Day 1 – Ukraine’s Giant Fail

May 6, 2013 by

Day 1 – Ukraine’s Giant Fail

The EuroClub in Malmo’s Slaghuset would usually be a no-go area for yours truly. Late night partying with the ESC fans simply cannot be on the agenda when you’re setting your sights on the most lucrative trading fortnight of the tv betting year.

We were shipped into a cinema-style auditorium, laptops on laps, frantically scrapping for power sources to recharge. This, in theory, was a belter of a day 1 with 4 of the most talked about entries this year taking to the stage for the first time – Denmark, Russia, Ukraine, The Netherlands.

So who would come out on top between Zlata’s giant, Anouk’s tats, Emmelie’s barefooted, psychotic stare and Dina’s handkerchief-at-the-ready, Band Aid remix for 2013. Oh, and by the way, that girl from Pussy Riot will remain in the clink for the foreseeable future, thanks for asking… ‘Let’s reach out to those who need us the most’… and let’s start with the big 4 although they didn’t take to the stage until the afternoon session.

Emmelie sang ‘Only Teardrops’ extremely competently. She was better than I thought she would sound actually. But for some reason the staging didn’t really captivate. Her two drummers movements looked very robotic. My theory is, the staging was so polished in the Danish final this looked underwhelming by comparison. It improves for the addition of ticker tape and a pyrotechnic shower on the final run through but overall it almost looks over-choreographed and all too clinical.

Dina has 4 backing singers in a strange set of glowing circular orbs. Well, actually they are lamps. Dina was nervous on first run through. The 4 backing singers joined her towards the end in the centre of the stage. Given the big, rousing chorus this presentation seems too low key, certainly compared to the overblown official video. Dina’s lack of experience shows here. She closes her eyes too much and struggles to find the camera sometimes… but there’s no doubting her vocal ability.

She improves on later run throughs but there is a strange moment when two of her male backing singers invite her to cup their balls. You think I’m making this up, right? Genuinely she caresses their balls, right there on stage, and they are large balls too, that glow. It’s an awkward moment as Dina is so focused on singing she struggles to get her hands on them. And Zlata’s giant was expected to be the bizarre staging moment of the afternoon…

Talking of which, it really is a bizarre start to the song as he carries Zlata to the centre of the stage looking like Sloth from The Goonies. He places Zlata on a rock so she ends up resembling Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid.

From there, Zlata proceeds to completely oversell her performance. She’s in her own world wiggling away, performing the song in a very self-indulgent way. She has the pipes but that’s the only saving grace of a very long 3 minutes. All Zlata manages to do is make herself look vain throughout which causes laughter when her hair gets in her face on the final run through. If this is supposed to be a fairytale, this is more reminiscent of a staging nightmare.

Having already stated here how weak, in my view, the Ukraine song is, it is best to rein in further criticism. Zlata has 4 backing singers and butterflies float around behind her. Let’s not forget Greece had a poor day 1 last year in Baku but this needs a complete re-think.

After the absurd gimmicks of Ukraine, the stripped back, simplistic presentation of Netherlands is a breath of fresh air. Anouk has 3 backing singers but she has an angelic vocal and handles most of the song effortlessly alone.

This is a real diamond compared to the contrived efforts, to a lesser or greater extent, of the 3 previous solo females. Authenticity in spades here. There are, unsurprisingly, birds flying around in a dreamy backdrop. It is under-stated which could work to its advantage following Ukraine and closing the first half.

As for the morning session, it is worth remembering Loreen is scheduled to open semi-final 1 this year singing ‘Euphoria’. Story found here. This could well make things tougher for the first 2 or 3 acts in semi-final 1.

Natalia has 5 backing singers helping her through ‘Shine’. She was a bit ropey on the final power note on 1st run through but improved on later run throughs. She does look susceptible to the odd flat note.

The ‘Shine’ theme sees white strobe light strips dangling between the backing singers which are lifted up and off stage about halfway through. The stage presentation overall doesn’t really ‘shine’. While Natalia occasionally finds the camera in close up, there are a lot of long shots and she isn’t engaging enough.

Readers may recall this expression in last year’s coverage, invented here, ‘giving good camera’. Natalia needs to work on this aspect. No sign of the pyrotechnic finish seen in the Austrian final – that’ll be saved for the big nights ahead presumably.

Birgit gives better camera. More close ups to start the song which begins in monochrome giving her a screen siren appeal in a pure, floaty white dress concealing her baby bump. The opening works well. She looks down the camera lens and emotes through her eyes much better than Natalia. It feels more intimate.

She has 3 backing singers and strolls across the stage, climbing some steps which led to an early stumble. Not what a lady in her condition wants. Excellent vocal, as expected. That power note that has been added towards the end is a bit jarring having got used to the original, but maybe juries will reward it.

