We are just over one week away from the first day of Eurovision 2018 rehearsals so it’s time to run through the list of contenders before next Sunday.
Going back to last year’s final and Salvador’s winner’s speech; his first act wasn’t to thank people for voting or praising the hosts, but to deliver a self-righteous monologue about a world of fast-food music that lacks content. I’m sure it sounded great when he practiced it in the mirror, but such lofty statements have a way of coming back to bite you on the arse.
Schadenfreude is wonderful thing, and looking at this year’s market leaders, most could be considered bad for your musical health if Dr Sobral had his way. Let’s peruse the menu:
Israel have entered the musical equivalent of a KFC Bucket Meal: endless amounts of finger lickin’ good chicken, but it has a few unhealthy ingredients and is best enjoyed in moderation.
If you are backing Israel at their current circa 2/1 price, you have to be very sure that the delegation is capable of staging Toy to make it accessible enough to the widest possible voting demographic. Israel is traditionally good at this, but then they’ve never had to deal with anyone quite like Netta. Based on a dance tutorial video, it appears Netta will retain her dancers from the official video which could make the presentation of Toy appear too frenetic, or at worst, aggressive. The song hits you like a tonne of bricks anyway, and if the choreography comes across as too in-your-face, it will prove difficult for Netta to win over viewers. This is where Israel has to convince gamblers; any whiff of weakness and their favourite status will fade in the blink of an eye.
In the review I said that the looper was Netta’s trump card, but at the Israel Calling pre-concert it became a confusing distraction. The looper isn’t that integral to the song, so that opening could cost Israel votes before the main thrust of the song starts. Netta would be better off without it, but then her USP and raison d’être is removed and Toy reverts to being just another song in the lineup.
Over in Amsterdam, Netta said: “we’ve made some surprises for you…for Lisbon. Right now it’s just a teaser.” Netta said this while sporting a flamboyant lolita goth dress and a stilettoed headband. If this is ‘just a teaser’, I shudder to think what Netta will be treating viewers to during the live semi-final next month.
Another potential negative that is both controversial and wasn’t something I wanted to bring up is the potential anti-Israel sentiment. For some awful and irrational reason, hostility to Israel is on the rise in Europe, especially in the UK. Unfortunately, there is a chance this could influence both sides of the vote. Fingers crossed it doesn’t.
On the plus side, however, Netta is faultless live, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to those who completed basic research. Toy is an incredibly strong and original song and should either bring Israel their first top-5 since 2005, or potentially their fourth victory. But they are beatable: the non-Eurovision people I have shown Israel’s video to all failed to get it straight away and have instead preferred the simpler songs in the lineup.
Mikolas Joseph’s Lie To Me is a 3-minute Happy Meal; great for the youth – not sure about the oldies.
The Czech Republic’s best result to date is Gabriela Gunčíková’s 25th-place in 2016. The market thinks that 22-year old Mikolas Joseph has an opportunity to not only beat that result but to potentially fight for the win. Lie To Me was released early in the selection season, so my initial reaction was based on something better coming along. Other songs have emerged but all have negative aspects to their performance or composition.
Mikolas’ strength is his charisma and confidence, which is on the right side of likeable, rather than cocky. The nerdy clothing ensemble further adds to his ability to connect with TV viewers which somewhat overcomes any worries about the rapping – it’s all neatly packaged into a likeable and credible concept.
Mikolas will be joined by professional dancing brothers, Kristián and Marek Mensa, who specialise in hip-hop and break dance. This is where the Czech Republic needs to act with care, given anything too dark or hardcore could negatively affect the jury score and televote. They should also ensure that any choreography supports Mikolas, rather than overpowering the core aim, which is to present a fun, bouncy song.
In an open year, being able to appeal to both east and west is crucial and the Eurojury poll shows Mikolas is capable of just that. Provided Mikolas is able to deliver Lie to Me live on the Eurovision stage, he should be in the mix for the top honours.
