Fears For Tears

Mar 19, 2021 by

Fears For Tears

A lively ESC 2021 on-season came to an end last weekend, only for Malta to be the last to reveal its hand on Monday, and within 3 days force its way down to Outright favouritism.

Following Armenia’s withdrawal, we are down to 40 countries competing in Rotterdam and that may yet become 39 as we are still waiting for official confirmation on whether Belarus is in or out.

There has been a significant new mechanism at play in dictating the ESC market this year: the strong emotional bond the fan community has forged with returning artists. This has caused some big market over-reactions, time and again, to play out across the season. Lithuania’s The Roop returned with ‘Discoteque’ and it was duly backed down to a low of 6. It now trades at 19.

There was also much excitement when ESC 2019 televote topper Keiino’s 2021 song was released, Norway matched at 12. Keiino lost to Tix and Norway now trades at 44. With strong hints Little Big were going to compete again, Russia was matched as low as 8. It now trades at 60 after Manizha was selected.

Iceland then established itself as favourite, backed down to 6.6, because of the return of Daði og Gagnamagnið, and before Daði’s 2021 song had even been heard. This always had the look of an optimistic punt. Following the release of the disco-tinged ’10 Years’ Iceland trades today at 22.

Gjon’s Tears, another much-loved returning artist from last year, released ‘Tout l’Universe’ and Switzerland hit a low of 3.6 before settling around 5 as of today. Malta has hit a low of 3.95 and currently claims joint-favourite status, also trading at 5.

The latter two have recency on their side in their trajectory to the top of the market and there is still a sense of an over-reaction in play with both the Maltese and Swiss prices, fans’ emotional attachment to Destiny and Gjon’s Tears helping fuel both gambles.

In reality, both entries still have much to prove. Looking at ‘Je me casse’ first, the initial impression of this was, it is a bit lightweight, nothing special, and it didn’t scream contender on first listen the way ‘Toy’ did back in 2018. But once you place it alongside all the other female uptempo entries this year, it stands up well.

There has been a long-standing view among many ESC observers that come May and following all the lockdown misery, Europe will be looking for a party. If so, this could play out well for Malta. It is also the Destiny factor here and whether she can project an uplifting, feel-good empowerment message on the stage with this track, and prove to be ESC’s answer to Lizzo.

Malta has a well-documented trend of over-achieving with juries. This has more to prove in terms of televote appeal. ‘Toy’ had big USP working for it and Netta was a force of nature. It will be a tricky balancing act trying to pitch Destiny in a way Europe embraces, and staging and performance is going to need to be bang on point for it to connect well enough.

There has been a long-standing view among many ESC observers that come May and following all the lockdown misery, Europe will be looking for a party. If so, this could play out well for Malta

It’s a similar story with Gjon’s Tears. Can staging and performance enable the track to resonate with televoters? Sacha Jean-Baptiste’s name is bandied around like it’s an ace to play when it comes to ESC staging but options appear somewhat limited here as Gjon’s Tears looks happiest sat behind his piano emoting his high-pitched falsetto in an anguished manner.

It is an atmospheric song that feels better suited to be a film soundtrack rather than for the Eurovision stage, and this is why it works well in the context of the official video, but doubts persist thinking ahead to Rotterdam. Live performances unearthed on YouTube have done nothing to dispel the concern he isn’t the most engaging or charismatic performer.

France and Bulgaria have generally been residing as 3rd and 4th favourite on Betfair. What these 2 entries have in their favour, and which remains in doubt with Malta and Switzerland as of today, is confidence the song, performance and staging will coalesce to a high level live.

We have seen France in its full glory during the French national final and there doesn’t look like much that needs to be improved upon. It is already the complete package. Despite a strong chorus among fans for ‘My imaginary Friend’, Victoria wisely chose ‘Growing Up Is Getting Old’ specifically because of the staging potential.

Marvin Dietmann, as artistic director, will stage the track, and the instrumental backing in the last minute is quite epic sounding and lends itself to some powerful visuals. The song’s lyrics are clever and timely, potentially chiming well with the emotional impact of Covid. Also in its favour, Bulgaria looks the strongest contender coming from Eastern Europe this year.

