Arcade Winner?

Mar 15, 2019 by

Arcade Winner?

So we now know all 41 songs heading to Tel Aviv and the Outright market on the Betfair Exchange has settled on The Netherlands as favourite, trading at 3.8 at time of posting.

‘Arcade’ is a haunting, modern ballad and Duncan Laurence offered a live ‘acoustic’ version post-reveal found here. While he started this performance a little flat Duncan’s falsetto appears assured. The song’s quality is not in question; the big question that remains is how it will be staged in Tel Aviv, and whether The Netherlands staging committee can successfully create a canvas for the song to resonate.

Russia drifted post-reveal but has since fought back to a position of 2nd favourite. The adjective that sprang to mind when first listening to this was ‘bombastic’. It has some nice epic flourishes. The concern would be, beneath the grandiose facade is there enough of a song there?

The market is respecting Russia’s ability to turn this into a staging tour de force, building on the dramatic elements of ‘Scream’. Sergey Lazarev’s main issue may well turn out to be much the same as it was back in 2016, and persuading enough jury members of the song’s merits.

3rd favourite is Sweden, which seems to be more or less Sweden’s default betting position on the Outright every year. John Lundvik swept the jury vote in the Melodifestivalen final which initially saw the Swedish price drop. It has since drifted back out.

While it was an eye-catching feat to land a clean sweep of jury 12s, as was his televote haul, we have to remember this was purely in the context of this year’s Swedish final. The juries there are not as robust as they are at Eurovision and it was also noticeable how Eastern Europe wasn’t represented.

Sergey Lazarev’s main issue may well turn out to be much the same as it was back in 2016, and persuading enough jury members of the song’s merits

’Too Late For Love’ possibly suffers for being too middle-of-the-road and run-of-the-mill. Its overtly Americanised, Gospel presentation is a further concern in terms of televote appeal east of Vienna but for whatever reason Sweden seems to have unlocked the formula for high jury scores so it has to be respected.

A 4th solo male occupies 4th favourite status in the Outright market – Luca Hanni for Switzerland with ’She Got Me’. This track will be aiming to achieve something similar to what Eleni Foureira managed last year for Cyprus with ‘Fuego’ – significantly elevated when performed live.

It is a Despacito-style, modern pop song crying out for an impressively choreographed stage show to create impact and sell the song’s party spirit. If ‘Fuego’ had never happened last year, Switzerland would be trading at a much bigger price. Don’t forget last year, before we arrived in Lisbon, ‘Fuego’ was considered an also-ran, trading as big as 100-1 and largely dismissed as a lightweight, derivative pop song.

This oddschecker chart from March 11, 2018 proves a timely reminder of how rehearsal fortnight can be a game-changer and songs written off by the market as having very little chance, can end up in the top 4, while those at the front of the market can disappoint and under-perform. But each year is different.

The official Swiss video hints that the telegenic Luca Hanni can bring some cool choreography to the Tel Aviv stage and if he does the televoting appeal is clear but like ‘Fuego’, Switzerland’s task this year will be to win over enough jury members to challenge for the win.

The only other uptempo, solo male entry this year comes from Spain. Spain is regularly derided in ESC circles but this song has enormous charm, particularly in the form it was presented at the Spanish NF. Miki sells it well leading his merry young band around the stage and the chorus is infectious and has a wonderful feel-good spirit. The issue might be, jurors sneering at its football anthem qualities.

A further worry with Spain is, as seems to happen virtually every year, too many cooks spoiling the broth. While they stumbled upon an organic presentation at the national final that appeared to serve the song and performer well, it may well be completely overhauled for Tel Aviv, and could lose some of its rustic charm. Fokas Evangelinos has been tasked with the staging and they have already revamped the song. Message to the Spanish delegation: be careful not to tamper too much. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Italy and Cyprus are next in the betting. The general view is, ‘Soldi’ will have significant jury appeal. Mahmood, however, isn’t the most engaging of performers and when first heard at Sanremo ‘Soldi’ did very poorly on the televote despite the pimp slot, only earning 1.74% of the vote. Even disregarding domestic favourites Il Volo and Ultimo taking up a substantial part of the vote, that is inescapably poor.

Much like Switzerland, Cyprus is being respected by the market because of ‘Fuego’ comparisons. The song, ‘Replay’, sounds similar which might prove a handicap in itself. A further issue could be the difficulty for Tamta to emulate Eleni Foureira and significantly elevate the song live. It is perhaps also worth remembering, what succeeded at ESC the year before can often prove to be a poor indicator of what does well the following year.