Estonia might think it’s classy, but Elina’s La Forza is like walking past Burger King and paying four-times the price in Byron Burger for virtually the same meal.
There is a fairly vocal minority within the fan and betting community who reckon La Forza is this year’s winning song based on Elina’s vocal ability and a recycled staging prop [see AZ-2012 & MD-2013]. If vocal ability was the main deciding factor for Eurovision winners then surely Rona Nishliu would have won in 2012? Perhaps Zlata Ognevich can pinch the 2013 trophy back from Emmelie de Forest? And if we are indeed expected to submit to La Forza being the first popera Eurovision winner, how is it better than Il Volo’s Grande Amore from 2016, which finished 6th with the juries and only topped the televote because of the virtuoso performance by three relatable, telegenic guys singing a hugely uplifting classic Italian popera song?
Elina won Eesti Laul in a weak year, so her margin of victory rather exaggerates the strength of La Forza in the Eurovision context, which when compared to the likes of Grande Amore, lacks the melody and emotional trigger to appeal to a wide enough demographic. If you were not an opera fan in 2015, there’s a chance Il Volo would have won you over, whereas Elina’s more clinical performance leaves you cold. And despite romping the Eesti Laul jury and televote, Elina hasn’t been shown any such favour in the OGAE and Eurojury polls. The Eurojury poll is remarkably good at gauging likely Eurovision jury support and it is telling Estonia has struggled on this metric.Ever imagined dipping your McDonalds chicken nugget into every single one of their flavoured sauces rather than just one. No, me neither, but Bulgaria thought it would be great to bring together five diverse singers, none of whom had ever performed together, with two hailing from that nation renowned for Eurovision: the good ol’ USofA.
The Bulgarian PR machine has been relentless since December, teasing almost every minutiae of their selection process before March’s song and artist reveal. The constant PR push drove down Bulgaria’s market price to around 7/1. As soon as the song was released that price drifted to over 30/1. The price has since been driven down with every new flood of PR, whether that be Equinox’s London Eurovision Party performance or the unveiling of Sacha Jean-Baptiste as their staging director. There has been speculation that Bulgaria might be manipulating their own price, as there was a noticeable crash around 30-minutes prior to their performance in London. There are other examples such as the continual push to falsely hold the price at 6/1 on Betfair as it tries to edge out to 9/1+. This is nothing new for Eurovision delegations, but it’s not as clear cut as Russia 2016. Given we’ve yet to have a 100% live performance, it’s a mystery why Bones is still rated so highly.
I’ve nothing against the song per se; I was on the jury that helped select Bones, but that was without knowledge of who would be performing it. The demo I heard sounded very much like Loreen (since denied), who was approached to join the ‘common framework’. However, the inclusion of two American ringers who don’t really tick the voteable box for eastern Europe has set alarm bells ringing in terms of Bulgaria’s ability to score well. Add to that Zhana’s futuristic hair and the distinct lack of a telegenic or relatable lead singer and it’s possible to see through what is an overly hyped song that may even struggle to qualify. Sorry folks, but there isn’t love beyond the Bones.If you prefer an all-you-can-eat buffet, maybe Australia is your thing: it’s the song that could seemingly offer something for everyone in a Contest where all of the likely contenders have drawbacks.
Just returning to when the song was first released, it was the first time an Australian song caused the market price to contract – in previous years it drifted to 20+. That price has continued to shorten following Jessica’s impressive performances at the various pre-concerts and some high scores in the Eurojury poll. Admittedly, her Israel Calling performance wasn’t helped by a dodgy vocal mix. Nevertheless, the market has finally acknowledged the song’s ability to improve when performed live, just like Sound of Silence in 2016.