Italy was traded as low as 7 following Maneskin’s Sanremo victory. Again, this looked an over-reaction. It has since settled around 13. It’s a highly competent rock entry, the Italian language always lends extra credibility, but it’s certainly not the most easily accessible or melodic track, and the concern would be a jury shortfall damaging its winning chance.

Melodifestivalen was won convincingly by Tusse with ‘Voices’. While it smashed the televote in Sweden, it will have a greater task on its hands charming tv viewers Europe-wide. It’s attempting to pull off a feel-good, ‘We Are The World’ sentiment, reminiscent of Polina Gagarina’s ‘A Million Voices’ in 2015.

Sweden appears to have unlocked the formula for jury success but Tusse’s gender neutral appearance could end up his undoing on the televote. Overall, it feels like Destiny has the potential to trump Tusse and she has more in her favour as a potential BLM winner.

While ‘Voices’ smashed the televote in Sweden, it will have a greater task on its hands charming tv viewers Europe-wide

Seeing Daði og Gagnamagnið perform ’10 Years’ live, the charm felt much more forced compared to last year’s surprise viral hit ‘Think About Things’. The optics of the band have always been a concern regarding credibility on the jury side, and the super-hero outfits (if used in Rotterdam) and pyro additions to the instrument playing could risk sending this closer to the novelty sphere.

Lithuania is catchy and memorable but feels like it’s falling short of winning standard as a song. Outside these 8 entries, the market has written off the remainder of the field which trades at 40+ on Betfair. We have seen countries surprise come rehearsals, and market springers to emerge courtesy of impressive staging, so it is always worth looking further down the list to countries with back-to-lay potential.

We have a plethora of uptempo female tracks this year, most of which, in studio form, come across as irrevocably cheap. For any of them to shorten, they are going to have to come up with an incredible stage show.

Potentially in Moldova’s favour is the Kirkorov factor, and Natalia Gordienko looks much more at home performing the uptempo ’Sugar’ compared to the pop ballad ‘Prison’ last year. Even when Russia turns up with seemingly uncompetitive entries, it holds top 10 claims and Manizha’s ‘Russian Woman’ is distinctive and well performed live. Armenia having to withdraw is a setback to both as would be Belarus’s exit.

Seeing Daði og Gagnamagnið perform ’10 Years’ live, the charm felt much more forced compared to last year’s surprise viral hit ‘Think About Things’

Greece’s Stefania earns a telegenic tick in the box and her track is among the stronger uptempos in studio form but she is an inexperienced live performer. It’s always tough for solo females seeking to be ESC divas on stage to charm viewers and all of Azerbaijan, Cyprus and San Marino have major concerns in this respect.

When it comes to revamps you can usually rely on Ukraine to do a sterling job but it feels like Go_A’s turbo folk track ’Shum’ has regressed. The market has turned its nose up at Finland since the arrival of Italy, but it remains competent in its genre, will have its audience, and is channelling a different shade of rock; Linkin Park to Italy’s The White Stripes if you will.

In part, Australia’s ’Technicolour’ has the makings of a modern pop hit but it doesn’t quite hang together and Montaigne’s live performance at the SCG suggests it is not a good vocal fit with her.

Romania’s Roxen had a strong contender for ESC 2020 in ‘Alcohol You’. Her entry this year, ‘Amnesia’, was greeted with disappointment but it’s a decent, modern, credible pop track. The anti-bullying theme might also help it resonate live if they can get the message across in a compelling way.

Hooverphonic’s ‘The Wrong Place’ for Belgium is a classy track, and a potential sleeper hit. Not fitting the perceived ESC template can work in a song’s favour, and in Geike Arnaert, Hooverphonic have an outstanding lead vocalist who has the ability to elevate any track live.

Austria came as something of a surprise and is possibly the best of the rousing, gospel-backed pop ballads. ‘Amen’ perhaps fails slightly due to a lack of development and the jury will be out on Vincent Bueno as a live performer until the verdict comes in some time around first rehearsals in Rotterdam.

It’s always tough for solo females seeking to be ESC divas on stage to charm viewers and all of Azerbaijan, Cyprus and San Marino have major concerns in this respect

As for the UK, it feels like Groundhog Day in that James Newman’s ‘Embers’ is a radio-friendly, safe, MOR pop track but in a field of 26 it risks being wallpaper.

