As ever, I have used a traffic light system to indicate my current qualification thoughts. This is based on a pre-rehearsal landscape, so things will change between now and May 9th.
In The Green:
With the running order, among other things, contracted out to Christer Björkman, it came as little surprise to see Sweden deliberately pushed out of the prime slots. There are a couple of ways of assessing this; either the song and memorable gimmick is strong enough to challenge from the opening slot, and thus Christer can justify awarding Robin a prime slot in the final, or Christer is happy to dig the EBU out of an almighty hole and doesn’t mind accepting a respectable top-5ish finish in the final. The western juries should lap this song up with it being the most radio-friendly upbeat song in the semi. However, as commenters have pointed out since the Melfest final, the televote might see Robin fall short of first. Depending how far adrift he is from first will govern how favourable a slot he’s given in the final. If other songs turn up with great staging concepts (yes Greece we’re looking at you), then a conceited, pretty guy on a treadmill won’t look so fresh.
With Belgium taking a step backwards at the pre-concerts, Australia’s pop ballad is looking more assured. It’s a tricky slot, but as we witnessed last year, Australia should work on some vocal variations to add more lift. I’m not sure Australia are here to win, but I remember saying something similar last year and Dami Im got pretty damn close in the end. There are three male ballads to look out for this year and two of them are in this semi. With Portugal favoured in the running order, I suspect Christer wants to give this feel good underdog narrative every chance to flourish. Isaiah’s Don’t Come Easy is technically good, but lacks the heart and warmth of Salvador’s Amar Pelos Dois. On the flip side, Isaiah sings in English, whereas Salvador relies on Europe to fall in love with démodé Portuguese jazz. My belief is that Portugal will attract much more jury support. The big question is will the average televoter?
Are Azerbaijan and Armenia contenders for the semi-final win? With regards to the former, it depends which Dihaj turns up. The slicked back hair Dihaj from the video would be great, but the austere, Star Trek extra look would see western Europe setting phasers to stun. Skeletons is a cracking Sia-inspired ballad which could have easily won back when Azerbaijan were serious contenders before allegedly going clean in 2014. Since then, they’ve been happy to qualify and aim for top-10. And if Azerbaijan were serious, Fokas would be on their staging team.
The good thing about Armenia’s song is that we sort of know what to expect from a staging point of view. Furthermore, Sasha Jean-Baptiste has just been confirmed as their staging designer. As a Eurovision song Fly We Me is quite left field, yet the visuals are almost hypnotic. Armenia’s song appeals to their regional base and there’s plenty for juries to appreciate from an originality and artistic perspective. And as we saw in Amsterdam, Artsvik can be relied on to deliver vocally. Until we know what the Kyiv staging looks like, it’s difficult to predict Armenia’s potential, however a semi-final top-3 finish is looking increasingly likely.
Having signed up staging maestro, Fokas Evangelinos and Eurovision pop-writing legend, Dimitris Kontopoulos, Greece were hoping to engineer the perfect package to challenge for a high finish. The Greek public didn’t play ball and selected the cheep, cliche dance track, This Is Love, which has been polished a tad since their national final. Nevertheless, there’s enough here to delight the Greek diaspora, and combined with no.1-selling singer, Demi, and a Fokas staging miracle, Greece do look a tad underrated in some markets and should be aiming for 3rd-5th in this semi.
Regional advantage, as well as having the charming fun factor should see Moldova through too. If their staging looks a bit tacky in rehearsals then qualification could be nail-bitingly close, but based on what we’ve seen to date, this has the potential to be this year’s Golden Boy. And if Russia doesn’t make it to Kyiv, we need to find our compliment of 3-4 ex-USSR nations for the top-10. There are a few other fun songs competing for the same votes, but only one comes from the ex-Soviet bloc. Both Zdob şi Zdub and Pasha Parfeny got close in 2011 and 2012.
