In under a week’s time, Eurovision 2017 rehearsals will be underway in Kyiv and months of research will be tested as we see most nations’ staging for the first time. Previous assumptions will change, favourites might fall and underdogs could emerge. Eurovision is a marathon, not a sprint; and at this point, having the presence of mind to admit you’re on the wrong side of a bet is imperative; flexible betting positions are essential.
So what’s this about flying PIGS?
The PIGS are resurgent… well, at least Portugal, Italy and Greece are. The less said about Spain the better.Let’s start with Portugal’s Salvador Sobral, who could be this year’s answer to the Common Linnets. His unconventional, understated visual performance melts hearts and resembles the idyllic, schmaltzy magic of Disney’s When You Wish Upon a Star mixed with the ever popular Bebel Gilberto.
Salvador has a natural, disarming charm and mesmerising stage presence that will connect with viewers and juries. The only question is how many will see the positives in his slightly awkward appearance and old fashioned, Portuguese jazz song? I think there’s a certain timeless quality to Amar Pelos Dois that will appeal to both sides of the vote, and as flagged up by Ewan in our first podcast, Salvador is travelling to Eurovision in ill health and will only perform at the jury rehearsals and live shows. This narrative could catch fire if highlighted by national commentators, which may see a swathe of sympathy votes go his way.
Portugal should be in the mix to win semi-final 1, but they face stiff competition from the likes of Armenia and Greece, who will no doubt boast high-concept staging and have regional voting blocs on their side. As long as Portugal finish top-3 in their semi, and draw a second half slot in the final, they should be in line for a favourable running order slot, which could see Portugal’s odds shorten further, provided the illness narrative takes hold and as long as Salvador continues to beguile the audience.Francesco Gabbani has chosen his Daniele Allesandrini suit for Kyiv, but will Gerald the Gorilla be sporting a matching bowtie? There are lots of little intricacies in the Sanremo package that will help Italy bridge the language barrier to Eurovision viewers. The ‘olés’, ‘om’, ‘namaste’ and the arm waving dance are simple, effective Gangnam Style cues that viewers will relate to; the appearance of the gorilla is the icing on the cake, or rather the parmigiano on the spaghetti. Some opposing voices have argued that if it wasn’t for the gorilla, Italy wouldn’t be so favoured. That’s a bit like saying that if it wasn’t for Mans’ cartoon, Conchita’s beard or Rybak’s violin… and so on. There is a gorilla, it’s one hell of a visual gimmick and it completes what is an extremely strong package. People need to reconcile that fact.
On the subject of the gorilla, Gerald was spotted posing in front of a green screen some weeks ago, so the Italian team are fine-tuning their backdrop graphics. Will the gorilla appear on the backdrop for the first chorus alongside “the naked ape is dancing” lyric? If the Italian team are genuinely pushing for victory, one needs to look out for accompanying lyrics on the backdrop – they have to illustrate the olés and other cues mentioned above.
The weakness of Occidentali’s Karma is undoubtedly how the juries react to it, when typically they have tended to favour vocal-led songs in previous years. Last year they preferred Australia and Ukraine’s ballads. In 2015 Mans won the jury vote, but was followed by the powerful voices of Aminata and Gagarina. And in 2014, Conchita narrowly held off Sanna and the Common Linnets. Italy layers will be hoping Gabbani plays the role of France’s Amir, who finished 3rd with the juries in Stockholm, but even that might not be sufficient to quell what is currently expected to be a hefty televote. Even so, Occidentali’s Karma is far stronger in message, charisma and staging than Amir’s J’ai Cherchè, plus the talent pool is shallower compared to last year. And if vocals really are the be-all and end-all, how did Lena win with the juries in 2010 and Azerbaijan finish second in 2011? One has to judge the whole package. There are still several contenders left to play their hand, and it’s at this point when Italy’s favourite status will be tested.Having suffered their first non-qualification in Stockholm, Greece internally selected local pop star, Demy, and brought together the Eurovision dream team trio of songwriter, Dimitris Kontopoulos, staging guru, Fokas Evangelinos, and vocal arranger/coach, Alex Panayi.