With the pre-ESC concert circuit cancelled everywhere, the market is going to seek clues from Eurojury and OGAE polls more than ever, along with any tiny crumbs of evidence, pro or con, from reaction videos to app scores, Kolumbus.fi and the occasional ‘live’ performance that crops up. While traders will argue long and hard over the merits of Eurojury as an accurate barometer, the market will be influenced by it.

Away from the relentless and vociferous fan sentiment expressed on social media and forums, which invariably becomes an echo chamber of misinformation – a month ago fans had this year’s ESC pegged as a 3-way battle between Iceland, Lithuania and Russia – it is much wiser to wait for rehearsals to get a stronger handle on how this year’s ESC is likely to play out.

The emotional pull of a live performance should not be under-estimated. This is where ESC is won or lost. Pre-recorded backing vocals will only take entries so far. Far more important is an artist’s ability to make a track resonate live, and win viewers’ hearts and minds during that brief, 3-minute window.

The gut feeling at this early stage is, this could well be a close ESC decided by small details including staging, live performance, along with the all-important grand final running order.


  1. Showlad

    A nice review of the current ESC 2021 runners and riders of which I look forward to joining in a convo with you as we lead up to ESC 2021 Rob.
    The one main departure from your review for me is the huge missing caviat of Destiny’s world class voice – touches of a young Patti Labelle and other amazing soul power voices come to mind. She comes across fitting the bill very well as the young soul diva (only 18) and whilst Netta was a real presence of almost comedic charismatic nature, she is in no way remotely a match for Destiny vocally, who is away head and shoulders the best singer in this year’s show.
    Song review we are also out of synch – Je Ma Casse is an absolute infectious soul banger. Like Toy (with its pre-chorus bridges) Je Ma Casse has it’s unusual musical section with the funky soulful sax chorus hooks. In both song cases these gel as the song goes on but the rest of Je Ma Casse is hugely instant.
    With Malta’s famous pre-disposition with the juries, if Destiny (as she can) sings the hell out of this anthem – the best uptempo this year by a long way – I think she will be unstoppable.
    With you on Gjon – hauntingly beautiful but will in no way garner enough of the public vote and even with the Eastern Block the same will be the fate for me of Bulgaria. Whilst the public vote may well be France’s undoing, her emotive assured performance makes Barbra the biggest threat of the 3 ballads.
    Malta is the only song that has given me the ‘winner’ vibes this year and, bar anything quite untoward, I can see Destiny winning by quite some way come May 22nd.

  2. Ian Follin

    Thankfully Rob, you’ve echoed my sentiments. I was getting concerned. I love Voila. I thought the live performance was outstanding and I’ve backed it ever since. I must admit I was an IF voter for Bulgaria but I love Victoria and I backed her regardless. I thought Switzerland 2020 was a far more authentic track than this years. It seems a formulaic ballad designed for his big note. And Malta, whilst Destiny could be the step from junior to senior I again didn’t think that much of the track. But I thought watching the betting, that I was losing my mind. For me Barbra Pravi is infectiously brilliant, emotional and the complete package. Thanks for regaining my sanity.

  3. Durhamborn

    Hope your well Rob.An amazing year so far for traders on the lay side early taking on the backers.
    Il admit i dislike Malta this year,though love Destiny.I had them green early on the strength of her vocal,but havent added or sold.She looks like a bag of potatoes in a dress for me and a lot will depend on if they can stage the energy around her and keep her static.That hand/arm thing says they understand that.There is a narrative for her with winning JESC as well.So dangerous,but lots of potential pitfalls.
    Swiss tries too hard and again how do you stage it where he storms the televote?.He looks like he has a fence post up his backside when hes singing half the time.

    Bulgaria for me is stunning.Probably the most talented contemporary artist at ESC for years.The song actually floored me how good it was,and i mean for her as well.The instrumentation and the build and the layers of harmonies during that burst has the potential to create an epic emotional connection.How many families will of been looking at old photos of loved ones this last year?,both who have passed,or isolating.?,.The song makes you so happy at the same time as so sad.For me its that line that connects generations put into song.Victoria has incredible vocals and a timeless look.She could be my grandaughter or my grandmother.I really hope the staging is as good as the artist and song.