There are a plethora of radio-friendly, modern-sounding pop songs this year vying for attention. To differentiate themselves they will require some staging magic or risk fading into obscurity. Azerbaijan, Armenia, Malta, Greece… you pays your money and you takes your chance regarding who is going to step up to the plate live, both vocally and visually.

Srbuk looks a feisty performer capable of bringing ‘Walking Out’ to life on stage, while Greece’s Katerine Duska has a distinctive vocal, with a hint of Jess Glynne, which might help her stand out.

There are a plethora of radio-friendly, modern-sounding pop songs this year vying for attention. To differentiate themselves they will require some staging magic or risk fading into obscurity

Michela’s ‘Chameleon’ has echoes of Margaret’s ‘Cool Me Down’ from a few years ago which failed to win the Polish national final. With all of these solo, uptempo female pop performers – Tamta, Katerine Duska, Srbuk, Michela Pace – we also need to think about who the audience might warm to most, and least.

Countries this year have clearly looked at the success of Austria last year on the jury side and tried to copy the formula, most notably Sweden and Azerbaijan whose artist this year, Chingiz, has attracted plenty of attention among ESC’s gay community. It’s a step up from the desperately generic ‘X My Heart’ poor Aisel was lumbered with last year, but ’Truth’ is again going to need something special, staging and performance-wise, to rise above the crowd. It also needs to be cut down in length.

Among those with a highly distinctive USP this year, top of the list would have to be Iceland and Portugal. Both have attracted money on the Outright partly for that reason.

Hatari is going to be a major wtf? moment Europe-wide when seen by tv viewers. Outside of the alienating screeching there is an excellent melody there and the song could easily be reimagined as a far more palatable aural experience in the mould of a Radiohead track. Regardless, it is deserving of plaudits for its daring and artistic ambition. The staging of it at the Icelandic national final was visually arresting despite the strange BDSM overtones.

There has already been a fair amount of media coverage regarding Hatari and threats of anti-Israel protests. Hopefully people do come round to realising these guys do not take themselves too seriously, have a wonderful sense of irony and appear to be parodying themselves as this interview highlights.

Portugal’s Conan Osiris brings his own unique musical vision to the ESC stage with ’Telemoveis’. Similar to Hatari, this is a leftfield entry, in this instance peddling an intoxicating ethno sound. This scores highly in the authenticity stakes but Conan’s bare-chested dancer perhaps risks taking some of the credibility away.

Joci Papai returns for Hungary with the song ‘Az én apám’. His 2017 ethno ballad ‘Origo’ was possibly stronger than this, achieving a top 10 finish, but what we did learn back then was how good Joci is as a live performer.

‘Telemoveis’ scores highly in the authenticity stakes but Conan’s bare-chested dancer perhaps risks taking some of the credibility away

Norway looks like polling well among fans this year with ’Spirit In The Sky’ which has its yoiking USP. One red flag regarding its chances in Tel Aviv is, it appeared to do poorly on the jury side in Melodi Grand Prix only landing one maximum 12pts from Israel and with the advantage of the pimp slot. Despite its catchy chorus it might also be considered dated.

Victor Crone’s ’Storm’ did similarly poorly with the Eesti Laul jurors and required big televote support to make the super-final and go on to win. It’s a very simple, and some might argue, bland pop song straight out of the Swedish factory. Fellow Baltic nation Lithuania has something similarly midtempo, solo male pop on its hands with ‘Run With The Lions’ sung by Jurij Veklenko.

At first glance, neither of these entries look like enjoying a comfortable cruise to the grand final despite second half draws in their respective semi-finals, though Estonia has the advantage of being in the easier-to-qualify-from semi 1.

Hopes were high Darude might bring a Sandstorm-esque banger to the ESC stage this year but while ‘Look Away’ was nicely presented at the Finnish NF it could risk falling between two stools, not being enough of a dance anthem to stand out and moving closer in nature to unremarkable pop.

Belgium was another many had earmarked as a potential contender this year given selection was back in the hands of the broadcaster RTBF and songwriter Pierre Dumoulin who brought us Blanche’s ‘City Lights’ in 2017.

‘Wake Up’ has possibly been harshly compared to that as it remains a commendable, modern pop song which does have potential to create an evocative atmosphere if staged wisely. The jury is out, however, regarding whether Eliot has the vocal chops to deliver this song well enough live.

Bilal won the French national final with ‘Roi’ where he was able to win courtesy of his domestic fan base. The juries had other ideas rating Seemone best with Bilal well down the pecking order in 5th. While it has been great to see France make the effort with its excellent Destination Eurovision show, you cannot help but think they have passed up the opportunity of a high placement this year with Seemone’s ’Tous Les Deux’ and Bilal is going to struggle to gain traction.

