As we approach Saturday’s concert in Amsterdam, I thought I‘d chuck a few thoughts together describing the utter confusion that exists among those trying to find a victor from the 43 entries striving to win this year’s Mediocre Song contest.
The ups and downs in this year’s betting markets have mirrored the confusion, with punters veering from one favourite to another like a defective supermarket trolley. So far the trolley has clattered into the delicatessen counter inadvertently dislodging some German sausage – the brightly coloured packaging looked odd, so that was swiftly returned to the shelf and can now be found in the bargain basket.
The trolley continued on its trail of destruction; crashing into the French cheese counter, but that just didn’t smell right. Venturing into the spirits aisle, Polish vodka was on the shopping list, but they had totally the wrong brand, so the choice is Swedish Absolut: classy, expensive looking and certainly fashionable, or cheap Russian vodka with retro appeal that’s sure to give everyone a hangover. The market appears to have opted for a heavy dose of Anadin.
So to fix these defective trollies careering through Europe’s borders, let’s run through a few of the top-5 contenders and long shots while highlighting a few false favourites in the typical, non-fence-sitting ESCtips way.
Heading the market sees a rerun of last year’s winner and runner-up and a battle of Eurovision past vs Eurovision future. I’m sure Sakis Rouvas was flattered by Sergey’s homage to him, but whereas Sakis finished 7th in 2009 (11th with the juries), Russia is hoping to win in Stockholm.
As I argued in the Russia review, Lazerev is expected to do well on the televote, but his place at the top of the market is highly suspect given he needs to improve on Sakis’ and Erik Saade’s jury scores – the latter finished 9th. One could argue that Russia is the best of a bad bunch in this year’s lineup, so by rights Sergey could be top-5 with the juries. At the moment I can place about five songs ahead of Russia, but that’s because I’m still unsure how some nations will look and sound in Stockholm. With a slick Fokas staging concept, Russia is expected to be eye-catching, but there are rumours circulating that at least three countries are dabbling with hi-tech concepts, therefore any sort of Måns-impact could be greatly diminished.
It’s also worth flagging up the apparent YouTube and Betfair popularity given it’s very easy to influence both platforms. The Russian release of Sergey’s song has clocked up over six million views in just four weeks. The official Eurovision video published three weeks ago has nearly 900,000 views. When you scrutinise the number of likes and comments for each video, the official Eurovision release has double the ratio of interactions. It’s no smoking gun, but it implies the Russian video generating the ‘breaking the six-million barrier’ headlines may have been manipulated for PR.
I know of at least one country influencing this year’s betting markets, which I will obviously not divulge. Prior to knowing about that country, I had already commented about the strange pattern of movements affecting Russia’s price, especially given the initial negative market reaction to Sergey’s song and also accounting for the possible manipulation of YouTube views. Before the release of You Are The Only One, the market kept shortening to 6/1 every weekend. Since the release, there has been a relentless driving down of the price to just above 2/1 – now as low as 9/5. Some of that activity might be innocent trading; however, I’m not the only commentator thinking there’s some sponsored influencing involved.
Despite breaking all sorts of Spotify records – a feat that would normally result in favourite status – there has been plenty of debate about Frans winning consecutive victories for Sweden. Frans’ Melfest winning margin has also drawn widespread criticism in spite of the voting app’s levelling effect and a much stronger field for the juries to reward. As argued in the Sweden review, Frans’ victory would have been more commanding had he been judged under the old, pre-app system.
An obvious negative for Sweden is being drawn 9th in the running order, but with Conchita winning from 11th and Mans from 10th, I’m less concerned given there should be a record-equalling win narrative around Sweden, which should partially negate the undesirable slot if pushed by national commentators during the final. Plus, it’s clear SVT want to win for this very reason.
