It may not have escaped your notice that the Eurovision 2019 betting market is rather male dominated with Duncan Laurence, Sergey Lazarev, Luca Hänni, John Lundvik, Mahmood and Hatari all trading lower than the nearest female challengers, Tamta, Michela and Katerine Duska.
I struggle to remember a year when the outright market was such a sausage fest and it leads me to think that a female act will somehow confound the markets and break into the top-4. For context, the top-4 has never been dominated by a single sex since the reintroduction of the juries. One has to go back to 2006 when the top-4 featured Lordi, Dima Bilan, Hari Mata Hari (male lead) and Mihai; even then Carola was just two-points away from 4th.
Before we assess the female sizzlers, let’s get stuck into the settled pre-rehearsal favourites:It can take a while for the Betfair market to come to terms with a favourite. On its release, Duncan Laurence’s Arcade held its ground at around 20/1 before settling in the teens and then shortening to single-figures. Following the release of some live piano versions of Arcade, the market wasted no time in driving the Netherlands‘ price to sub 3/1 and further still to around 9/5.
The art of Eurovision betting is identifying which songs are capable of creating a uniquely memorable moment while connecting with TV viewers on an emotional level. Arcade is seemingly one such example and it possesses a sublime mix of light and shade neatly packaged in a delicate etherial arrangement. It’s the song that should appeal to juries across the board. Nevertheless, the question critical gamblers are asking is if Duncan can sell the song to viewers at home and whether staging director, Hans Pannecoucke, can tame his wilder excesses.
When the piano versions of Arcade first appeared, it was apparent Duncan favoured singing with his eyes closed while grimacing during the trickier vocal moments. This isn’t a good look for TV viewers and it sowed the first seeds of doubt in the Dutch package. At the London Eurovision Party, Duncan calmed gamblers’ nerves with the first glimpse of a ‘camera-worthy’ performance, albeit slightly wobbly on some of the notes. London Eurovision tends to be a low-tech event, or at least more difficult to engineer due to the proximity and noise of the crowd. I think we can forgive Duncan the odd wobble in this situation and cling to the knowledge that he is able to perform with greater clarity in a more controlled environment.
If the visual aspect of Arcade meets expectations in Tel Aviv then the Netherlands will remain deserved short-priced favourites. All Pannecoucke has to do is to recreate the intimacy of Amor Pelos Dios while exploiting the staging and lighting to narrate the lighter and heavier elements of Arcade. Fail to do this and the market will go into panic.The EuroJury ‘juries’ opted to make Sweden their winner, which is a warmer and more soulful version of Austria’s 2018 entry. When John Lundvik won Melodifestivalen in March, Sweden’s price crashed to around 5/1 before gradually drifting out 20/1. It’s only when the EuroJury scores started to land that gamblers realised they had been too hasty in writing-off Sweden. It’s just worth noting that Cesár Sampson attracted jury support from many eastern nations, which wouldn’t normally be expected. The eastern televote didn’t follow up with the same enthusiasm though.
Anyway, as if one set of juries wasn’t enough, John Lundvik can boast a clean sweep of top marks from Melodifestivalen’s international jurors. Okay, the number of jurors was reduced from 11 to eight this year, but Loreen only landed top marks with six of the 11 jurors in 2012. Måns earned full marks from nine of the 11 jurors in 2015. It is extremely rare for a song to attract such uniform support. On the televote John earned top marks from every age group from 16-29 through to 75+. The only blots were from age groups 3-9 and 10-15. On the face of it these stats are impressive and indicate Too Late for Love might be far more accessible than fans and gamblers have been willing to accept. EuroJury tells a different story and either demonstrates a universal weariness among fans for Swedish entries, or it implies Lundvik might suffer the same fate as Ingrosso and Bengtsson. Conversely, let’s not overlook the fact that the EuroJury public vote is still a fan vote.
Sweden has to be respected because we know John Lundvik and his gospel singers can routinely deliver a flawless, virtuoso vocal performance, but crucially they exude a heart-warming sincerity that just lights up the room. It was clear when watching back the London Eurovision performances that John Lundvik’s charisma shone through. He was one of only a few performers with real gravitas, whereas many others – to varying degrees – had the look of support acts.
