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Australia: Guy Sebastian – Tonight Again

    This morning, Australian broadcaster, SBS, have published Guy Sebastian's song, Tonight Again. Having being granted automatic qualifier status, Australia will perform in May 23rd's final, but will vote in both semi-finals. My immediate view of Guy Sebastian's selection was one of scepticism. The Betfair market reacted swiftly and demoted Australia's winning odds to around 40/1 from circa 16/1. Following the unveiling of Tonight Again, the Aussie's odds halved, then drifted, before shortening again to around 14/1. At the time of writing, Australia have nudged out to around 18/1. These sudden movements suggest an element of both panic and…

Review Overview

Song Appeal
Vocal Strength
Staging Potential
Likely Televote Appeal
Likely Jury Appeal
Cohesiveness of Package

Gnarls Sebastian

Can Australia's song stand out and leave a lasting impression beyond the "it's Australia" narrative?

User Rating: 3.92 ( 17 votes)

 
 
This morning, Australian broadcaster, SBS, have published Guy Sebastian’s song, Tonight Again.

Having being granted automatic qualifier status, Australia will perform in May 23rd’s final, but will vote in both semi-finals.

My immediate view of Guy Sebastian’s selection was one of scepticism. The Betfair market reacted swiftly and demoted Australia’s winning odds to around 40/1 from circa 16/1. Following the unveiling of Tonight Again, the Aussie’s odds halved, then drifted, before shortening again to around 14/1. At the time of writing, Australia have nudged out to around 18/1.

These sudden movements suggest an element of both panic and groupthink. The market was expecting a mediocre song, but was caught off guard by Tonight Again’s soulful, upbeat sound. When people started posting positive messages suggesting an Australian win, the groupthink reaction took aim at the market for a second time.

On my first listen, I got about as far as 30-seconds before dismissing Guy as a potential winner. I found his voice grating and the arrangement jarring. To me, the song brings together Gnarls Barkley and the UK’s Andy Abraham. I have no problem with that genre of music, but I don’t think it has the strength to win Eurovision.

Vocally, Guy Sebastian is top drawer, so the juries will have no trouble ticking that box, but to the average European televoter, will Australia’s song stand out and leave a lasting impression beyond the “it’s Australia” narrative? Will the East be inspired by Aussie-soul? I’m not so sure, and in my opinion, I’m not hearing a song that could be considered stronger than Eurovision’s big-hitting nations.

I wouldn’t discount a top-10 finish, but I definitely won’t be banging the top-5 drum!

How well will Australia do in Vienna?

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21 comments

  1. My immediate thoughts are that it’s a less generic, better version of Basim. I think it will struggle a bit in the Eastern countries, but I am on the side that predicts Australia’s vote will be boosted by their participation rather than hindered. I mean why would you be put off as a casual viewer that doesn’t care if they’re in Europe or not? Granted Europe is not as irreverent as the UK but still. Juries have no good reason to mark this down either so just watch out for this one I think. Could do a Gualazzi.

  2. Nice song, really nice. I can image this song getting into top 10. Jury will like this song, however I have no idea how this song will attract casual televoters. I guess a lot will depend on staging and the draw. It also depends on how seriously Australia will look at this contest and what are their goals. All in all I must say Australia will finish on the left side of the scoreboard.

  3. Alright, I think I can show my hand now, since the market has started to catch on anyway…

    I’m about 70% sure this is going to win.

    The real sticking point for me, based on the outcome of 2014, is that it is not necessarily “the best entry” from a typical Eurovision follower’s perspective, that wins. It’s the most memorable, best presented/performed ones.

    As well as that, I stick by my 4 year old mantra that a song has to fall into one or more of the following categories to do well. I’ll just remind you all of what that is:

    Commercial chart or radio-friendly – or the closest thing to it available. Remember we don’t always get true chart-fodder in every ESC so the “closest available” point is important to keep in mind when arguing against this. There’s loads of well-scoring examples for this. Both of Dima Bilan’s entries, Kenan Dogulu, Kalomira, Ani Lorak, Sirusho, Loreen, Eric Saade, Lena, Paula & Ovi’s Playing With Fire, Tom Dice, Ell & Nikki, Farid, Dina Garipova, The Common Linnets, etc. etc. All very different kinds of songs in their own respect, but all familiar, catchy, listenable and at least somewhat commercially viable. Anything niche, unusual, or Eurovisionny won’t meet the mark here. Ask yourself if you could hear a song on the radio outside of Eurovision, and then ask yourself if you’ve heard anything like it before. If you haven’t, then be sceptical.