Hannah Mancini wakes up this semi with ‘Straight Into Love’. She has 3 male dancers sculpting shapes with some armography. Hannah does not find the camera enough. Initial reaction to this: disappointed. Hannah has the pipes but the staging for this is a bit messy. Too disjointed, too many long shots with Hannah singing and walking which upsets her vocal a little as she takes to the walkway that juts out towards where the audience will be, followed by her dance troupe.

Her vocal sounds unaccompanied but there are 2 concealed backing singers helping her along. Thinking back to the staging disaster of Kati Wolf’s ‘What About My Dreams’ this is actually ok. These uptempo tunes are always so hard to execute well both vocally and in terms of staging. Slovenia possibly missing the mark a little with this but last run through was better – she found the camera more.

Croatia’s 6 tenors turned up in tunics, looking like extras from Pirates Of The Caribbean. These guys have the vocal gears, combining well, though the little guy on the end isn’t used that much. He is the Zayn Malik (One Direction) of the outfit. This performance has real gravitas though following Slovenia, and exudes class. Two words spring to mind ‘jury catnip’.

Winners for me on day 1: Croatia, The Netherlands; Losers: Ukraine, Slovenia. Please do add your thoughts below.


  1. fiveleaves

    Cheers for the write up Rob.
    I could only hear the audio and had to wait for the videos or pics to get a sense of the staging.

    I couldn’t have asked more from Anouk in terms of her vocal and the staging.
    She’s saying all the right things too in the interviews.
    As are the delegation. Having denied rumours that they won’t take part next year and have become the 1st country to confirm they will be there. Hopefully hosting it 😉

    Ukraine definitely the big loser. I don’t see how the entire auditorium in hysterics as she’s carried on by some strange giant can be anything other than a huge negative for it’s chances.

    Croatia sounded good but they strike me as a charisma free zone and ofc France failed miserably with a similar genre.
    I’m not as keen as most seem to be on it’s chances, but I wouldn’t mind some 125/1 ew for the semi.

    I wasn’t too keen on the staging of one my other decent greens in Russia.
    The colour scheme and the balls didn’t really work.

    As for Austria I am slowly losing hope for Natalia.
    Loreen performing just before her could put the final nail in her coffin.

    • Rob

      The key with Croatia, fig, is they were vocally flawless. It is very competently performed & effectively staged (as Tim B says, the national costume adds an extra layer of authenticity).

      Think the main issue with Sognu was that the singer got nervous & completely blew it singing live, certainly on the Saturday night – wasn’t there for his jury performance that year.

      It is looking tough for Natalia in this semi.

  2. Tim B

    Austria seems doomed but then I’ve thought that ever since the draw came out.

    I didn’t realise that Birgit from Estonia was pregnant until today. Rob, do you reckon this might be potentially a boost for her televote, if commentators across Europe are mentioning this? The song is competently performed but I think the lack of a piano on stage is a big mistake. Still likely to be a NQ because of the draw but could sneak through as a surprise, if the new scoring system shakes things up a little.

    Slovenia I also see as a NQ, and nothing changed my mind about that today. Looks kind of cheap and I’m not a fan of the song. The qualification price drifted out today and deservedly so.

    Croatia massively impressed me. This looks like a cert to qualify now. I think the traditional costumes are a great idea and look set to boost their jury score as it gives the entry a stronger sense of national identity.

    Denmark I haven’t found a video of yet, same with The Netherlands.

    I love the look of Russia’s staging. Haven’t managed to see the ball-touching bit yet, but I hope it’s done in a classy rather than humorous way. The staging seems to make it more memorable, and looks better than I thought it would.

    Ukraine epic fail of the day indeed. It just looks so cheap and the giant is beyond ridiculous. Might be decent lay opportunities further down the line – I was already considering these.

    Hope to listen to the audio tomorrow (was travelling today) so should be a bit better informed. I expect Moldova to really impress, if the shot of the stand in rehearsal is anything to go by.

    • Rob

      Hi Tim,
      My view is, Birgit is stronger vocally than Natalia, her ballad is stronger, & the presentation is stronger too. So the market looks round the wrong way regarding Austria & Estonia’s respective quali chances. Mention of her pregnancy could certainly give a little boost to her televote too.

      Looks like you have called things well from a very early stage on this 1st section of semi 1.

  3. Ravi Shastri

    Hey Bobby good to read your fine words on Eurovision once again my friend. Here in Mumbai it is steamy hot but we Indians love a bit of Euro dance hip hop shakey shake. My favourite was when ABBA won with that great track Money Money Money which we often here in Bollywood Movies now. Who wants to be a Millonaire, I do I tell you that for nothing my friend. Char is so expensive now . Why when I look down Semi 1 or Semi 2 list is there no song from my fine land India ? We have jolly good singers over here now Amit Kumar is my most favourite. Did you know that he was voted Filmfare Best Male Playback for “Yaad Aa Rah Hai”, Love Story (1981)- Check it out maybe invite him to your Eurovision sing song time. Keep writing my friend as I go to lay down out of the heat.