It’s still worth recognising that If I Were Sorry is commercial and contemporary enough to make it on to most mainstream radio playlists. It’s already gone double platinum in Sweden having spent five weeks at the top of the Sverigetopplistan. What’s more, it’s the only ESC entry in the Spotify global top-100. In recent years, it’s chartable music that has been recognised by the juries, and in this year’s ESC lineup, Sweden towers over the majority of songs. Then for TV viewers the staging has that Lena charm with the faux-improvisation concept and the endearing boy-next-door lead in Frans. It’s one of the few complete packages, though I’m certain rehearsals will reveal a slew of other challengers.
As alluded to above, the market has struggled to find alternatives to Russia and Sweden with various nations yo-yoing in and out of top-4 or 5 status. Croatia was favoured until last week’s live performance on Serbian TV where Nina’s anarchist blue hair and lifeless, dead battery performance saw the Balkan nation’s odds drift out to over 40/1. Nina was vocally competent, but sounded susceptible to jury-rehearsal nerves. It’ll be intriguing to see how she interacts with the Amsterdam audience. At present though, we have a song that takes nearly two minutes to get going performed by a woman who appears less votable than Trijntje Oosterhuis.
Australia are holding steady despite drifting when the Sound of Silence was presented. The plodding chorus is disappointing, but Dami Im does deliver a rousing climax and is one of a few vocally reliable artists in this year’s lineup. Whether certain parts of Europe get behind someone of Asian heritage is debatable – personally I prefer Azerbaijan’s song and I think Samra will draw more support from her regional allies along with Armenia’s Iveta. Interestingly, Australia aren’t taking part in any of the pre-rehearsal concerts, and with Dami Im reportedly not Australia’s first choice artist, can we be sure they’re going all out to win? Having said that, of all the Sia-inspired ballads this year, Australia’s has the biggest climax, which could see her pull ahead of her eastern and nordic rivals.
The big mover over the last few weeks is France, and rather bizarrely, Amir’s J’ai Cherché is pushing Sweden for second favourite status. I get the whole Scandie sound and foot-tapping qualities of the song, but based on the live performances published so far, I’ve seen nothing from Amir that resembles anything close to a top-5 Eurovision entry. Genuine charisma involves much more than just smiling at the camera and pacing around the stage. In current form, Amir lacks the dynamism and X-Factor you’d expect from an act attracting this level of money. I think fans and some gamblers mistakenly use French language songs as a barometer of class. In Patricia Kaas’ case that was correct, but since her 8th place in 2009, France has returned to its customary position in the bottom five. There’s no denying J’ai Cherché is an uplifting radio friendly song, but is it a top-5 jury song? I don’t think so, and accounting for France’s nonexistent televote, can anyone make a convincing case for them being higher than the likes of Russia, Sweden, Ukraine, Latvia and Serbia to name just five potential vote magnets? If given a late draw, I think a Jesse Matador type result is within reach if Amir’s staging and camera interaction improves, but in all likelihood, 15th-22th is a more realistic range. Worryingly, the official video hints at an Olympic theme, which didn’t work out well for Anggun in 2012.
Like Frans, Latvia’s Justs has received his share of unfair criticism ranging from his song, Heartbeat, being too edgy or that his performance lacks charisma. That word again! Not every performance has to be rainbows and butterflies. In Justs’ case, there’s an air of mystery that is topped with raw passion and the awesome power of his vocal. As Aminata and Loïc Nottet demonstrated last year, a modern, unique song with excellent vocals will earn strong support from the juries. Heartbeat has all the qualities of a top-5 jury song, in addition to having wider televote appeal than the somewhat left field Love Injected. Another positive is that Latvia have signed up last year’s staging gurus and we’ve been told to expect a totally different concept to that used at Supernova. It really is an insult to music to see France is shorter than Latvia on Betfair. #JeNeSuisPasDésolé
Ukraine are another country that has shortened from a 50/1 high to as low as 19/1 over the last 10 days or so. This was accompanied by an aggressive shortening on the high street, which always makes me suspicious given the recent history of nations organising this sort of activity for PR purposes. And these aren’t the ravings of a tin-foil hat wearing conspiracy theorist – it does happen.