    Two others that really interest me for the potential to really fly on stage are Romania and Russia.Both have hugely talented artists.Russia could shorten a lot if they stage to its potential and as ESC betting reaches the last week.

    Romania is going under the radar,but is an amazing contemporary pop song.It has potential to provide some stunning staging,and while it lacks the emotional connection of Bulgaria it does have the chance to maybe pull in a lot of younger votes.In the past when there was a really strong and well liked artist from the Balkan/Romanian etc area they tended to get top 4.

    France and Italy are both fantastic entries and should go well.

    I think its a great year.Instead of a few great song we have a few great songs and lots of very good ones.

    My usual show the family the songs ended up with them all loving Norway.Theres something for everyone this year.

    • Sir Gay Lazza

      I’m with you on Bulgaria, the orchestration is beautiful and the final minute has the potential to hit hard. Such a deep and universal message but uplifting at the same time which is key.

  4. Rob

    Thanks for the comments one and all. Please do keep the opinions coming in as it’s a long wait now until 1st rehearsals which should get underway on May 8 or 9.

    Semi-final running orders the next big order of business.

  5. Eurojock

    Rob, this is a great summary of the strengths and weaknesses of each song, most of which I agree with.

    Malta – For me, from first listen, Malta had winner vibes all over it. Unlike last year’s song which was a jury song, this time you can see there are bits of the song where they are aiming for the televote. It’s all very clever and, at least in the video, they’ve pulled it off seamlessly.

    Switzerland – If he sits at his keyboard and comes across as Duncan Laurence 2.0, he’s done for.

    Bulgaria – I’m with Durhamborn. This is a masterpiece with tons of staging potential and an emotional pull. However, I have some big reservations. Victoria’s voice is lovely, but does it have the power live to pull of that big emotional climax? I also fear that the song may be too ‘small’, ‘subtle’ ‘John Lewis Ad’, to appeal to a large enough swathe of jurors and televoters. From memory, ‘Tears Getting Sober’ didn’t fare that well with the Eurojury last year.

    Iceland – My first reaction was that the magic of last year wasn’t there. But Dadi has an emotional appeal/recognition that goes beyond the fan community and this may help Iceland to be on the edge of the top 5. Also, last year ‘Think About Things’ did very well with the Eurojury, so I don’t think Eurovision juries will shun this as too ‘novelty’, which I believe they will do with Lithuania.

    Sweden – The song is annoyingly generic, but nevertheless it is their strongest entry since Mans in 2015. It will probably be top 3 with the juries and may fare better with the televote than anticipated. Safe top 5 finish for me and could possibly do an Elle and Nicki if others fall by the wayside.

    France – Barbara doesn’t need staging. She is the staging. My own opinion is that even in the National Final performance, they slightly overdid it. Despite it being a traditional French chanson, I’m sure juries will go for this in a big way – that is if France don’t do their usual trick of sticking the Eiffel Tower on the LED. The televote is more the issue.

    Romania – I agree. This is a sleeper with both jury and televote (younger viewers and Romanian diaspora) appeal. This could well end up 6 – 10.

    Belgium – Quality. But will be relying heavily on juries. And staging is a concern. I fear a potential NQ.

    UK – For me, a step forward from last year. It’s not a great song like Malta’s but it is one of the many good songs this year and there is a clear summery feelgood element to it. Looking at the entries that juries might vote for, 8-13 with juries is not out of the question. I can’t see a big televote for it though.

    San Marino – Malta aside, Cyprus probably marginally has the best lady-banger, but if Flo Rida does make a show, this might give San Marino some momentum through the contest. Even then, 6-10 is probably its limit.

    Finally, I’m with Durhamborn. It’s the best Eurovision year I can remember. There are a handful of great songs and perhaps another 20-25 good ones. I can’t wait for Rotterdam.

    • Ian Follin

      France – Barbara doesn’t need staging. She is the staging. My own opinion is that even in the National Final performance, they slightly overdid it. Despite it being a traditional French chanson, I’m sure juries will go for this in a big way – that is if France don’t do their usual trick of sticking the Eiffel Tower on the LED. The televote is more the issue.

      Well from what has been said today, then that won’t be an issue!