The Swedish delegation are reworking parts of the staging in readiness for Tel Aviv. Their aim is to make it feel lighter, which is an astute move, as the early parts of Too Late for Love did appear a little dull at Melodifestivalen. And if EuroJury is barometer of jury support in Tel Aviv, then Sweden’s price could go very short when the Eurovision juries start presenting their points on May 18th.Returning for his second shot at victory having missed out in 2016, Sergey Lazarev will be hoping his unconventional song will score better with the juries. Depending who you speak to Russia has either blown its chances or are still in with a serious shot at winning the Contest. I would tend to side with the latter statement, but it may also require other nations to underwhelm or underperform.
Returning to the subject of creating a memorable moment, Scream has a USP all to itself with its theatrical Game of Thrones drama and its ability to tell a story on stage. Russia has daringly sidestepped the crowded pop and ballad battles instead opting to deliver a memorable moment of musical theatre complete with a Bohemian Rhapsody-inspired middle-eight and explosive finale. Moreover, we know Sergey is capable of singing right down the barrel of the camera and that he understands how to connect with TV viewers. What’s more, the vocals will be flawless thanks to the exceptional work of Alex Panayi.
Then we have the influence of Fokas Evangelinos who has an extraordinary record of creating unique staging concepts from Sergey’s projection wall in 2016, Ani Lorak’s box in 2008, Farid’s box in 2013 and DoRedoS’ box last year. Even Dima Bilan’s ice skater was a Fokas concept. In this small sample there are two winners, a second place, a third place and a song pushed well beyond its limits into the top-10. The ability of Fokas to elevate a song into an attention-grabbing performance cannot be underestimated, especially with a song so perfectly suited to such embellishment.
Predictably the pre-Contest polls haven’t ranked Russia that high. That’s understandable as Scream isn’t Spotify friendly and the fan-based polls do tend to favour pop songs and those with nostalgic charm – or those from more politically palatable nations. Going back to 2015, Gagarina’s pop-ballad didn’t feature in the OGAE top-10, yet ended up second overall. A year earlier Russia were roundly booed in Copenhagen, so the political situation has evidently influenced the fan community. With fan input removed, A Million Voices finished 5th with EuroJury, which was 100% jury back then.
It is pretty clear to everyone that there are positive and negative aspects to Scream, yet the nations at the front end of the market all have flaws to varying degrees whether relating to the song or performance – or both. In Russia’s case a dynamic staging concept with strong storytelling could massively elevate its appeal with juries and the televote. Likewise, anything below expectations will see Russia’s price drift rapidly. Quite where Sergey ends up in the top-5 will be decided minutes after his first rehearsal in May.Another unconventional song in the mix comes from Italy. The initial market reaction to Mahmood winning Sanremo was negative with Italy’s price drifting out to over 20/1. The price then shortened when Mahmood’s Eurovision participation was in doubt with the market assuming the baton would pass to Il Volo or Ultimo. When Mahmood subsequently confirmed his participation the Italy price drifted out again. It’s only in the last six-weeks or so that Italy’s price started to shorten to as low as 9/1. The shortening pre-dates EuroJury and OGAE, so why are gamblers investing their hard earned Soldi in Italy?
The perception is that Soldi is a credible and modern track and should thus attract plenty of support from Eurovision juries. If this were true it would also rely on the televote playing along in order to secure victory. Let’s look at the Sanremo stats:
On the first night of Sanremo Mahmood performed Soldi from the pimp slot in a field of 24 acts, two short of a Eurovision final lineup. The press jury ranked Mahmood first; however, the televote ranked him 21st with 1.74% share of the vote. Moreover, the Demoscopic jury (representative jury of 300 music fans assembled by Ipsos) ranked him 19th. I would accept the argument that the public vote was skewed in favour of more popular artists on the Italian music scene, but if Soldi is such a great song why did it barely register with the Italian public first time around and why will the result be so different May?
Mahmood only had half of the field to beat on the third evening of Sanremo. He topped the press jury ranking again, yet finished 7th out of 12 with the televote and 8th with the Demoscopic jury. These stats are not consistent with a Eurovision contender. In my opinion, the reason behind these low stats is partly down to the unvarying style of the song and Mahmood’s anti-performance which is so atypical for popular music contests. Mahmood was even last on the televote in a three-act super-final!
