Polina The Early Pick

Mar 17, 2015 by

Polina The Early Pick

At last we have got to hear all 40 songs heading to Vienna so it is time for a first Eurovision post of 2015 and an analysis of the ante-post value in the Outright market as of today.

The first observation is, this looks an incredibly open year and quality-wise my impression is, it’s the best Contest since 2011. There is real strength in depth which has been severely lacking in the last 3 years and this should be great news for the markets in general once liquidity builds up.

The last few days have certainly helped boost the overall strength of this year’s competition with some highly respectable songs appearing from the likes of Australia, Azerbaijan, Russia and Albania.

When you look back to last year at this time, the market had more or less made up its mind it was a 2-horse race between Armenia and Sweden, only for Austria and The Netherlands to emerge from the shadows during the rehearsal period, and end up finishing 1st and 2nd.

This serves as a cautionary tale not to get too blinkered regarding entries 2 months prior to the event and the significant impact staging, live performance and the running order can have on the final outcome.

You already sense this year is going to hinge more than ever on those 3 key variables. Looking at the Outright market as it currently stands, the intriguing aspect is there are legitimate doubts surrounding all three market leaders which suggests there has to be some outstanding value further down the list.

Starting with Sweden, it is an understandable favourite. A Melodifestivalen victory of Loreen proportions has to be respected even though Mans was partly able to rely on the adulation of his home fans.

This is a song elevated by the visuals but is ‘Heroes’ a strong enough audio-visual package to win? The chorus is weak and while we know jurors can be just as fickle as viewers in being charmed by a great stage show this is a competitive year and sonically there are superior songs floating around.

Italy has a clear USP in its favour. Three young, telegenic tenors belting out an operatic pop number sets it apart in this field.

We are still waiting on the 3-minute edit but the Eurovision version lyrics indicate they have cut out the second verse. Will this diminish the song’s impact, is this genre to the tastes of the ESC masses and can Italy be relied upon to stage ‘Grande amore’ in a truly compelling manner? You can certainly argue that in the last 3 years Italy’s staging has been sub-standard but maybe only now is RAI ready and willing to host ESC.

Estonia jumped out as an early contender this year. ‘Goodbye To Yesterday’ is as high quality a song you will find competing at ESC 2015. What we saw in the Eesti Laul final was also a major improvement in terms of staging but Stig didn’t bring his A-game that night vocally and on all known evidence to date there has to be a concern he is a little too surly to sell the chemistry this song requires on stage.

Australia is very much the joker in the pack this year. Afforded a free ticket to the final, would the EBU ideally want it, in its first year, waltzing away with the trophy?

For all those nations who have to scrap for places in the final, it would be a galling result and the EBU might well have a diplomatic mission on its hands ensuring there aren’t widescale withdrawals in 2016. And this is at a time when it is trying to woo Turkey back to the Contest and having to battle to maintain numbers.

On the pro side an Australia win would give the EBU carte blanche regarding next year’s host city – the sort of control it would arguably relish – and Guy Sebastian has served up a highly competent and contemporary slice of accessible R&B in the form of ’Tonight Again’.

There remains a concern Australia will more likely under-perform on the scoreboard simply due to the fact it will be viewed as a gatecrasher by many despite the ‘Building Bridges’ PR spin, and a respectable top 10 finish may well be the ideal outcome for all concerned on its debut.

Slovenia’s Paloma Faith-esque ‘Here For You’ is a real gem but my main concern with this entry is the staging. Watching the Slovenian national final it came as quite a shock to see Maraaya wearing headphones before the air violinist joins in. This staging appears to be set in stone and while you can argue it enables the entry to stand out, you can counter-argue that visually it is jarring and does little to elevate the song.

Norway, for the third year running, offers Eurovision a quality entry in the form of ‘A Monster Like Me’. Is this stronger than Carl Espen’s ’Silent Storm’ last year that finished 8th from the poor running order position of 5? Potentially, yes.

The doubts surrounding this song emanate from what we saw in the national final. While scrambling home in its domestic televote isn’t necessarily the death knell for its Eurovision chance, Debrah’s live vocal did not impress, and neither did her and Morland’s harmonising in places. It all felt a little flat compared to the studio version BUT there is room for improvement, and the staging at least looked promising.