‘Wake Up’ has possibly been harshly compared to ‘City Lights’ as it remains a commendable, modern pop song which does have potential to create an evocative atmosphere if staged wisely

He’s not the strongest live vocalist and ‘Roi’ comes across as unremarkable and lightweight. France needs to learn the dark arts of national finals – if it had chosen a 50/50, jury/televote format, with each awarded on the 12, 10, 8… scale, Seemone would have won and France would be in line for a better result in Tel Aviv.

Australia’s Kate Miller-Heidke has some USP working for her with her operatic prowess and even more so, the kooky staging we saw at the Australian national final. One worry is, there has been talk of the staging being completely different in Tel Aviv which could see her entry lose some of its unique appeal.

Czech Republic arguably brings a modern, radio-friendly song in ‘Friend Of A Friend’ but it might be in danger of coming across as too flimsy and insubstantial.

Slovenia raises similar questions to The Netherlands. Can the quality shine through despite its under-stated nature, and will it be able to make an emotional connection and resonate with viewers?

The Slovenian language could pose a barrier but the staging, if it’s anything like what we saw at EMA 2019, looks a potential plus. There is a sense of charmingly innocent young love and it was beautifully lit, creating a magical atmosphere. It was an impressive feat for ‘Sebi’ to win EMA 2019 with close to 73% of the televote up against an entry by Raiven which enjoyed the pimp slot and had Lea Sirk fanfaring it.

Austria’s ‘Limits’ ticks the modern pop ballad box with echoes of Ellie Goulding but Paenda may need to rely on something cleverly artistic to make an impact on the ESC stage. Latvia’s entry ‘That Night’ by Carousel was beautifully staged at Supernova and is more reminiscent of 90s Portishead. It’s dreamy and haunting but possibly suffers due to a lack of development.

It was an impressive feat for ‘Sebi’ to win EMA 2019 with close to 73% of the televote up against an entry by Raiven which enjoyed the pimp slot and had Lea Sirk fanfaring it

Poland’s Yulia bring the ‘novelty’ to this year’s Contest, though it is a lesser brand of novelty compared to the country’s ‘My Slowianie’ in 2014, or Russia’s Buranovskiye Babushki in 2012 for that matter.

Denmark’s Leonara is selling something timelessly Danish which risks being considered dated and twee with ‘Love Is Forever’ which could have been plucked from the Contest 20 years ago.

There are the usual assortment of potentially highly competent ballads heading to Tel Aviv this year and only rehearsals will tell us more regarding which ones are performed and staged best and stand the stronger chance of qualifying among Albania, Georgia, North Macedonia, Serbia, Romania and Moldova.

Ireland has a pleasant enough ditty in studio form with ’22’ but it could be the sort of thing that risks fading into the background up against 17 other songs in semi 2, particularly from a first half draw.

The UK’s ‘Bigger Than Us’ is by no means a poor song and if someone like John Lundvik was performing it, it would stand a chance of doing much better. But you have to fear the live performance in Tel Aviv will lack the necessary charisma and stagecraft required to elevate it.

Staging has become a pivotal factor at ESC and it will only be rehearsals where we get a clearer idea of where we stand this year. It’s a promising year trading-wise because we have an eclectic mix of songs, a good few divisive entries, and enough quality to make things competitive.

We are now progressing into the pre-rehearsal period of song revamps and where Tel Aviv staging news, live performances and fan polls all have an impact on the Outright odds.

The pre-ESC concert circuit is always informative and opinions will only begin to strengthen once we start to see this year’s artists perform live. The aim, as always, will be to offer some coverage from the upcoming Amsterdam and London gigs.

2 Comments

  1. John

    Really concise breakdown, Rob. Agree with pretty much the whole thing. It’s quite an open year, especially without a de-facto favourite like Netta (which always had a strong narrative from day one). Instead we have Netherlands knocking at the door again, Sergey trying for ‘a Dima’ and Sweden doing it’s usual the-favourite-behind-the-actual-favourites thing.

    Luca is a good performer, but I have less faith in the Swiss putting on a good show. Same goes for the Spanish, who don’t have the best track record. But La Venda is fun in a bun and if they copy Alcohol is Free as a raucus template then top 10 could be assured. I think Estonia, Spain, Greece and Norway look like the value picks for me but like you say it’s just too early to tell. I also agree it would be a shame if Oz lost the gravity defying side to their performance. That song has a strong finish.