    • Rob

      Hi Ravi,
      Interesting to see someone in India aware of Eurovision. Sadly, India is not qualified to take part in the ESC as it’s Europe only, plus Russia… and Israel. Countries need to be active members of the EBU (European Broadcasting Union). Good luck placing a few rupees on the ESC markets.

      You might enjoy Ireland tomorrow – a dance tune that will have your toes tapping 🙂

  4. Bruce

    Thanks for the quick update and the depth of your coverage Rob.

    My experience is that first day disasters are usually betting opportunites rather than anything else. Eric Saade’s glass cage malfunction and a few others spring to mind.

    I have to agree the giant addition has to be put right and will require changes to their current planning but it’s hardly irrecoverable. I would find it hard to believe the Ukraine delegation won’t be well aware of the reaction to this rehearsal.

    None of the above means I’m a fan of the song by the way – I think it starts well and then is on a ‘road to nowhere’

    As leaves knows I’m not a Netherlands fan. I can’t listen to the whole performance as her voice somehow irritates me and the song itself I find dull in the extreme.
    The rehearsal being good, her vocal being excellent and having a few positive Eurovision bingo quotes from the delegation won’t change my mind on this one. Jury love can get it quite high in a dire year but to win? the thought scares me tbh but then I was so wrong with Albania last year nothing should surprise me.

    Russia I liked the vocal a great deal and I’m sure the staging will improve.

    Not a lot to say for thr rest. Croatia seems to have given itself a good qualifying chance but beyond that I’m sceptical.

  5. fiveleaves

    I think Ravi has been drinking something stronger than tea 😀

    Hi Bruce & Tim

    The Netherlands & the Danish videos are now up on Tim.

    I take your point about bad 1st rehearsals often being an opportunity to back Bruce, but the giant appears to be an integral part of the Ukranian theme.
    Also it was backed down to 7 and lower based on the promise a spectacular stage show.
    Well we’re not going to get that whatever happens and yet it’s stil 7.
    I’m happy to lay all day at that sort of price.

    • Bruce

      I agree leaves the Ukraine price hasn’t drifted too much as a result of todays rehearsal and is still far below what it was before the ‘amazing’ staging concept seemed to cause the plunge.

      I’d be wary of getting too carried away with the lay button if done purely on a trading basis. I’m with you on this one I dont see it justifying its bettinfg market position

  6. Bruce

    I forgot Denmark – how silly of me forgetting the favourite for the whole thing lol.
    Having now seen the eurovision tv clip and it looks just like the Danish final staging and her vocal is impressive. Can’t see why anyone would be changing their opinion much either way based on this rehearsal.

  7. Rob

    Hi Bruce,
    It’s a good point you make about staging issues possibly being overblown & potentially rectified. The giant does appear an integral part of the whole fairytale ‘sell’ of Gravity though. Also, there would appear to be deeper issues with the song – your boredom threshold says it all, & Zlata’s vocal alone cannot carry such insubstantial fluff.

    Its price in the Outright is farcical. The key point is, regarding any future price movements, there may well be a concerted PR effort at work here, like we saw with Jedward’s ‘Lipstick’ in 2011.

    It has the hallmarks of someone piling a lot of cash on determined to keep it artifically low for the sake of then hyping it by pointing out it is 2nd fav etc – and this has been seen already apparently with the Zlata press people’s activity on Twitter.

  8. fiveleaves

    The giant isn’t going anywhere.

    Interesting theory regarding the Ukraine price Rob

  9. Henry VIII

    Time may clarify if the money for Ukraine is publicity but it is odd that on the day Ukraine became a farce backers remained strong. Not as strong as Germany’s backers, with 2.5K waiting to back it on the right of the table.

    I guess the weak structure of Ukraine just doesn’t allow gimmicks. It will be very interesting to see if they sort it out by 2nd rehearsal but it’s starting to look like the recording of Zlata singing alone on stage and wiggling and strutting about will be the best that it could possibly look.

    • Rob

      It stinks of it, henry. The way it continues to be backed defies all logic.

      As for Denmark, if I had 100 Krona for every person I heard in the auditorium saying it won’t win today, I’d have enough to build a 2nd bridge between Malmo & Copenhagen 🙂

  10. Henry VIII

    Great work Rob. Re Denmark “it won’t win” – problem we all have is that we can’t possibly see/hear it now as the first time viewers will.

  11. Chiggs

    Rob thanks for the quick writeup.

    The reactions from today were largely decent for my positions. My Slovenia qual bet doesn’t look in a great position though but it isn’t worth reversing out at this stage.