    High-calibre or timeless – This is your Nije Ljubav Stvar, Jade with It’s My Time, Raphael Gualazzi, Conchita, The Common Linnets, etc. I know DB is a big fan of championing his contenders based almost solely on quality, class, talent and delivery which in my opinion is a bit too much of a taste-driven perspective to really ring universally true. To take things to an extreme, you could have the world’s finest classical opera performance with an aspect of authentic national identity in it, but there will still be thousands of people in the audience who will do their best Homer Simpson impersonation and yell “Bo-ring!” from the stalls.

    I digress, to tick this box you need a certain kind of quality that resonates with people on a historical or cultural level. It’s not actually about individual quality and originality, it has to be familiar and relatable, and the examples I named for this criterion fit the bill. Zeljko more for the East than the West but still, Sweden liked it.

    and finally, an accessible novelty. This is Lordi, Verka, Babushki, Conchita, and to some extent Cezar’s presentation or Rona Nishliu’s huge voice. Conchita would have ticked the timeless quality box as well as the novelty. Basically this is something that entertains and sticks in the audiences mind without totally culturally baffling them. As someone with a lot of connections to Japan, I’m sure some of you have come across some scraps of Japanese pop culture at some point in your lives and thought “God that’s so weird!” – and if an act is eliciting that sort of reaction, it does NOT tick this box. Accessible is the key word.

    Commercial or radio friendly is the most common box ticked that earns an act a good spot, and it is possible to tick two of these boxes I’ve set out. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one that’s ticked all three though. Conchita could have if Skyfall had been her original song. Even though it did chart, Rise Like a Phoenix lacked tried and tested commercial pop appeal. It was respected because of the timeless Shirley Bassey familiarity and charted/won because of the artist.

    So on top of ticking at least one of these boxes, you need a bit of personality, (which I learned from Cascada’s failure) and something relatable and memorable about your act, in song, presentation or underlying narrative (which I learned from Molly’s failure and Conchita’s success.)

    All this stuff I’ve written stands regardless of the act I’m writing about. Now that I’ve reminded you what my main criteria are, I’ll tell you why Australia are very likely to win.

    Commercial relevance and/or radio friendliness – One very big tick. For all intents and purposes, the Australian entry is Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk. It shares the global commercial relevance, the musical style and the immediacy. It isn’t quite part of the musical palette in the former Soviet states, as I speculated when arguing against a second consecutive Danish win for Basim, and I was proven right on that as he only received one point from Armenia in that area, but did well enough elsewhere to manage 9th, despite the subtle self-sabotage we all sensed during rehearsals last year. The difference between Basim and Guy is that Basim had a Motown theme, historically connected to black people. Guy isn’t Motown. Gav’s comparisons to Andy Abraham and Gnarls Barkley also had themes with historical cultural connections to black music. I’m not playing the racism card here, I’m just saying black music caught on a lot more in the West than it did in the East. Guy Sebastian’s song isn’t Motown.

    One thing that Basim also had going against him was the trite cliché. Of course they were very knowing about it because it was right there in the title, which gives the package wit and personality, but it wasn’t knowing in it’s presentation. It wasn’t presented with a wink and nudge, it was presented as a modern Motown style entry in earnest. Again, Guy’s song doesn’t have anything like that, it’s more modern and plain. Guy is to Basim as Blue are to D’Nash. If SBS stage this song with primary colour lights and glittery jackets, I will eat my hat.

    The last aspect about the song (emphasis on “the song”) that makes it a contender requires us to reconsider our perspective when compared to Gav’s review. To anyone with a level of sophistication and selectivity in our musical tastes, Guy’s song is generic, trite, X Factory, whatever you want to call it. So in that respect its easy to lump it in with Cascada or whatever and bid it g’day, because in Eurovision we’re typically looking for something with more of an emotional uplift. That’s why the favourites are Sweden, Italy, Russia and to a lesser extent Azerbaijan and Norway. Estonia is also on people’s radars purely because of The Common Linnets comparison. Following the Eurovision Song Contest closely connects you deeply to that mindset that makes you vulnerable to the emotion of fanwanks, whether you like it or not. That mindset is especially reinforced when fanwanks end up doing really well, such as Loreen, Emmelie and Conchita. We do our best to grow out of the cheap ones such as Crisalide, but even the higher quality ones like Quedate Comigo, Children of the Universe, can still catch us out. It’s so hard to disconnect ourselves completely from that mindset, and I write this feeling my lack of confidence in Guy’s song because it does lack the emotion that recent winners have had. That’s the remaining 30%. That’s my biggest doubt about it.