The problem with Ukraine being considered as potential winners is that 1944 doesn’t fit the typical Eurovision winner mould. It’s not a feel good song and nor does it entertain like the past seven Eurovision winners since the reintroduction of the national juries. Jamala does bare her heart in telling a story of suffering, but the optics and general feel of gloom doesn’t scream vote winner. The closest comparable is Rona Nishlu’s Suus, but I don’t think 1944 is in the same league, and whereas Rona delivered a captivating, virtuoso performance, Jamala appears rather unhinged. I think Anastasia Prikhodko’s Mamo is a closer visual match in terms of someone with an equally esoteric style. Mix Anastasia with Rona and I think we’ve got a 6th-9th place finish on the cards with at least one of the more positive sounding pop-ballads ahead.
Raising the tempo a touch, Malta and Bulgaria are two of the more contemporary upbeat songs, or at least two that could score well and encroach on the top-10. Malta boasts soulful handbag house with great vocals and a rumoured hi-tech staging concept. Bulgaria, at nearly double the price, benefits from a simple, infectious hook that should play to the Saturday night crowd. Both gave below par performances at the Latvia pre-concert, but both are capable of causing an upset in Stockholm with the right staging. While Malta threaten to advance the technological arms race, Bulgaria could muster more support with a simple dance routine and sharp camera angles. However, given Molly Pettersson-Hammar cowrote Ira’s song, it’s worth factoring in some favourable running order treatment from Björkman.
Rounding off the rest of the field we have the Czech Republic, Netherlands and Germany at odds of over 70/1.
It’s seems every interview with Jamie-Lee Kriewitz is prefaced with her love for Japanese fashion. Had she been able to leave her childish manga fashions in the dress up box, Germany’s price may have been around the 30/1 mark. But with Jamie-Lee taking to the Stockholm stage dressed like she was set upon by a gang of unruly 4-year olds armed with pritt sticks and jumble sale shit, there’s no chance she’ll be taken seriously by televoters. A polite word from the head of delegation explaining this is a serious contest, not some preschool fancy dress party may have helped secure a much stronger result. In national final form, top-10 is probably the best Germany can hope for.
Douwe Bob’s country folk blend is a real wildcard in this year’s Contest. Prior to its release, fans were hoping for The Common Linnets mark II and were quickly disappointed. The market shifted from a low of 11/1 and punters have since been matched at over 100/1. However, with rehearsals nearing, The Netherlands’ price has started to contract as gamblers rightly recognise the quality writing and catchy slow down hook. If Pannecoucke gets his act together this year the current 80/1 might offer a great trade in May.
The Czech Republic are fast becoming one of May’s most anticipated rehearsals. Gabriela Gunčíková’s atmospheric Game of Thrones meets The Gladiator type ballad has all the qualities of a potential sleeper that could come alive in Stockholm. If the delegation produces an equally spellbinding staging concept, the Czechs could threaten the higher echelons of the scoreboard in the final. Let’s face it, Gunčíková has the strongest vocal in this year’s Contest judging by the various YouTube videos, so could earn significant recognition from the juries. At 70/1+ the Czechs are a great price.
Lastly, Cyprus and Norway have reached backable prices on Betfair, and given their modern production, they could trade much lower in Stockholm. Cyprus are currently 90/1 and their energetic, radio friendly pop-rock sound will stand out in the final. Norway have a much greater task ahead of them, but minor tweaks to the staging could add life to what was a soulless national final performance.
This weekend I’ll be in Amsterdam reporting on Eurovision’s biggest pre-concert where 28 of this year’s acts will perform their songs. Given the semi-final running order has been delayed until Friday, qualification analysis will follow after the weekend with our annual series of preview podcasts starting from Wednesday.
Until then, continue to share your comments and theories below…Make sure you follow the ESCtips FaceBook & Twitter accounts!