There is an anti-Australia sentiment built into some of the OGAE scores coming through, which suggests Jessica might struggle to score in the east and Balkans. This is where Dami Im lost out in 2016, yet she still topped the jury vote and only finished 23-points adrift of Jamala. This year there is a lack of diaspora-heavy nations in contention when compared to 2016; there’s no Russia, Ukraine or Poland, so either market leader Israel romps to victory, or we get a compromise winner. As mentioned above, Australia has the ingredients to come alive on stage owing to Jessica’s star quality and relatable girl next door image.
The one negative is stage designer Sacha Jean-Baptiste, who has a propensity to favour dark, avant-garde concepts. Australia needs to appear uplifting and feel-good, channeling the mood of Emmelie de Forest’s Rainmaker. Based on her Eurovision In Concert performance, Jessica appears more than capable of delivering this mood.But what about Sweden? Well Dance You Off is safe and unambitious, but it ticks the box when nothing else appeals. It’s the “go on, I’ll make do with the Margherita pizza” moment on this Eurovision fast food menu.
Just like Estonia’s Eesti Laul, this year’s Melodifestivalen was weaker than normal, so a song that was initially dismissed as just a top-4 in the final ended up winning. Despite Dance You Off charting well in Sweden, I feel Ingrosso will struggle to appeal to the televote in much the same way as Bengtsson did in Kyiv. What Ingrosso boasts in vocal and dance skill, he loses in his ability to connect with viewers on an emotional level. The performance is dominated by the neon-effect staging which fails to deliver an emotional trigger point. Moreover, the whole wearing the biker jacket half way down his back combined with the Bengtsson nods to camera all appear a bit douchey. The juries will commend it, but I fear for the televote.Back in the 1990s, Wimpy was a popular fast-food chain in the UK, which is roughly when Alexander Rybak’s song was last in fashion.
Levity aside, one shouldn’t be put off by the dated nature of That’s How You Write A Song, as it’s a simple, entertaining entry that perfectly suits the Saturday night audience while playing to Rybak’s ability to woo audiences with his boundless charisma. Rybak’s cheerful ‘camping-it-up’ performance is the perfect antidote to Ingrosso’s over-produced 3-minutes. Furthermore, Norway will attract most of the PR in semi-final 2 which should propel them above Sweden in the reckoning, and thus into a decent producer-decided running order slot in the final. Björkman may opt to close the show with Norway if Rybak draws a second-half slot, which would see their price contract further along with talk of a dark horse winner intensifying.
Even so, Rybak has to remain a dark horse for now, as it’s inconceivable juries would support him above all of the nations listed above. The only way I can see Rybak challenge the top spot is if the other contenders try to be too clever with their staging and lose out to Rybak’s simple charm. Even so, Norway should be a great trading opportunity once British punters get involved in the final, which is when Graham Norton could tip Rybak to win.
So if Salvador is to swerve an embarrassing fast-food music victory on home soil, where might that cordon-bleu musical concoction hail from?
France tends to be the first nation on most people’s list of ‘real music’ contenders. The problem Madame Monsieur have is selling their message to non-French speakers, given LED screens were banned by RTP after consultation with Salvador. On the other hand, the musicality, rhythm and mood of the song sets it apart from most of this year’s field, it’s just unfortunate the song’s message – its USP – is lost in the language.
It’s also worth noting that Madame Monsieur only finished third with the Destination Eurovision juries and are presently treading water in the lower echelons of the Eurojury poll. Mercy should be a jury song, yet for some reason it is struggling to attract wider support. Nevertheless, Top-10 should be within reach given the standard of songs competing this year.
Outside of France it’s hard to see many other ‘real music’ contenders for the win at this stage. Germany, Greece and maybe even Belarus and Lithuania are capable of surprising given there has to be at least one ballad near the top, but most of these songs require major improvements. This highlights the lack of depth in this year’s field: there are plenty of pleasant, middle-of-the-road songs that tick the 7th-13th box, yet those same songs are the sort of entries talked about after the final as the surprise non-qualifier or undeserving last place. It’s time to face the music folks, this year’s winner looks set to get slapped with a health warning…
So then Salvador, would you like fries with your Eurovision 2018 winner?