A Load Of Old Ballads

Mar 19, 2013 by

A Load Of Old Ballads

The 39-song line-up has been completed. We will not know the exact running order of the 2 semi-finals until the end of next week, but it’s time for some initial thoughts regarding semi 1.

Despite the smaller size of this year’s semi-finals – only 16 nations competing in semi 1 making qualification, in theory, easier – this semi is already shaping up to be a trappy affair.

It has previously been something of a given that impressive solo ballads are well rewarded by juries. The head-scratcher for semi 1 punters is that there are potentially at least 8 songs of this ilk in this semi. Throw in Croatia, which also has the hallmarks of catnip for juries, not to mention the new scoring system, and the whole jury element of this semi looks very tricky to predict.

Juries are going to be tasked with putting the female soloists under the microscope far more than ever before here, and what is clear is that some of these ballads in semi 1 are not going to achieve the jury totals we have previously taken for granted. Adding to the conundrum, in recent years we have seen a bit of a leg up for ESC minnows in the semis, in terms of jury scoring, and the voting powerhouses often judged severely, seemingly to try and level the playing field.

As for the idea of choosing the running orders this year because, in the words of Jon Ola Sand, ‘We want every song to shine’, the EBU/SVT already has a major headache on its hands with the first half of semi 1. There are 7 solo females positioned here, with only Croatia’s male group, Klapa s Mora, breaking up this solo female overload, and there has to be a real danger of some of these solo females getting lost in the mix.

Let’s try and put ourselves into SVT’s shoes. It has a track record to start and finish heats with uptempo numbers and/or heat favourites. Austria’s ‘Shine’ has a bit of uptempo oomph about it and Russia’s ‘What If’ is a rousing power ballad with requisite key change in the last minute. Hannah’s ‘Straight Into Love’ with its dubstep elements for Slovenia is certainly uptempo enough. The Netherlands song has a haunting, dream-like quality all of its own, and would certainly provide a unique start to semi 1, but with its classic ESC flute-playing intro we would rate Denmark as favourite to be opening semi 1. What better way to start proceedings in 2013 than with the favourite to win the whole Contest?

A draw in 1 is better than 2 or 3 and giving Denmark 1 would also open up the possibility for some SVT favouritism towards Denmark come the final, if Denmark qualifies and goes on to land a running order position in the 2nd half of the final.

Russia has voting strength which could see it get an early slot, and we would expect more favour to be given to the Netherlands given its miserable qualifying record. SVT has 4 stellar female vocalists in Anouk, Dina Garipova, Zlata Ognevich and Birgit Olgemeel to deal with and if we had control of the r.o. we would slot them in at 2, 4, 6 and 8. But it faces an impossible task keeping all the solo females apart and will have to settle for a grubby little compromise, possibly something like this:


It has a few more options with the running order of the 2nd half of semi 1 with 3 solo males (one of which is an uptempo house tune), 3 solo females (one of which is uptempo ethno-pop), a girl group and a dubstep male duo to play with.

In terms of potential semi 1 closers, you would have to think Serbia and Belarus are prime suspects. The third possible would be Ireland’s house tune. Of course, Ireland has received the pimp slot in its semi in the last 2 ESCs – so it would be a case of the luck of the Irish once more if it gets the luxury of last to perform again. On balance, Belarus looks the most likely semi closer. We would run with something like this. SVT, are you reading?


Now, as we know only 10 will qualify. There is a stat being bandied around that there have never been more than 5 songs to qualify from the first half of an ESC semi, and if this stat is to continue 3 of the first 8 will not get through, yet it looks, on paper, like the 1st half of semi 1 is stronger than the 2nd half.

We don’t care much for this stat, and our view of tv betting is that stats are there to be broken. Germany cannot win ESC 2010 because it has so little voting strength; a girl group has never won XF so Little Mix cannot win; no contestant to end up in the sing-off has ever gone on to win the XF series so James Arthur cannot win. We pooh-poohed all of these and our readers were handsomely rewarded as a result.

Something to bear in mind is that Aliona Moon will sing ‘O Mie’ for Moldova in Romanian. She joins Cyprus’s Despina Olympiou in singing her ballad in her native tongue, which at least gives both these songs something to distinguish themselves from all the English sung ballads in this semi.

Some further observations on semi 1 songs having sat through all the national qualifiers this year: we were unconvinced by Aliona’s live vocal when she sang the song, in English, in the Moldovan final. Ryan Dolan’s live vocal didn’t sound the strongest during Eurosong, but the Irish delegation have a track record for cleverly concealing weak live vocals (think Jedward). And Emmelie de Forest was falling off the high notes late on in her song when she performed it at the Danish final – ‘only teardrops’ almost being squealed by her rather than sung.

As for the Ukraine song this year. We are happy to go out on a limb in rating it poorly. If this wins ESC 2013 there really is no hope for mankind. Zlata may well have an amazing live vocal but people seem to have got hung up on this fact without objectively assessing ‘Gravity’ which, aside from being as sharply sweet as a bag of Haribo Tangfastics, has some of the most non-sensical lyrics going.