    So why am I still saying it’s going to win? Because I write this putting all my faith and trust into underlying narrative, and the non-Eurovision fan mindset. The mindset of someone that does not have a sophisticated musical taste, who just likes whatever happens to be on the radio. Guy Sebastian hits a home run and bowls a turkey there. To us it’s generic, throwaway pap. To them it’s an instant hit, compared to the relative “Eurovisionny boring-ness” of other contenders with the gimmicks, the apparent USPs, and the emotional uplift. What is a great Eurovision entry to us is cheesy and tacky to others. On the occasion that we do get a commercially relevant, radio-friendly entry without that Eurovisionny uplift or visual gimmick, how often is it as instant, high quality, and global as this song is? Even Euphoria smacks of being a bit cheap and ‘2004 Eurodance’. Again, that brings us back to the caveat of “the closest available” to a commercial entry. I’d argue this criteria stretches back throughout the entire history of the Eurovision Song Contest.

    That’s the song itself argued for (and against a little bit too.) I said I was putting my faith into underlying narrative. It’s obvious what the narrative is, and I’ve seperated this discussion from that of the song because the narrative lies outside of the song and even outside of the staging. “It’s Australia.” … “Wouldn’t it be funny if they won?” That second quote is the first thing my Mum said to me when I told her they were taking part. This was before Guy himself was revealed. We’ve all gotten used to the idea, we’ve normalised the idea in our minds, but outside the Eurovision bubble it made mainstream media headlines and then faded away. When contest week arrives, it will be a talking point once again. The novelty will be alive and well. Someone over on Sofabet said they imagine a lot of other televoters will have the same bright idea as my Mum, and I completely agree. The officials have told us Australia are only taking part once, unless they win, then they get to defend their title. The Australian HoD said in the press conference when Guy was revealed “if you don’t spoil the party you might get to come back again.” Clearly the officials have just fed us this line in an attempt to cool the controversy. The mainstream media have picked up on this, and have reported that it’s a one-off thing and Australia can only continue if they win.

    Now, some people, I know Rob at Entertainment Odds is one of them, have speculated that an Australian win would be a diplomatic nightmare for the EBU. Well yes, shit would hit the fan, but let’s cast our minds back to last year. Why did so many of us write off Conchita for victory? Because she was polarising. We assumed a good half of the competing countries would give her no points, especially taking the ability of juries to essentially veto the televote (and vice-versa) into account. What ended up happening? She finished 5th out of 26 in the combined vote of Russia. Russia! That’s significant.

    Clearly, Europe is historically and culturally more progressive than it is conservative, especially when its in the context of entertainment and culture! Pure politics is a different area. People were voting for the winner of a TV variety show, not electing a President. Therefore, I think to suggest that Australia will repel votes instead of attract them is to fall into the same trap that blinded us from Conchita’s win.

    Australia is the cat among the pigeons this year as Eurovicious said on Sofabet. It is the bearded lady of 2015 as I said there too, when the country was announced. This same kind of novelty would not apply to a less popular, lesser known, geographically closer new participant such as, say, Algeria. Australia is a novelty because 1: They’re so far away and 2: Because everyone loves Australia. The PC Brigade may question and criticise that view, but the simple response to that is, I’m not telling it like it should be, I’m telling it like it IS.

    You go on a game show, you’re the presenter, you go up to a contestant, and you ask them do they want this shiny new car, or do they want what’s in the mystery box? The psychology of that conundrum hooks our thinking to the contents of mystery box. Australia’s participation is a novelty that the show cannot escape. It will be near impossible for the hosts to make absolutely no fanfare of Australia’s presence on the evening of the 23rd. If they even go so far to mention the one-off nature of the participation and say “unless they win” – that will be an extremely powerful incentive for televoters. An incentive that could only be dampened by the Australian entry being absolute shite.

    Which it isn’t.

    What we’re weighing up here is Australia is in the mystery box, but what’s the shiny car that we could already take instead? Is it a Ferrari? Or is it a Citroen Saxo… in teal?