  6. Showlad

    Gjon live: Sorry guys this uncomfortable screamfest ain’t winning ESC 2021. Respect to the voice and song but the live persona and feel is not endearing at all. Notes sometimes very forced and where is the charisma…?
    I think we’re Mal v Fra.

  7. Durhamborn

    I love the French entry,its about as French as you can get.That might be what holds it back a bit though on the televote.Does it resonate with people if you cant speak French?
    My worry on it is that its one of those entries where on the night people say ooooh shes really good,then vote for something else.
    Stunning performance,worthy song,but maybe too French.

  8. Showlad

    Looks like it’s Malta’s ESC to lose – but look out for Iceland coming up on the rails.

    A big thank you to Rob for this site and lovely to see Durhamborn and Eurojock too and hopefully many more will join Rob’s merry band as we enter the ESC 2021 home straight. Raising a cuppa to Daniel this morning of whom I know I can say we all miss dearly.

    Taking a look at the Top 10 in the betting and my big (amazing to say it is) ‘relatively speaking’ dark horse tip.

    MALTA has it all to score BIG across both juries and public – anthemic yet different soulful pop banger. The best vocal in ESC 2021. USP Junior ESC winner and only 18 and the X-Factor/BGT type of wow moment with that amazing vocal. Young black lady too ticks a lot of topical boxes just now. If sung and staged well this is going to be so hard to beat – but as they say it ain’t over until *Destiny* sings.

    SWITZERLAND if this was a best movie soundtrack competition this is way up there – a total class act. But much has been made (apart from songwriting links) of the red herring likeness to Arcade. Arcade was a totally accessible Coldplayesue BRILLIANT pop song, sung in English, sung by a shy but endearing and sympathetic singer. This song is far too inaccessible to get enough public votes and the singer has such an uncomfortable stage and performance persona I cannot see this winning.

    FRANCE a chanteuse class act, Piafesque siren song. Big difference with Gjon is Barbra oozes connection with the audience and grabs them pulling them into her dramatic tour-de-force. Will need Malta or Iceland to falter in some way for them though to get enough of a combined tally to take Gold.

    ITALY Fab not getting enough of jury or public to get across the finish line.

    BULGARIA beautiful, beautiful, beautiful. But the song nor singer quite have quite enough again for me to take the prize.

    SWEDEN if all goes Pete Tong in one way or another for the favs this is a good, if not great song, with a good singer who will do well with juries and pretty well with the public. Would fight with France as default winner.

    ICELAND Well where do I begin? It’s all been ass for tit for Iceland up to this point. The launch is ruined by a leak with a baby crying ‘Music Mafia Exclusive’ throughout. Then the first performance is not post-fab video but pre-fab video launch on a live tv show. The band are distanced performing on islands on the stage and further drained of their charisma and power and gelling cohesion by being intermingled with extra live musicians.
    All of the smoke and damning that followed crowded out the truth. The song is great – totally jury worthy and just as good if not better than last year’s TAT. The band and Daoi have amazing charisma and this will go MASSIVE live in the semi. When finally the official video DOES finally get launched 2mo I expect this to shorten across the board and massively shorten during Semi 1. Both the juries and the public will be unaware of the damp squib of a pre-launch that script you honestly could not write.
    Will do well with the juries and could ROCK the public vote. If Destiny is firing on all cylinders she could be difficult to catch but make no mistake this is her other main contender.

    LITHUANIA band and lead singer are great but the song isn’t and this isn’t winning.

    CYPRUS too generic and Lady Gaga copycat to get enough across the board but will be Top 10 for sure.

    SAN MARINO will get their best placing by far but Flo or no this also isn’t winning.

    So at this stage, for me, it’s Malta v Iceland with France waiting in the wings.

  9. Eurojock

    Showlad, you make a lot of sense about Iceland. To win Eurovision you almost certainly need to be top 5 with both juries and televote, if not higher. How many songs this year have even the potential to achieve that? Malta, Switzerland, Iceland and Bulgaria and maybe Sweden (although the televote is a big question). I would be very surprised if the winner doesn’t come from these. I agree that Malta is in the driving seat, but it will come down to the live performances.

  10. Montell

    Top 10 prediction before rehearsals
    San Marino

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