciate the talent involved in being able to pull off all the many things happening in “My Friend”. This song is in the first semi final though so we could have a surprise if the stage is just right but even then, I assume it will land 20 and down on the final board.

Platitudes for next year my friend.

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