    In other words, what can the other countries offer to tempt us away from the sheer novelty of Australia winning, especially with such an instant, familiar, commercial song?

    So here I come back to the more conventional kind of Eurovision winners which accompany Australia towards the top of the Betfair outright. Sweden, Italy, Russia, and to a lesser extent, Azerbaijan and Norway. I don’t include Estonia because it’s up there as an anomaly, a mere cautionary awareness of last year’s Dutch success that we’ve already decided doesn’t have quite the same charm. I’ll focus on Sweden, italy and Russia.

    Russia is the song with the most emotional uplift. It sounds most like a traditional winner. But, the highly likely booing and the irony of the political climate goes against it heavily. It will do well I’m sure, but they’ve got barriers to overcome.

    Italy has a lot of power and emotional uplift as well. It also has a commercial relevance, but not a pop-chart-radio one. It’s a niche relevance. It’s a number one album on the classical charts kind of relevance. What’s it got beyond that? What’s the story, the personal connection between Il Volo and the audience with the unsophisticated musical taste? A possible wow moment with a well-timed pyro curtain? I can’t see much else.

    Sweden is therefore the biggest competitor. For this current era and trend of Eurovision, an English language pop package takes automatic precedence over the likes of Il Volo. The first blast of “We are the heroes of our time” is best expressed by the amazing hard-of-hearing interpreter. If you haven’t seen it, here it is: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MaDob2RQldM

    At 46 seconds in, his face and body language says it all. That part of the song is gripping and captivating in emotional uplift. That’s how everyone will feel deep inside. Mesmerised by the presentation. That’s the best part of the whole thing. That’s the part of the song that makes its claim for the trophy and rings the winner bells. So yes, Sweden could very well win. If Australia wasn’t in it this year, I would be backing it at this stage.

    This is where I get more subjective and this would be my main concern and argument against a Swedish win. Beyond that initial build up and first chorus with increased instrumentation and backing vocals, it doesn’t actually go very far afterwards. It doesn’t have much of a climax besides Mans’ high note. If they had an extra visual surprise for the climax, like Loreen did with her dance partner, then I’d consider my criticism well and truly addressed. Will the new staging have that? Mans hinted at pyros in an article I shared earlier about Bjorkman being coy, if you remember. One thing I also noticed about the climax of Heroes in Melfest is that the colours turned… dun dun dun… red and black. 😛 Okay so maybe I’m overstating the importance of that but it is there and I would advise keeping an eye out for it in the Stadthalle. If the whole stadium turns red rather than just the stage area, I think that’s a signal of producer intention. I am also keeping in mind that it seems weird that SVT are going out to win it again for the 2nd time in 3 years.

    So in conclusion, I think it’s a two horse race between Sweden and Australia. Australia have the lack of emotional uplift and traditional Eurovisionny winner-bells being rung in the song itself, going against them. Conversely, they have the commercial relevance and accessible novelty (the narrative of their participation) boxes ticked, and Guy sounds great live, as we can see in the video shared by Gav above.

    Sweden have the emotional uplift and visual gimmick that Australia may lack, but Sweden lack a narrative and, as Gav and Eurovicious have both said, a human touch, a personal connection. It’s not that nothing about the Swedish performance captivates me, it’s just that it’s not Mans. I’m not looking at him, I’m looking at the projection, and as I’ve said already, the song and performance doesn’t go very far to expand on the beginning.

    So which will prevail? The emotional uplift and memorable visual gimmicks of Sweden, despite the focus not being on Mans? Or the extreme novelty of Australia’s one-off-unless-they-win participation with a highly commercial, instant, well performed but not as emotional song to back it up?

    Sweden’s not a Citroen Saxo, but it’s not a Ferrari either, it’s more like a Toyota Prius. So does Europe want the Prius, or what’s in the mystery box?

    It might be a close one. I don’t think they will cancel each other out leaving Italy or Russia to win by default, because I don’t think those two come close enough to being as good overall.

    And I’m spent.

    • Great lengthy post Ben, I can imagine you were spent afterwards 🙂
      While I disagree with few small points (about Mans mostly) I think you got the essence right.
      Btw, do you think his skin color might hinder his chances for the top position(s)? It’s often quoted that some parts of Europe are more racist than others and that “colored” performers have less televotes because of that. In this case Guy fits perfectly to the song genre and is very likeable so don’t see a big issue but again…

      • Boki the same was said about Conchita. It seems the audience is more PC/lefty/internationalist than average, more notable in the east.