The Betfair outright was decisive in its rejection of This Is Love despite its resounding win on the national final televote and diaspora jury. Any song that galvanises the Greek diaspora is dangerous in the semi-finals. And any Greek song capable of challenging the top-3 in the semis is a top-10 lock. Given Kontopoulos songs have never failed to land a top-10, it’s rather strange to see Greece odds-against in that market. This Is Love might be dated, but so was You Are The Only One and Demy is far more reliable in the vocals department.
Greece’s position on the final televote in their ‘semi top-4’ years is as follows:
- 2009 (This Is Our Night) – 5th
- 2010 (OPA!) – 7th
- 2011 (Watch My Dance) – 3rd
- 2012 (Aphrodisiac) – 9th
- 2013 (Alcohol Is Free) – 4th
Demi will be much stronger than Eleftheria Eleftheriou (2012) on the vocals, and with the lower quality on offer this year, it really is difficult to dismiss a top-10 finish when all the juries can do is dock some points for a slightly dated song; the staging and vocals will be first class. I suspect a Cascada-type price crash might occur during rehearsals when the fan press go mad for Fokas’ staging.
Outside of the PIGS, Armenia, Australia and Bulgaria are all capable of causing an upset and two of those nations benefit from Russia’s exit while also boasting the services of artistic director, Sacha Jean-Baptiste.The first reaction of the Betfair market to a song is usually a good indicator of its chances, but in the case of Armenia, I feel there was an overreaction. Fly With Me isn’t your typical pop banger and nor does it follow many of Eurovision’s other conventions. However, the official video shows this entry boasts almost limitless potential, and with Sacha on board, Armenia are not only in contention to win semi-final 1, they could be dark horses to win the whole Contest, given the absence of Russia and the power of the scoring system introduced last year.
Armenia’s head of delegation, Gohar Gasparya, is one the shrewdest operators in Eurovision. She has delivered three bold songs over the last four years and it’s clear her aim is to win the Contest. OK, Gohar has relied on the same music producers, but it has yielded results; and with Sacha involved last year and again in Kyiv, Armenia should be more respected on the outright.
Artsvik’s song will be jury bait if it is staged as artistically as in the music video (take a look as these videos to see some hints). Sasha’s visual effects will add a modern edge to this theatrical song, but whereas Iveta and Aram MP3 lacked that voteable charm, Artsvik appears more western and relatable. There is top-4 televote and jury potential here.Likewise, Bulgaria also boasts a song capable of scoring well on both sides of the vote, and again, it’s a song the market reacted negatively to, but then shortened as people realised how commercially relevant Beautiful Mess is.
Kristian Kostov has really clocked up the air miles having performed at every pre-concert event. What’s more, the Bulgarian PR machine has been working overtime since the song’s release. To the trained eye, it’s clear they mean business in Kyiv, and as mentioned above, they too have hired the expertise of Sacha Jean-Baptiste.
So why is the Bulgarian entry so fancied?
Well it’s a combination of factors, but the main reason is that Beautiful Mess is so chart worthy; it could have been written and performed by James Arthur. It has eastern instrumentation, yet it appeals to a much wider market. Moreover, Kristian possesses an exquisite vocal, and at just 17-years old, he knows how to work the stage and cameras better than many of his older rivals. Given some of the dramatic percussive elements and noticeable contrast between verse and chorus, Sasha has so many ingredients to work with. Having said that, Kristian’s acting ability is the strongest staging asset.
Voting wise, Russian born Kristian straddles two voting blocs. Armenia will likely dominate much of the eastern voting along with Azerbaijan, though to a lesser extent. However, Kristian’s Russian heritage is the trump card sure to be played by his PR team, and just like what happened last year with the Russian juror who filmed herself saying she would vote for Armenia because her husband was Armenian, that sort of sentiment is quite prevalent in the east and could be to Kristian’s benefit. The 17-year old should also command hefty balkan support, though Italy, Romania and Greece could chip away at some of that. It’s the combination of these factors, along with what is a jury-friendly song that makes Bulgaria an interesting prospect and potential backup to Italy.
The opposing argument would be that Kristian will not be able to resist chucking in a few vocal ad-libs and will mess up the jury rehearsal. However, the Bulgarian team has advised me that Kristian will be on his best behaviour, hence him remaining true to the studio version of the song in Amsterdam and Madrid.