In the mix:
At the moment, I’m struggling to call a few nations as certainties given the low quality base we’re working from this year. Even Latvia, who were gifted the pimp slot aren’t clean enough to justify their short, odds-on price for qualification. Line could look quite epic with the right staging, which might be why Christer gave Triana Park the coveted pimp slot. Both of last year’s pimp slots finished 3rd, but Malta were very clever with the juries and Belgium’s song was a happy pill. This year’s entry from Latvia is messy and lead singer, Agnese Rakovska, can appear rather aggressive. As I said in the main review article, if they can focus the staging and choreography, there is potential to be exploited. This is a greener shade of amber, though.
As mentioned above, Blanche hasn’t really impressed for Belgium so far. The occasion looks way too big for her given reports of pre-show stage fright at the London Eurovision Party and the sick note excuse for Amsterdam. Throughout her rendition of City Lights, the poor girl looked scared stiff, gulping for air like Anna Bergendhal in 2010. Following her pre-rehearsal performances, I would argue Belgium are a redder shade of amber with only the song quality saving them at the moment. Qualification may still be up for debate, but the top-5, top-4, top-3 and outright markets look to be settled already.
If we were in the 1990s, Finland would be top-5 in the odds. Unfortunately for Norma John, Ireland and Norway have already been there, done that and won the trophy. Even so, Blackbird does possess a certain something that sees it appear on most fans’ list of underdogs. The staging at UMK, albeit limited, was rather static and dark. To ensure this Blackbird isn’t cooked for before time, the Finnish staging team needs to add more light during the choruses to work viewers’ goosebumps. It’ll be close, but with subtle improvements, Finland could easily switch off Belgium’s lights.
The studio version of Paper is great, if not rather cold. What’s clear from the Söngvakeppnin final is that Svala needs to take a massive step forward with her staging and general appearance. The thuggish chav look has never travelled well, so it’s encouraging she’s flown off to LA to design her outfit and staging. Anyone who has watched Svala’s earlier material will know her style is rooted in 80s alternative, which could see her as an early frontrunner for the Barbara Dex award. For Iceland’s sake, I hope she’s sympathetic to the song and maximises it’s potential. If so, then Iceland’s recent non-qualification run should be over.
Since it’s release, Hovig’s Gravity has failed to pull me in, and should it appear on a playlist, I often skip past it. I think that’s the problem for Cyprus this year; the song is rather anonymous and Hovig just doesn’t quite seal the deal. And even though Hovig mimed at the Greek national final, the performance struggled to engage me. The way he emotes and gestures looks false; it’s like he struggles to genuinely connect with a song. It was the same in Armenia. Maybe the sterile TV studio failed to light his inner fire? Though as I noted in Amsterdam review, he did show some improvement at the weekend. Cyprus can count on their diaspora to help, but if their Eurovision staging appears too dark and Hovig fails to connect, Greece will drain even more support from their close ally. At the moment, Cyprus are 8th-11th.
Poland really should be red given the quality of Flashlight. Moreover, they don’t have much diaspora to call upon either, given the main bulk of their expat community can’t vote in this semi-final. Even so, with Michał Szpak scoring a top-3 finish on last year’s televote, the Polish diaspora has to be respected. Although conversely, Szpak won his national final with 35% of the vote, 10% clear of favourite, Margaret. This year Kasia Moś failed to top the televote. Qualification may be within reach, but I doubt Poland will be top-10 in Kyiv.
Down and out:
In brief now… Georgia were given slot 2 for a reason and Eurovision needs less peace ballads. Tako has great vocals, but the song writing is junk. Probably finishing 12th-15th. Albania are repeating last year’s mistakes, albeit with a slightly better song, but a less favourable running order slot. Last year their finished last with the jury and 16th overall. They need a huge step forward to make the cut.
Montenegro will be great entertainment for hardcore fans, but will ultimately struggle finish outside of the bottom 3. Likewise, the anonymous Czech song have great difficulty registering televote support. Marta has a great pair of lungs, which may see her nab a few cheeky points from the juries.
Slovenia was OK until they went batshit crazy with the rework. Now the song’s identity is lost, replaced with a weird trip-hop, musical-cum-movie score monster. From dated but mildly credible, to WTF were they thinking? All we need is Blackstreet to join Omar on stage. Having said that, Omar was strong in Amsterdam, but I’m still concerned about where Slovenia’s support is coming from. Red with a slight hint of amber.
Value betting odds will be posted in the comments section below once available.
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