‘Nothing comes from dreams but dreams… nothing comes from love but love… nothing comes from pride but pride… nothing comes from songs but songs… I’m like a butterfly, spinning round a sword as if to dare, I should have stayed up high, you’ll never break free from gravity.’

Aside from the tautological nonsense of those verse starters, it is the raison d’être for butterflies to break free of gravity due to the fact they have wings and can fly, and butterflies do not spin, on a further pedantic note.

It is not only lyrically banal but to these ears, it is the worst kind of ESC schlock going, and if juries are supposed to be judging song quality, this should be well down the list in semi 1. Valentina Monetta had a brilliant live vocal last year but that didn’t stop San Marino’s ‘The Social Network Song’ being considered an abomination. Does Ukraine get preferential treatment because it is Ukraine and this song has the facade of something more substantial, while in truth being emptier than a eunuch’s underpants?

It’s still very early days to be making any predictions in terms of qualifiers from this semi but we would not be surprised if a very short-priced nation or 2 go out, partly due to the solo female overload, and we will be eagerly on the look out for any cracks in the supposed qualifying good things during the rehearsal stage.

What are your thoughts on semi 1? Have you already spotted some qualifying bankers here? Does ‘Gravity’ bring you crashing down to earth as well, or leave you floating on air… like a butterfly even? Please do join the conversation below.


  1. Boki

    You forgot that someone from 2nd chance will never win MF 🙂

    I also rate Ukraine low, at least on the televote and will carefully follow reports from the jury rehearsal from you guys present there. Let’s wait for the running order first before jumping to any conclusion, it’s an interesting semi and I agree that some favorites should go down unlike last year when there were no surprises. However only 6 will be out this time, tricky.

  2. zoomraker

    are lyrics really that important, it’s only pop music

    i think the song works well bit like enya bur not taking itself so seriously.

    could easily make top ten, maybe top five.

  3. Rob

    Yes, I wouldn’t discount it from achieving a decent result, zoom, regardless of my personal distaste of it.

    Whether jurors pay much attention to lyrics, I do not know. It is supposed to be a song contest so it should matter. Last year, there were similar questions asked about the lyrics of ‘Would You?’ – the Belgium song, sung by Iris. The lyrics made very little sense. It finished 17th out of 18. But obviously Belgium doesn’t have anywhere close to the voting strength of Ukraine.

  4. Boki

    Just to make myself more clear, I don’t hate Ukraine entry and I didn’t pay attention to smaller details like lyrics. I just believe that the weird strong structure will not go well with the average televoter who listens to it for the first time without over-analyzing as we do. Yes, some people will like it because it supposed to be different and more original than Russia for example but still I find the majority asking themselves “what was that”.

  5. Rob

    You’re right, Boki. It does have a peculiar structure as a song which left me cold the 1st time I heard it. And the ‘new, improved’ version isn’t much different.

    A key difference is, Russia and Georgia are unashamedly power ballads – they are everything it says on the tin. This Ukraine song is trying to make out it is something it is not.

    With its wafts of world music it is trying to be clever & original, but when you break it down it goes nowhere & the lyrics are meaningless.

  6. Jamie

    I agree with you on the Ukraine song. It is an abomination. It is anti-music. I hate it with a passion. If I were a juror, I would rate it 16th out of 16 and it would be lucky to get that rating.

    I doubt that my opinion on Ukraine will be typical but I do think that it illustrates that jurors now have the power to effectively vote against songs which they particularly dislike. I suspect that the intention is that jurors should vote against novelties such as the Russian grannies. However, it is likely that this will have unexpected musical and political consequences. For example, if the eastern juries were to vote tactically, they could vote against, say, Netherlands in order to try to scupper its chances against their own ballads. I think that it will be almost impossible to second guess the impact of the new rules on the jury voting results.

    As for which song should close this semi-final, the imaginative choice would be Montenegro. If Belarus has the energy level of an AA battery then Montenegro is more like a nuclear explosion. The market seems to be treating the Montenegrin song as an equivalent of that dreadful Woki Poki song from last year. However, if they get the staging and the production right for this, and if Nina Zizic can sing live anywhere near as well as on the video, and with a standing rather than seated audience near the stage this year, then Montenegro could blow the rest of this semi-final right out of the water.

    Vodim te na igranku, na-na-na-na igranku.

  7. Rob

    Welcome back, Jamie, & excellent posts. Tactical voting may well play a part which only adds to the conundrum. They are supposed to be musical professionals so you would hope they are at least capable of recognising how weak the Ukraine song is.

    Love your Montenegro idea. It’s one I’ve noted down as a potential surprise package for the reasons you elucidate. Nina Zizic sounds a very capable live vocalist on YT clips. Really hope they nail the staging because as a creative 3 minutes of music ‘Igranka’ is infinitely superior to ‘Gravity’ & many other songs in this semi imho.

  8. Boki

    Montenegro is an interesting one, I’m starting to develop some warm feelings towards their chances. They can easily mess up with the staging so will wait for rehearsal anyway, but don’t you guys think it will be slashed by the juries?

  9. Rob

    Yes, best to wait until rehearsals with this one, Boki. It is a worry that juries have appeared to be anti-rap in the past but this song offers a lot more than past rap efforts at the ESC imho.

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