Belgium’s ‘Rhythm Inside’ sung by Loic Nottet is an intriguing contender, as is Latvia’s Animata with ‘Love Injected’. Both of these modern-sounding songs are going to require captivating stage shows to challenge and the nagging worry is whether both are a little too leftfield to charm mainstream viewers.

Proving the strength in depth argument brings us on to traditional voting powerhouses Azerbaijan and Russia. Elnur Huseynov’s ‘Hour Of The Wolf’ sounds, in studio form, a highly accomplished entry. As part of Elnur & Samir in 2008 singing the entry ‘Day After Day’ live, his diction was noticeably poor and that is before the screeching high notes.

This song is a vastly different animal, more of a power ballad and less taxing vocally. One worry is whether this song has the instant impact required of a winner but of course clever staging could help it stand out and it is going to be interesting to see what Azerbaijan has up its sleeve for Vienna.

As for Russia, this song in its full 3-minute form came as a bolt from the blue. While you can deride the sentiment of the song all you like, ‘A Million Voices’ ticks a lot of boxes. It’s anthemic, impactful and the chorus lodged in my head straight away.

You also get the impression that vocally Polina Gagarina is capable of performing this song very well live. Given Russia’s voting strength and granted competent staging this has to be the pick of the current AP value at 33-1 e/w a quarter the odds first 4.

Last year, Eurovision took place not long after Russia’s annexing of Crimea and while The Tolmachevy Sisters were booed and sang an extremely tepid pop song at best adequately they still managed 7th place from the 15 slot. So any notion Russia’s voting will be compromised by its current ‘persona non grata’ status in world politics could prove unwise.

Musically, a close comparison is, of course, 2013’s ‘What If’ sung by Dina Garipova. A vastly inferior song to my ears which managed to finish 5th from the 10 draw, though it was arguably a weaker year than this.

If Russia draws first half in the final, TPTB may jump at the chance to bury it early in the running order, but even if it ended up getting a single figure draw a top 4 finish might still be achievable because while it can rely upon points from its trusted ex-Soviet neighbours, it is an easily accessible power ballad that has the potential to impress Western Europe.

As for Finland, while Pertti Kurikan Nimipaivat are going to be the centre of media attention in Vienna and it is a heart-warming story they are competing, a potentially strong public vote looks likely to be compromised by limited jury appeal for their unashamed punk entry, ‘Aina mun pitaa’.

Among the first dozen in Betfair’s Outright market that leaves the UK, currently 25-1 with high street bookmakers, and trading at 48 on BF. Electro Velvet’s swing-inspired number certainly has the chance to stand out in a sea of slow ballads. But there are some significant concerns connected with this entry.

Is ’Still In Love With You’ relevant enough and commercial enough to be rated highly by jurors and can this niche genre charm all of Europe?

UK backers are taking a further leap of faith in believing Alex and Bianca will be able to sing and perform it well enough live. And regardless of the UK’s poor history of staging at Eurovision, the 6-people staging max rule looks problematic in trying to bring the fun and energy of the official video to the stage in Vienna. But as with all entries we will only learn more during the rehearsal period.

Beyond these 12 there are plenty of dark horses that could make a dent on the lefthandside of the scoreboard. It is shaping up to be a vintage year and the rehearsal period in Vienna cannot come soon enough.

Advised:

Russia – 2pts e/w, 33-1 (quarter the odds, first 4), Coral

25 Comments

  1. Jane Air

    “Last year, Eurovision took place not long after Russia’s annexing of Crimea and while The Tolmachevy Sisters were booed and sang an extremely tepid pop song at best adequately they still managed 7th place from the 15 slot”-I am afraid, this year will be more complicated for Russians. Last spring it was only “echo” of the referendum about the Crimea. Now it is more than sanctions, – Russia is an aggressor who initiated the war. It means that Russia can lose its voters.

  2. Rob

    Thanks for posting Jane. Eurovision likes to spread the message of tolerance and fairness and I think most will be open-minded enough to judge Polina’s song purely in the context of a song competition.

    Many questioned whether Russia’s most reliable voting allies would desert it last year, but 7th place suggests it wasn’t significantly damaged and if there was ever an entry to test the loyalty of the ex-Soviet nations it was ‘Shine’.