Nevertheless, the level of EuroJury support isn’t that surprising if one compares the radio friendly and contemporary nature of Soldi against the rest of the plastic pop songs in this year’s lineup. It does standout from a jury perspective. Even so, many of the juries had only a single juror and most of the big points were awarded from regional or Mediterranean nations. And when it comes to the OGAE poll I think there’s more than music influencing the points. Despite that, both major polls showing positive results for Italy has to be respected. The view here is that Italy will be around 4th-8th on the televote in May, barring Mahmood surprising us with a massive staging prop and dazzling us with Gabbani-like charisma. Italy will be similar if not slightly better with the juries and will finish comfortably around the top-5 which is a significant uplift since my first appraisal back in February.Luca Hänni’s selection was rumoured for many months before his official unveiling which presented a great trading opportunity for the early birds on Betfair. Having traded at over 100/1 and as low as 14/1 prior to the release of She Got Me, the market drifted on the presentation of Luca’s song. Switzerland didn’t sound like a winner on first listen and my first instinct was to lay-off my liability for a free-run. As the season has progressed, and having seen Luca in Amsterdam, I feel the song is in danger of failing to meet expectations. There were some major red flags at AFAS Live and the crowd didn’t appear that engaged. The song seemed to lose something when performed live, though that could change once stage director, Sacha Jean-Baptiste, gets her hands on it in Tel Aviv.
Switzerland was well adrift of Sweden, Netherlands and Italy with the EuroJury juries. Considering Luca Hänni’s main challenge is to get the Eurovision juries on side, it is concerning to see him that far off the pace knowing there might be vocal frailties to work on in Tel Aviv. Therefore, it’s worth speculating that Switzerland might be one of the Eurojury top-5 to ultimately finish lower than expected, given EuroJury tends to get three of the subsequent top-5 correct. My own view is that while She Got Me is a great radio track, it feels more like a 7th-11th than a top-5 song at this point.As if this year’s betting couldn’t get any crazier, Iceland have been hovering between 14/1 and 30/1 since Hatari were selected nearly two-months ago. The market has had great difficulty in accepting that the BDSM-punk group are capable of mounting a serious challenge.
In the Iceland review I cited that no song has even done well with growled vocals since the reintroduction of the juries. Max Jason Mai and Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät both finished last in their respective semi-finals, while AWS and O.Torvald finished bottom-5 despite concerted speculation that AWS would somehow surprise everyone. Lordi remains the only winner, yet Hard Rock Hallelujah was a totally different genre and it won because it was absurdly fun and that Lordi didn’t take themselves too seriously. Hatrið mun sigra, on the other hand, is a totally different assault on the senses with its homoerotic BDSM symbolism and intense delivery. Poland 2014 demonstrated that sex sells when presented with a cheeky ‘Carry On’ charm, but Hatari’s dark staging will shock too many judges and televoters to challenge for victory.
EuroJury’s juries ranked Iceland 18th, whereas the public [fan] vote placed Iceland 4th, boosting Hatari’s overall position to 8th. I would argue that Eurovision fans participating in EuroJury voting will be far more desensitised to Hatrið mun sigra than 50-year old Olga from Russia and 42-year old Bogdan from Serbia. Those nations with an orthodox view of the world will struggle with the aggressive sexualised and shouty nature of Hatrið mun sigra. For that reason, I don’t have Iceland in my top-5 and suspect they could even finish outside of the top-10 if other nations turn up with positive and engaging performances. Televoters vote for fun, not doom and anger.
So what do the female artists have to offer?Rewind a few weeks and people were talking about Greece as a certain top-4 and potential winner. Those opinions have dried up since Katerina’s vocal performance at AFAS Live. Illness was blamed, yet days later she appeared in a vocal rehearsal before cancelling her London Eurovision Party appearance, again citing illness. Panic much? Katerina eventually rocked up in Madrid and showed some improvement; however, that guttural opening in the lower register lacks clarity and the whole vocal performance needs greater precision. The best description I’ve read to date is that she “sings like somebody is firmly squeezing a mule.” Just returning to that vocal rehearsal video, the new layering really doesn’t suit the punchiness of the song. Maybe they will rework it again before rehearsals in May? Even though I like the song, I believe Greece are now aiming for top-10 rather than top-4. One other word of advice for the Greek delegation would be to not go down a weird path with the staging, such as dressing Katerina in a pink net curtain. Over in Cyprus Tamta will be attempting to fill Eleni’s rather large heels and land another top-4 finish. Replay is heavily based on last year’s hit, Fuego, though without the eastern musical riffs in the arrangement. It’s worth challenging the assumption that the Cypriot delegation will try to lazily recreate last year’s stage show. They won’t. And having viewed past videos of Tamta it’s fair to say she lacks the sass of Eleni and perhaps isn’t as natural a mover. Therefore, stage director, Sacha Jean-Baptiste, faces a challenge to deliver a fresh and appealing concept for Tel Aviv. If she succeeds, Tamta could be our top-4 girl. If Sacha creates another dud there should be enough in the Cypriot song to achieve a respectable finish, but the female baton would then be passed to Malta, who have an uncanny ability to acquire jury support from the strangest of places. Moreover, the delegation have been wisely investing money in YouTube promotion instead of embarking on the stale fan concert circuit.