    I’ve decided to take a poke at Croatia ew @ 126 on Boyle and looks like that’s now gone but still recommend a small punt ew at 101 elsewhere.

    • Rob

      I think that’s a wise investment on Croatia, Chiggs, as Roach outlines below also.

      All is not lost for Slovenia, especially given the fact there are so many songs in the 2nd half of semi 1 with potentially very dodgy vocals. As an uptempto tune, Hannah is competing with Montenegro, Belarus, Ireland and Belgium, all 4 of which could prove to be sub-standard live.

  12. Matt

    Great work Rob and interesting comments too – even our Indian friend! I too have long been underwhelmed by Denmark. It left me nonplussed on first listen but to be fair has grown on me over the last 8 weeks.

    It’s important to recall those first impressions though as most people will be hearing the songs for the first time. As Henry points out, views start to get entrenched and a lot people start following the general consensus, which can really skew the betting.

    Basically what i’m trying to say, i think, is trust your judgement. To be honest i think i need to listen to my own advice more as I have watched Denmark shrink in the markets and have barely backed my own certainty that it isnt a winner.

    Of course, a favourable draw and the fact that its a middle of the road, safe jury v televote tune and the doubts return…

    • Rob

      You are right, Matt, that it is very important to hark back to your initial impression of songs. Denmark is one those that you do not want to be red on, but can’t help thinking the price is too short for what is a very unoriginal, ‘Eurovision-by-numbers’ song. Will Eastern Europe support it? There have to be big doubts there, & it will look especially vulnerable if it gets a draw in the 1st half of the final.

  13. Roach

    Good evening Rob, thanks for the in-depth review and updates through the first day. I don’t think I disagree with anything you’ve said above. My views are as follows.

    Early days of course, but for now… I had positions either already or imminent on 3 of today’s contenders, being against Austria’s qualifying chances from the show opening slot, very much for Croatia’s following the 3 songs that come before them, and like you not of the view that Ukraine should be 2nd fav in the competition. I’d say none of these changed today, and I’m now stronger on all 3 than I was.

    As competent as I have found ‘Shine’ since first listen to it, the problem for me is I think there’s only one potential qualifying slot from the first 3 songs, and I think Birgit’s performance that follows for Estonia will ‘outshine’ it. Add Loreen kicking off proceedings and Slovenia also with more chance in my eyes of grabbing the attention from slot 3, and Austria is just too very bland for me to make the impact necessary to qualify. A great lay at odds on.

    I’m a big fan of the Croatian song, which has been my qualifying ‘nap’ to date at the prices. It has to benefit from following the 3 x female likely non-qualifiers that it follows, and it sounds like the boys went down well today, which is good to hear. Because 125/1 is a daft price for any kind of jury bait, I had a tickle today at that price, hoping to land the 25/1 for it sneaking into 2nd or 3rd spot, should a fancied runner or two slip up.

    Which bring us onto Ukraine of course! I, like yourself, have been of the view that the song structure doesn’t ‘go’ anywhere and it’s an overrated 2nd favourite in the market. So not the biggest surprise really to see it fall somewhat flat today. I’ve no idea who is backing this to win! Do any of the commentators here think it can? And conversely is anyone of the view that a particularly cringeworthy performance could mean the 1.1 on it to qualify is a decent lay?

    Of the others today, ‘Birds’ looked and sounded as good as you’d hope it would (it’s my favourite song in the competition) but no performance can convince me of course of its ability to get a big televote, for which I remain unconvinced.

    I don’t doubt Russia will be huge on finals (and Semi final) night; unlike Ukraine, it builds perfectly for ESC and is not one I anticipate I’ll be laying in any way.

    Not too much to say today on Denmark, other than I’d love to see more than 15 seconds of it. On the video clip, it looks to be lacking something, and I’m not sure the drums staging works to the side like that. That said, I do think it’s immediate and catchy, working on first listen like so many other do not. Despite everything, I still see it as the most likely winner this year. For now, anyway…

    Roll on Day 2.

    • Rob

      Funnily enough Roach, after that 1st rehearsal, I was looking at the lay price on Ukraine to qualify. Trouble is, it’s a pretty weak semi overall, but anything around 1.1 to lay remains tempting.

      I’m pretty confident it’s the Zlata camp piling money into the Outright as Ukraine has really gone all out with its efforts to promote ‘Gravity’ this year.

      Aside from the strange cupping of balls moment, Russia is looking pretty solid. But there does appear scope for a surprise or 2 in the top 3 in this semi, & the big-priced Croatia e/w punt makes total sense.

  14. Janeair

    Hello мой любимый)
    Russia has startd promotion of Dina. Video has not impressed me much, moreover, Lora asked me to switch off TV)
    She is a student and your college. She works as a journalist at the local TV station.
    She is from the biggest muslim region and already she got special status of Public Singer of Tatarstan…I see new letter in my box)

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