  3. Ben Gray

    Great post Rob and welcome back. 🙂 I honestly struggle to find anything to disagree with or expand upon what you’ve written. I am incredibly indifferent to Sweden as I think the hype aimed at them right now is just a case of “what else is new?” I’ve been rather fond of the analogy that I’ve been throwing around lately which is “the cars with the biggest engines don’t always win the race.” Eurovision fans, and to some extent traders as well, often have kneejerk visceral reactions to aural strength in studio form, only to be left scratching their heads why they end up finishing bottom 10 or not qualifying. I dunno, perhaps the fact that their schlager disco anthem was performed by a genial overweight woman and was about as relevant to the mass music market as a chicken in a steak and ale pie had something to do with it? (Not even specifically referring to Serbia here, just generalising!)

    Russia each way is a good pick at this stage. I think TPTB doing whatever they can to stop Russia from winning is a very valid concern that will almost certainly come true, but it’s not a concern worth leaving Russia a deep shade of red for, especially at this somewhat generous price. Russia obviously want to win again, because this is the third year in a row they have sent a Disney ballad about world peace with a telegenic, innocent performer(s) and lots of white (the colour of purity) evident in their visual plans. They’re going ritualistically with what scores them the points, they don’t care about giving Russian music an international platform. That’s probably why they turned down Kirkorov’s “Secret Poison” or so I read.

    Italy’s appeal to me grows with its price. I think they’ve addressed the structure concerns. But still, the connection between them and the viewers, and whether operatic songs can finally overcome their reputation for underperforming on the scoreboard is still a big question mark. I’m hoping the Sweden hype continues to push them out. I didn’t back Italy before San Remo because my gut instinct was telling me they didn’t really want to win.

    Australia doesn’t tick the “rousing and uplifting” box which I look for in a Eurovision winner, but it ticks all the others. It’s also by far the most internationally relatable, commercial, instant, familiar song of the lot. All they need to do is stage it like a well performed global pop hit (because it’s no worse in that respect than Mark Ronson’s Uptown Funk) and bring the party to the stage without going all Basim or worse, the KMGs on it. They’re in with a shout for sure. I also think Australia’s score will be boosted by the novelty of their participation rather than hindered. I’m aware Europe isn’t as irreverent in its mindset as the UK, nor do they feel as much of a cultural affinity with Australia as the UK does, but if people are open minded enough to vote for a bearded lady, I think it’s safer to assume Australia is a green arrow rather than a red hand.

    Norway are promising, but I think the staging and styling need a complete rethink. Their idea of carrying the entire performance with just one camera shot, obviously inspired by The Common Linnets but just blown out of proportion, backfired on them slightly last weekend with some very boring moments visually. They need to dress like they belong together rather than like a duet between Morten Harket and a Victorian banshee. I’ve always thought making it look a bit like the Twilight movies with forest scenery and more casual autumnal clothing would do wonders to make it a current and relatable act that would galvanise the teenage voters.

    We also have Latvia who is one to watch for reasons already known, and I’m also interested in Spain who appear to be making an earnest effort this year. I just think Amanecer’s biggest hindrances are its language barrier and its very impersonal themes.

    On the outside, I think the biggest value lies with Switzerland, Cyprus and the Netherlands. Switzerland is my personal favourite this year so I’m watching my step, but the song ticks all but one box for me. The problem is its edginess, but I’m wondering if the chorus lifts it enough to lighten the mood. Cyprus is massively priced for what I believe to be a sure qualifier… and I think most people have simply forgotten about the man that made the Common Linnets a contender last year who is helping Trijntje with her show.

    Rob, do you agree that there are an unusually high number of songs priced well into 50s and the hundreds, and that the overzealousness of the market this year creates a lot of value by them not leaving enough room to be surprised by rehearsals?

    Looking forward to future posts.

    • Rob

      Hi Ben. Thanks for posting your views. I do think the ESC market has a tendency to get carried away by clearly defined front-runners and can take its eye off the ball regarding bigger priced, potential contenders. Sweden is also, consistently, one of the most hyped entries because of all the focus on MF.

      With a great stage show and live performance, you can definitely make a case for a number of entries currently priced at 50-1 and above that could get in contention for the win.

      I think there are more than usual this year precisely because there is strength in depth this year.

      The Netherlands last year was obviously a classic example of a song transformed by the stage show. As a value-seeker, I would love to see a repeat scenario and one or two to emerge from the pack.