    Seems a year for covering the bases, which means remembering Iceland.

    Israel’s vocal is a belter but he seems like a Didrik Solly Tangen to me. Cyprus looks like a false favourite and I think Portugal is just TOO weird to catch fire.

  2. A first ‘prediction’ from my side with all the info we have a.t.m.:
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    01. GREECE: Staging very much an unknown. But looking at Katerine’s three ‘live’ mini-concerts, she has something unique over her. A bit the male equivalent of Duncan Laurence. The level of artistic creativity used in the videoclip could be ‘translated’ on stage. This has the potential to do well with both televote and juries.
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    02. SWITZERLAND: Not a winning song for me, as I think winning songs in the end are truly unique in the field. Yet Sacha Jean Baptiste will elevate this, and Luca is such a charismatic performer. Does very well in the televote, but could struggle eventually in the jury vote. Also, how to make this ‘different’ from Cyprus?
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    03. THE NETHERLANDS: Like the Greek singer, Duncan Laurence is a unique performer. It’s an artist people will ‘observe the emotions’ rather than ‘connect through eye contact’. Yet for now, as I am a Dutchman myself, I prefer to be careful. From AVROTROS I know there’s more of a ‘winning vibe’ going on. Ilse?
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    04. ICELAND: Let’s face it. It’s a great song! Packed in an act that could create a ‘WTF’-moment, but not as repulsive as, let’s say, Portugal. People will ‘understand’ this. If it’s being staged like in the NF, I could see this become a serious threat in the televote for GR, CH and NL. However, the juries will rank this down, so 4th?
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    05. SWEDEN: While love is a losing game, for the Swedes a narrow TOP 5 position might feel as a losing game as well. Within the field of Melodifestivalen it stood out. John is utterly charismatic on stage. Yet, again, the Swedes don’t come with a more unique, artistically relevant song. High with juries, not so with televote.
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    06. RUSSIA: There’s only a maximum of ‘impressive’ staging you can use, before it will loose its emotional purity. Although I prefer the Russian entry this year more than 2016, it lacks the quality and authenticity ‘Arcade’ has. Also, how will European juries react to anti-Russian sentiment? High with televote though.
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    07. CZECH REPUBLIC: Underestimated gem of a song for me. The singer from Lake Malawi apparently will just dance and prance around without too much choreographical content, but wasn’t that something Lena (2010) did as well? Melodically it is catchy, but not monotonous. Could do OK with both televoters and juries.
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    08. CYPRUS: Staged by Sacha Jean Baptiste. I do think juries will compare this negatively with last year’s ‘Fuego’. Obviously this will look nice on stage, but Switzerland has less of a ‘Fuego 2.0’ vibe to it. Could do TOP 10, but this year the competition of poppy up-tempo songs like these is bigger. Thanks Cyprus 2018.
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    09. BELGIUM: Underestimated song if you ask me. I think there’s stiff competition in this genre, but Eliot has charisma, sounds self-assured, and Jean-Jacques Marotte will do the staging. I also like the melancholical vibe of the song. Probably this will be kept simple, but the song itself could put this in just in the TOP 10.
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    10. SPAIN: Song-wise this isn’t that interesting to me personally. And I even prefer the old version over the new studio version. But Miki owns the stage, oozes charisma and will surely make a huge party in Tel Aviv. Fokas Evangelinos does the staging for this entry too, but perhaps for less pennies. High enough televote.
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    In contention for left-hand side of the scoreboard:
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    11. ITALY: It sounds a bit weird for such a quality entry, but I do think it’s a bit of a ‘fan-wank’, just like ‘Mercy’ last year. Mahmood could be perceived as an angry protester on stage. Pretty good for juries.
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    12. MALTA: I will be watching this one carefully. It went much faster to 1 million YouTube views than Switzerland. But I have to agree with Gavin here. Can she cope with a choreography driven entry?
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    13. NORWAY: This is not a fan-wank to me, it’s more of a Denmark 2018-ish entry. I think televoters would love this. However, it’s pretty much dated to my ears if I were a juror. Don’t rule it out yet.
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    14. HUNGARY: I had this higher on my list before, but this isn’t as good as the 2017 entry, which had some more Chemistry on stage thanks to a dancer. However, Joci is loved in the Balkan. Televoter magnet?
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    15. AZERBAIJAN: ‘Fuego’ meets ‘Nobody But You’ (Austria 2018). One of the best Azeri entries in years. And look closely to Chingiz on YouTube: very gifted stage performer, especially with guitar. Could do well.

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