      • Not really Boki. I didn’t even notice he was mixed until I read about it. I think it’s full on Afro-Caribbean people that might be at a slight disadvantage in some countries. Kallay Saunders did alright last year, as did Jade Ewen, although both did much better with juries than televoters, and I think there were reasons related to song and performance that explain it over race. Loreen is originally Moroccan and you also have the Estonian winner Dave Benton, (very British name though.)

        Guy is Sri Lankan born and I think he has a bit of Portuguese in him too. I doubt that will pose any problem.

    • Looks like a lot of people have just woken up to what you’ve said Ben. The market has been strange with Australia. A lot was matched in the 9s back before we knew the singer. Guy was announced and the price drifted to the 40s. After the song was released he was still matched at 20 and a lot just under 20. No new info from then to now. His capabilities were on YT for all to see.

    • Interesting read, and I do agree Australia has massive potential (incidentally my biggest green now). But I’ve strongly got to question your assessment of the probability. 70% that something with ~10 odds will come true? That is the bet of the ages, if actually the case.

      It’s easy to get too confident, and it’s very dangerous. In those cases it’s always good to remember past misses (of which we all have plenty).

      • I’m not comparing my feelings to the odds though, Squall. I am about 70% sure with the remaining 30% accounting for the Australian song not having that slightly kitsch emotional uplift which Sweden, Russia and Italy do, and which tends to be an ingredient in all recent winners bar Lena in 2010, who I maintain had no worthy competition if you apply my criteria to that field.

        The Australian song is happy and uplifting, just not in a theatrical way. Think “the finale of a stage musical”, or gospel music. That sort of emotional high. Every recent winner has had that, bar Lena. This year will tell us if that theatrical emotion can be beaten by something far more mainstream AND top drawer quality. In recent years, we simply haven’t had the two going up against each other like this.

        I don’t think I’ve excluded or forgotten any worthy points of consideration in my long post that might undo the logic, so if you think I’ve missed anything, I’d be happy to discuss that, but I don’t think nitpicking with numbers is going to get us anywhere. 😛

  4. Just to give you guys heads up, Bwin has Australia @ 15 at the moment. Quite a bit higher than anywhere else.

  5. Iv got Australia green but i will go into the contest with a red on them (and Sweden) as i increase others.Its a modern average song with a good delivery and above all the narrative.Im not sure the EBU will be very happy about it winning.Im expecting at this stage jury position around 5th-7th.Australia also have no experience of staging at ESC.I can see the argument for it, but its not for me.
    The juries have been very hard to judge the last few years though seeming to ignore the EBU voting guidance, however I see both Estonia and Italy as in a different league to the rest when considering song quality.My book at this stage is structured around them both,mainly Italy,and several outsiders.Im keeping room to move though,and even close down my book pretty flat if needed.Tricky year.

  6. Virtually confirming what I’ve long been suspecting. I think the EBU wants Australia to win it, host it and then include them permanently. Boo hoo to what the fans want. 😛

    http://wiwibloggs.com/2015/04/25/guy-sebastian-win-eurovision-australia/92038/#comment-477467

    Whether Australia actually do win it is another question, but they’ve got the right kind of song and a novelty factor to boost their vote, so I’m feeling quietly confident at this stage.

  7. Some pretty good staging indiciations here. Guy previously said they were bringing a custom light rig, but this sounds like it’s going to be something really epic. In this interview he basically says he’s working with U2’s lighting designer.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-XWcUCc1H8

  8. I hope Tim B does write up about last night.

  9. I’m not, I’m afraid. I missed the first hour of the show due to travelling back from Cyprus the same day. Most of the acts sounded better in Amsterdam to me, but that’s probably due to the limitations of the venue rather than anything else. Everything I saw was pretty much as expected though.

  10. I found some examples of Guy Sebastian’s lighting designer’s work on Youtube. As Guy said in the interview, his name is Bruce Ramus. Can’t wait to see what the piece in Vienna looks like!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zj3wsfYeaUI

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6E8V_Re8UyU

    You can also look at his website here, if you go to the Stage Lighting tab you can see some photos and videos of previous he’s done for Guy Sebastian, U2 and Tina Arena.

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