The concerns in Malta aren’t over the song, which is perhaps one of the most chart-friendly hits in this year’s lineup. Their singer, 18-year old Michela is typical of modern talent show winners: great at singing but lacks the ability to sell a song of this style and calibre. In the main song review I suggested Malta cut their losses and accept Michela’s limitations, instead building a stage concept around her vocal strengths and leaving the choreography to the dancers. There’s definitely a chance of top-10 with Malta given what they managed in 2016 with Walk on Water, which was terrible in comparison. However, much of the delegation has been replaced since 2016 so previous alleged exchanges with other countries may not be guaranteed. If Chameleon exceeds expectations there is potential to go viral like Fuego, though at this stage I believe 8th-13th is more realistic based on Michela’s limitations. Malta are one to watch, though.
That’s the main female challengers covered, now for a brief rundown of the potential market movers… or not:
Azerbaijan bring an alternative pop song that has the potential to become a jury favourite if staged correctly. They have the same production team involved for Dihaj’s performance. Truth should be visually striking and could go well from the second semi pimp slot.
Armenia was well liked by the EuroJury juries, but Srbuk doesn’t appear that voteable. This Spanish party performance was ringing all sorts of alarm bells. Apparently there were sound issues in Madrid which may have irked Srbuk a tad. Walking Out is a rousing brassy Bond-themed ballad that has the potential to tick jury boxes, yet seems to lack something for the televote. Semi-2 is a big test for Armenia given how close the margins for qualification might be. Once in the final, Armenia will likely follow a similar path to Serbia 2016, so not a contender or a dark horse in my opinion.
Slovenia has made many dark horse lists since Zala & Gašper’s dominance in the EMA national final. I don’t see it myself. It reminds me of the soporific Portugal 2018, which finished last in the final. It also has a similar softness to Lithuania 2018 which had to rely on its voting power to qualify and subsequently finished 12th. Slovenia won’t be able to rely on Lithuania’s voting power either. What’s more, I find the stiff and somewhat weird chemistry between Zala & Gašper rather uncomfortable to watch and amateurish when compared to the other songs they are competing against. Slovenia’s challenge is the get out of the semi!
I was rather negative about Czech Republic in the song review, but it was early in the selection period when I’m mostly looking for winners. Now that the Eurovision lineup is complete and the semi-finals have been allocated, it’s fair to say that Lake Malawi offer a reasonably credible song in what is an open semi. It’s the sort of song the juries could get behind in the same way they supported Softengine in 2014. The juries ranked Softengine top-3 in the semi and 7th in the final. The Czechs are currently overall 9th-15th in the final by my reckoning.
I wouldn’t normally fall for Spain hype but this year is different. The term ‘meme-able’ is used quite frequently nowadays to flag up songs capable of doing well on the televote. Having said that, the song is largely irrelevant because Miki is such a star performer and is so naturally likeable. With Fokas designing his stage show, Spain could be a major mover on the market. If Spain are drawn in the second half of the final, watch Miki’s infectious energy close the show.
North Macedonia have an incredible vocalist in Tamara Todevska. If the performance and mood is right, the juries could have this in their semi-final top-4, which should see North Macedonia into their first final since 2012. Christer Björkman has also done them a favour with the running order slot.
Rehearsals will start on Saturday 4th May. The ESCtips betting chat room will be open as normal and a daily review article will be published for the first and second rehearsals along with previews for each live semi-final. I return to the UK on the Friday before the final to avoid what will be a chaotic exit on Sunday morning.