Stockholm 2016

Xtra Review: Israel's HaKokhav HaBa finalists

Tonight, Israel makes its choice for Eurovision 2016 as its HaKokhav HaBa (Next Star For Eurovision) series reaches its conclusion. Over the last few months, the competing artists have been reduced to four, and tonight for the first time they will perform their potential Eurovision songs, with the public and the public alone voting for their winner.
Over 100 songs were submitted and whittled down to 4 by an expert panel. The four finalists (Gil, Ella, Hovi and Nofar) were allowed to choose their preferred song from this shortlist, and rather than somebody being left with the leftovers, they have all been given their first choice, resulting in two artists singing the same song tonight (in case you’re wondering).
Only one artist can win and before today is over, we will know the singer and song that Israel will be sending to Stockholm. Here are Nick and Peter to give their opinions on the four (or three) competing songs.

Gil Hadash – Follow The Sun

Nick: What is it with Eurovision 2016 and disappointing choruses? My goodness, if you can write a strong verse for a strong voice which captures me from second one, then why on earth do you throw in such a generic soulless soul pop chorus? The chorus feels so disconnected from the great start of this song that I just shook my head and stopped listening. I tried again and to be honest, it’s ok-ish, but it’s just not quite where it could be. I’d happily buy Gil’s album – just not if it has this song on it. I can’t really see Israel going for it.
Peter: I found this one a bit difficult to get on board with at first. Gil has one of those slightly affected soul pop voices that are everywhere thanks to Amy and Adele, and whilst she’s got a fairly nice tone there is nothing unique there. The chorus is very catchy and I hate to compare to Adele again but it’s not unlike one of her livelier album tracks. However getting there is a bit of a chore; the verses aren’t particularly exciting and the stripped back bridge with the strings is quite jarring and slows the whole song down. It’s alright overall but I can’t see it being chosen.

Ella Daniel – Somebody Out There

Nick: You can’t really get any more generic or less unique. It’s perfectly decent though. It won’t upset the odds, but it won’t upset Israel either if this wins HaKokhav HaBa. Ten, fifteen years ago, Ella’s voice would’ve been a clear stand-out from the pack, but ever since Duffy, Amy Winehouse and Adele (among others), this kind of voice is more mainstream than you’d think. There’s a nice little dance vibe to it, but even that’s as generic as you can get. It moves between Euphoria and Be My Guest. Those two are, of course, pretty memorable in terms of Eurovision history, so that’s kind of a good thing. There’s a lot of work to do for this and she would probably have to give a Bojana Stamenov-like performance to impress Europe.
Peter: This, of course, I like a lot. It’s pure dance pop and yes it’s the most generic form possible but it’s right up my street, and it’s sung well. However I think it needs to get going a lot sooner, and the production needs to be punchier – it sounds quite cheap at the moment. I’m not sure how well this could do as a Eurovision entry either. The major key and the euphoric dance vibe make it sound musically more like an “official Eurovision anthem” than an entry, and with a few interesting left-field contenders this year, this could look very tame by comparison and be left on the scrap heap.

Hovi Star – Made of Stars

Nick: Mysterious, alternative, but all done in a generic way. I’m normally a sucker for string orchestras and big building ballads, but this leaves me colder than a rock on Antarctica. With a few violins and the attempt to bring some rock into it, you’re not going to cut it, Hovi. It flies from left to right and just ends up in the middle of nothingness in the end. I have no idea why Israel would even choose this nor do I think this is the best possible song for Hovi. As a songwriter, he might have been better off choosing a song he composed himself instead of competing with the same song as Nofar Salman. So in short: It tries too much to be a lot of things and in the end, it just doesn’t work at all.
Peter: The only male artist left in the Israeli selection is self-professed singer, songwriter and unicorn, Hovi Star. Made of Stars is a mid-tempo pop song with a rocky edge to it. The chorus is quite catchy and anthemic but in general it drags a little bit. Hovi will perform it well and his vocals certainly come across well on the recording, so maybe it’s one of those songs that will be lifted with a live performance. It certainly ends big, with a key-change thrown in at the last chorus. Like Somebody Out There however, it’s all quite generic and could be a song from any country’s national final, so I’m not really sure who would vote for it at Eurovision.

Nofar Salman – Made of Stars

Nick: And here you can oh so clearly see what arrangement and production can do for a song. Where I couldn’t connect to Hovi’s version at all, this comes across as genuine, heartfelt and a true Israeli product. Even though it’s the same song. Nofar just does what a vocalist should do: She serves the song well. All of those compliments given, I still struggle to connect to it and keep my attention going for three minutes. Nofar’s voice is interesting and captivating, but not special enough to draw my attention for the full song. I seriously wonder why both Hovi and Nofar chose this song as I’m fairly sure there would’ve been songs that would make Nofar stand out more. I’d really give her the advice to return soon with an even more genuine entry than this. She has potential and she does all she can, but you can’t polish everything…
Peter: Nofar has also chosen Made of Stars for her potential Eurovision song, only this is arranged in a much more ethnic way, and sounds much more Israeli particularly with Nofar’s vocal inflections. Because the show has been ongoing for weeks with the public voting for their favourite acts, Nofar has one hand on the trophy, although thankfully her song is one of the best packages out of the four, so it should only help her. I really like her vocal performance and the arrangement is lovely, but I’m still a little bit indifferent to the song itself. That being said, it’s a stronger more effective arrangement than Hovi’s, so I can see it getting some votes at Eurovision if it’s performed well. Overall I’d say this should be considered the favourite to win in Israel, and it’s probably the smartest choice they could make.

Who should go to Eurovision?

Nick: The three women all have points to make them the best choice. Hovi Star in my eyes falls behind. The three girls however also all have their negatives and that makes me doubt whether Israel is going to crack that top ten for the second year in a row. Gil is a great singer with the wrong song, so she’s a no. That leaves me with generic dance pop versus ethnic pop. I’d be fine with either one, but my preference would go to Ella Daniel’s Somebody Out There as I think she’ll make more of an impression in Stockholm than Nofar.
Peter: So all four of the finalists have got qualities going for them, but at the same time I can’t see any of them making a huge impact on the scoreboard, so I’m going to have to judge this purely on what I would like to see in Stockholm. On that basis, I’d choose Ella or Nofar. They’d both need a bigger production, but they’d both enhance the line-up for me in different ways. Maybe Nofar edges it because of the lack of ballads so far.
Do you agree with our choices? If we’re wrong, please let us know via our Twitter, @escXtra.

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