Bulgaria should be winning semi-final 2 with a potential challenge from Romania and maybe Hungary taking 3rd. Provided they win the semi, Kristian will be guaranteed a favourable Grand Final slot in the producer decided running order.As with Australia’s previous two songs, the market reacted negatively to Don’t Come Easy, which was performed live during the official unveiling. The initial view was that Isaiah’s song was a tad too safe and plods along, rather than grabbing one by the balls, which is what Dami Im’s Sound of Silence achieved last year after the Eurovision vocal mix was pimped-up. It’s likely Isaiah will receive a similar makeover, as the delegation will be more than aware of the song’s weaknesses. In terms of production and writing, it deserves to be at the sharp end of the scoreboard, yet despite the apparent Eurojury love, I can’t see Australia earning that level of support without a little more lift in vocal mix or some kick-ass staging. One other weakness for me is that the last 20-seconds drifts and undoes the impact of the middle-eight and climax.
Australia’s price drifted further on the back of their 3rd slot in the semi-1 running order, which will make them very reliant on jury support given other male competition in that semi. Isaiah is usually reliable, but a below par performance for the juries would make things very interesting. As highlighted in the first podcast, Australia doesn’t benefit from regional allies. If they can inject a bit more personality and passion into this somewhat leaden song, Australia’s price could shorten rapidly.Should Italy somehow fail and our classy substitutes of Armenia, Australia, Bulgaria and Portugal all miss an open goal, can Sweden’s Robin Bengtsson sneak in from backstage and grab the trophy from under everyones’ noses? I Can’t Go On didn’t go favourite for the Melodifestivalen win until the jury points were presented. Robin was never considered a major threat. In fact, after the full song was released prior to Melfest heat 3, his price drifted for the win. Even after the staging was revealed, Robin’s price stayed high and only shortened in the build up to the final. When Robin won Melfest, Sweden’s Eurovision outright price shot out to 20/1 before shortening to 8/1 and settling between 10/1-12/1.
The song on its own is nothing special, but when combined with the typically slick Swedish staging, the performance does come alive. Robin sells the song incredibly well, even though it was rather sleazy looking at Melodifestivalen. He has new dancers and vocalists for Kyiv, so the objective will be to appear warmer and more relatable. I’m not one to endorse Eurovision polls, but it was interesting to see Sweden finish well behind other rivals on the Eurojury fanvote (televote simulation), which one would normally expect to favour Robin given the traditional pink influence and that Sweden’s staging as already been revealed. Might this be another warning? Don’t forget that Robin finished 3rd on the Melfest televote; and even though the vote was incredibly close, had it not been for the app, Robin would not have won.
Sweden gives us the polished and contemporary opening to semi-final 1, but as the running order progresses, Greece will present their Fokas-designed staging, Moldova’s #EpicSaxGuy will send Twitter into a frenzy, Armenia will deliver something quite artistic and Latvia will likely end with a dynamic light show. Once you add in the ballads, where does Robin come once the jury and televote scores are combined? My estimate is 3rd-4th, and if it’s the latter, Robin will be used as a bookend in the Grand Final running order.
A challenge could also come from Romania’s Yodel It; however, the jury vote should be well outside of the top-5, so the price will still be long even in-play – probably well beyond the current 50/1 as jury marks are revealed. Dihaj might surprise us for Azerbaijan and lose her ‘attack-bob’ haircut in favour of something more appealing to western televoters. Skeletons is a technically brilliant song, but is perhaps better suited to the car stereo than Eurovision. If Eurovision wants to go back to the 90s, maybe Finland’s dark, etherial Scandie-ballad will win hearts?
I could list more outsiders, but that would push the boundaries of reality – and the word count – way too far. But remember… the PIGS might fly.
Just a quick note on the photos of the various staging concepts leaking from Kyiv… Thank you to those posting the photos, but remember to exercise caution; these are just still-photos, and in some cases short snippets. The quality is poor and the full perspective and staging narrative isn’t conveyed. It’s best not take firm betting positions based on this information. All will be revealed next week!
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