  4. Henry VIII

    Well I’ve finally covered Russia but I’m sure it’s a waste. I agree with the rest of the article and welcome back from me too.

    Diaspora 10s and 12s aren’t enough for Russia, to win the majority of the points would have to come from non diaspora countries. Last year they got hardly any points from the west. And I’m continually stunned at how everybody has been conditioned by western propaganda to hate Russia.

    Secondly the only ballads to have won in recent times had a strong visual gimmick, ie the beard, the ice skater. But I think that wouldn’t be enough with all the interesting modern stuff that is now preferred.

    Thirdly it’s the type of song that creates a lot of fuss (ESC fanboys love a diva power ballad) but does a lot worse than expected. Nobody I’ve played it to outside the ESC bubble rates it at all. Reminds me of Charlotte Pirelli “Hero” (that actually had more fuss and led all the polls).

    • Rob

      My view Henry is, they didn’t get the points last year because it was a poor song. I don’t think it had much to do with politics. I was amazed it managed to reach 7th.

      Most are fair-minded as we saw with Conchita’s win last year. The negative is, the EBU may prefer Russia not to host, but given it has recently hosted the Winter Olympics and will host the 2018 World Cup, I don’t think that is a given and at the price it is well worth chancing.

  5. Welcome back rob, your articles have been missed :).
    My biggest green so far is on russia actually and i do think it has very little competition for the eastern votes this time, i dont think the azerbaijan entry gets anywhere close and in my opinion is actually more dull then dilara was.
    The lack of points from the west from last year isnt set in stone that it was due to russia hatred,i agree it could be that shine simply wasnt good enough to attract many western votes, polina’s entry is very western sounding and i think theres a good chance of a stronger reaction from the west.

    • Rob

      Thanks geoff. Pleased you are on the same page re. Russia. Last year, I recall seriously contemplating laying Russia to qualify from semi 1 because I thought it was that weak.

  6. Tim B

    Consider me well and truly on board with Russia this year as well. The odds available for this song after release were absolutely insane given the quality of the song, its box-ticking nature and its suitability to score well at Eurovision. Looking down the list of favourites on oddschecker, it is EXTREMELY male-led at the head of the market, apart from Slovenia, which I think is overrated, and a couple of male/female duets. I expect Polina from Russia will end up being the highest scoring female in the Grand Final. There is no Ukraine to compete for with the diaspora vote or Eastern 12s (although there’s Estonia and Latvia), Armenia’s song is a dog’s dinner and there are massive question marks over Azerbaijan’s ability to score well after they stopped cheating altogether with Dilara last year. I suspect that Azerbaijan’s natural voting power is actually relatively poor, and their song is not one I see scoring in the West, unlike Russia’s. Sweden is a very solid favourite imo, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see Russia finishing second at this stage. It blows Dina Garipova out of the water at least, and is one of the very best songs Russia has ever sent to Eurovision.

    • Rob

      I share your concerns regarding Azerbaijan, Tim. I guess if we knew it will be back to ‘business as usual’ then it might start to look over-priced too. The pluses for the Russian song this year more than outweigh the potential negativies in terms of price, or at least the price it was earlier this week.

  7. neomichael

    Nice to see you again guys! Rob, that’s a great article. I’m also struggling to find sections of disagreement. From my point of view , I would only be a little bit more optimistic about Norway. I know that there gonna be high competition amongst scandinavian countries and that these countries do not usually differ in terms of staging from their national final, but i feel there is something genuine with this song that gonna attract votes (both jury and televoting).
    Do we know when the running order of the semifinals is going to be published? Looking forwarding for the rehearsal period.. and the russian staging.

    • Rob

      Hi michael. I’ve been trying to get info regarding semi-final r.o. announcement but nothing forthcoming atm. I recall it was very swift last year. Hopefully ORF are similarly efficient and announce it early next week. Would be good to know as it should encourage the bookmakers to issue semi-final prices.

    • Rob

      This sounds promising:

      ESC2015 CreativeProd ‏@ESC2015CP

      We have draft for 1st SF running order! But still may change during following days. Some more people will have a look at it. #eurovision

      • neomichael

        Great! Lucky we are, we learned also the secret recipe of how to define the perfect running order :-p : “Find songs to start with & to end with. Find songs to go in & out of breaks. Put others in between. Listen Through. Start Again.”

