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Meet the ESCXTRA team! Part 34 – JAKOB

As our team continues to grow, it means there are more of us that you can get to know! Therefore, we will continue to bring back our “Meet the ESCXTRA team” feature each time we have someone new for you to meet. What is our personal Eurovision story? Why did we want to be a part of this website? What are our favourite Eurovision songs of all-time? Also, how can you get in touch with us on social media? Read on to find out!

JAKOB BALEN

I’m a 22-year-old American with an ethnically Swedish background, which might explain the incredibly un-American spelling of my name and the fact that you’ll never find “Jakob” on a souvenir keychain in any U.S. gift shop (trust me, I spent my whole early childhood looking). After recently graduating from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a degree in communication studies, I’ve moved back to my hometown in the Beach Cities area of Los Angeles to begin a career in the entertainment/marketing industry. After following a very clear and linear timeline throughout my academic career, it’s a little intimidating to have a relatively unplanned future. But, the uncertainty is also what’s so exciting about it all, and I can’t wait to see what the next few years hold for me.

Your first Eurovision memory?

I had heard the term “Eurovision” a few times throughout my young life but the first time I’d ever actually heard a song from the contest — or even understood what the phrase “Eurovision Song Contest” meant — was when my grandmother pressed play on her car’s CD player and “Dschinghis Khan” started blaring out of the speakers. Even though I didn’t understand most of the lyrics, I immediately found it so strangely catchy and outrageous that I asked her to replay it over and over again in that one short drive.

It was only later when I tried to find the song on YouTube that I realized I had been listening to a cover performed by the Swedish dansband Vikingarna, and I eventually stumbled upon a video of the original rendition by the German Dschinghis Khan band. The performance might’ve been a bit too out-there and offbeat for my 12-year-old brain to appreciate, because I just assumed that Eurovision was some kind of kooky costumed parade (maybe I was only partially wrong?). Eventually, I found some other clips from past eras – honorable mention to the beautiful “Rock n Roll Kids” – and I fell deeper into the Eurovision wormhole with each video. I was hooked.

Your Eurovision journey?

For years, I was somewhere between casual and hardcore on the Eurovision fan scale. I had always watched the contest itself but aside from tuning into Melodifestivalen, I rarely ever paid attention to any other Eurovision-related events. But, 2015 was the first year that I dove into the complete Euro-experience – following every national selection process, pre-party, and rehearsal – and I fell madly, obsessively in love. It ended up being the perfect year to start truly stanning (do the kids still say that?) for Eurovision, because Sweden won, and the second Måns lifted that trophy, I began planning my trip to the following year’s contest.

My Eurovision 2016 adventure ended up being the most special and magical month of my life so far, and to be a part of the contest in person for the first time — and to share that experience with my Swedish relatives — was something that I’ll cherish for the rest of my life. I don’t know when I’ll get an opportunity like that again, but when I do, I’m grabbing onto it for dear life.

Why is Eurovision special to you?

It’s such a Miss America-esque answer (“We’re all beautiful and we’re all winners!” Try telling that to Ann Sophie or the MakeMakes) but the contest really does connect hundreds of millions of people from all different walks of life, even if it’s only once a year, for 3 ½ hours on a Saturday night… and many of said viewers are smashed. There truly is nothing like it and there’s nothing else that reflects my personality so succinctly, as Eurovision is a fusion of many of my biggest passions: music, visual media, clothing/style, and world travel. Have someone up there belting out a song in the middle of a LED tennis court and I think they’ll have hit most of my hobbies.

What attracted you to ESCXTRA?

I had been a reader for a few years, and have always admired how the site sets itself apart from others in the Eurovision world. ESCXTRA isn’t just a daily update of Eurovision breaking news. From opinion pieces, to throwback articles, to quizzes and links to new music from past Eurovision stars, the variety in the site’s content is what drew me to join them. Plus, working with this group, I’ve now realized how sincerely collaborative these talented people are. We’re all important parts of this team and we treat each other with equal respect and appreciation regardless of our titles.

And finally, your top 5 Eurovision performances of all time?

(I’m cheating and tacking on my 6-10th since deciding on five was starting to give me a heart murmur)

10. Greta Salóme – Hear Them Calling (Iceland 2016)

9. Aminata – Love Injected (Latvia 2015)

8. Hanna Pakarinen – Leave Me Alone (Finland 2007)

7. Yohanna – Is It True? (Iceland 2009)

6. Zlata Ognevich – Gravity (Ukraine 2013)

5. Marija Serifovic – Molitva (Serbia 2007)

No matter how many times I’ve watched this performance, I’m still one giant goosebump by the end of it. For a song to have that kind of impact on me, even though I don’t understand a single word of what Marija is singing, says a lot about the passion and heart behind her performance. An incredibly deserving winner.

4. Jamala – 1944 (Ukraine 2016)

Regardless of how you feel about the song or its backstory, you cannot deny the power of Jamala’s voice or the song’s immaculate staging. Every LED graphic, every pulsation of the overhead lights, and every camera angle had a purpose. To me, the part when she lets out that emotional cry and the golden tree emerges behind her is one of the most breathtaking visual moments in Eurovision history, if not the most. A controversial victory, but a memorable one.

3. Iveta Mukuchyan – LoveWave (Armenia 2016)

When I saw Armenia’s first rehearsal, I’m pretty sure my gasp sucked most of the air out of the EuroVillage viewing room. Seriously. I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that this was my expression for every bit of those three minutes, and for every run-through that followed it. I’d always admired LoveWave for being an unconventional and unexpected choice for Eurovision, but the way this performance was staged elevated the song to heights that are rarely reached. It also sort of helps that Iveta Mukuchyan has the voice, stage presence and commanding power of a music superstar.

2. Eleni Foureira – Fuego (Cyprus 2018)

Ms. Eleni, the Queen of translating the word “fuego” into English, has the advantage of being newer and fresher in my head than these other acts. That being said, I don’t think she’s budging from this spot on my list anytime soon, because not since the number one performance on this countdown have I been completely fixated and hypnotized by every little detail of a Eurovision performance, to the point that I’ve rewound almost every single microsecond to admire something else about it. From the absolutely perfect camera angles, to Eleni’s many poster-worthy poses, her flawlessly in-sync backup dancers, and the actual fire shooting up out of the stage, this was a moment. If the results were up to me, Cyprus would have won, and in an absolute landslide.

1. Loreen – Euphoria (Sweden 2012)

Besides ABBA, I’m well aware that this is the most obvious and pedestrian choice possible; so aware, that when someone asks me what my favourite Eurovision performance of all time is, I throw another favourite or two into my answer just to show that I’m not a poser. But, I can’t help it. I’ve waited six years for another artist, song, and stage concept to come together in effortless harmony to produce an iconic moment in European pop music, and a complete turning point for Eurovision history. I may be waiting a lot longer.

Stay tuned for the next part in our Meet the ESCXTRA team series! Remember, you can share your Eurovision stories with us in the comments section below or via the comments sections on our Facebook page @ESCXTRA. We would love to hear them!

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