        • Rob

          Thanks michael. Let’s hope the bookies put prices up for both semis, Outright & To Qualify/Not To Qualify asap.

          semi 1:

          Moldova
          Armenia
          Belgium
          The Netherlands
          Finland
          Greece
          Estonia
          FYR Macedonia
          Serbia
          Hungary
          Belarus
          Russia
          Denmark
          Albania
          Romania
          Georgia

          Semi-Final 2

          Lithuania
          Ireland
          San Marino
          Montenegro
          Malta
          Norway
          Portugal
          Czech Republic
          Israel
          Latvia
          Azerbaijan
          Iceland
          Sweden
          Switzerland
          Cyprus
          Slovenia
          Poland

  8. Bunnyman

    “Praying for peace and healing
    I hope we can start again
    We believe
    We believe in a dream”

    Russia could have submitted a song about baking a cake, but they chose this. Could they be any more cynical? Personally I’d be surprised and disappointed if enough jurors play along with this and vote for an outcome that would hand Russia such a propaganda coup.

    • Rob

      Jurors are invited to assess songs musically, bunny, not politically. It is also a ‘song contest’ and you are making a presumption the song writers are pro-Putin. Russia’s middle class are very much opposed to him.

      Besides which, if I was representing the UK in any event I would hope I would not be tarred by the notion I was pro my incumbent government at the time.

      The propaganda game is also used as much by Western media. Ultimately, any anti-Russian sentiment is more likely to effect its televote in Western Europe but the potential impact is likely to be over-stated imho.

    • Bunnyman

      Morning Rob. How nice it would be if the juries stuck to their brief and judged it on music alone. We’d have less to talk about though! 🙂

      I’m not assuming the song writers are pro Putin, I don’t know if the song was commissioned for the contest, or chosen for it.

      Sadly for Polina she doesn’t have a say in whether she is tarred in that way, although she must know what she is letting herself in for.

      I’m certainly not saying that the West is innocent in all this. I read a very interesting article a while back suggesting that the West had left Russia with little choice over Ukraine – there are normally two sides to every story.

      However, a Russian victory would surely be the messiest. least desirable outcome for the contest. Its just a question of to what extent if any these factors will weigh on the minds of individual jurors (or more cynically, those telling them how to vote). As punters we have to make that call.

      • Rob

        Polina sounding promising here, bunny 🙂 http://vk.com/wall-170578_120940

        I have it on good authority if Russia wins, Sochi would host. It hosted a successful Winter Games, it’s on the F1 roster. I’ve been to Russia on a few occasions in recent times and have never felt unsafe there. I don’t think there would be any more security worries for the EBU regarding Sochi hosting than it has already successfully negotiated in previous Contests.

        • Bunnyman

          Can’t argue with her talent Rob! She’s not unpleasant to look at either, which never harms in ESC. The return of the Czech Republic should be good for Russia as they gave them 6+ points in 2007/8/9. Serbia and Cyprus can also normally be relied on for a few points if Russia put up a decent song. On the negative side Ukraine despite everything gave them 4 points last year and they aren’t around. Although as Tim alludes to above, at least they won’t be competing with them for points.

          I’m not questioning Russia’s ability to stage the event, they will do an excellent job given the chance I’m sure. I hadn’t considered any possible security threats, but don’t consider that an issue in this context. When I talked about a messy outcome I meant the possible political complications if it was held in Russia next year. Like it or not Russia getting to stage the biggest non sporting event in the world will be a huge propaganda coup for them and I think there will be enough people uncomfortable with that prospect to rank them a few places lower than they might have done.

          If things take a turn for the worse then there is even the possibility of mass boycotts if Russia stage it. If they move it to a neutral country then Russia and some of their friendly countries seem likely to withdraw, perhaps permanently. It would be so much simpler if it went somewhere else.

  9. Tim B

    Thanks Rob, I have duly subscribed. It certainly is a hell of a lot cheaper than flights to Vienna and two weeks accommodation and expenses.

  10. hemsby

    Signed up today Rob 🙂

    Looking forward to reading your views on how things are shaping up at rehearsals……a “must have” source of information for any ESC punter.

    • Rob

      Thanks hems. Looking forward to getting stuck in to the live rehearsal action. Monday May 11 cannot come soon enough 🙂

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