Sizing Up the Competition On the Eve of Rehearsals

Rehearsals start Monday. Prior to rehearsals, we wanted to put pen to paper to say something about how we’re sizing up the contest. This year the fans are out of sync with the bookies, and both are out of sync with us. So who’s got the best read? Well, until May 18, obviously we do. ūüôā

Here’s what we think we know:

Denmark is overrated.¬†At the time of writing, Denmark’s odds in the Eurovision outrights are less than 2, and behind her is Ukraine, hovering around 5–so not really that close behind. The OGAE polls also have Denmark convincingly in the lead. It all seems pretty convincing, right? It’s Denmark’s year. Not so fast.

Here’s our problem. We don’t like “Only Teardrops,” never have. So, is negative bias coloring our view? Could be. While the lyrics of the song are social awareness raising/guilt inducing (which was a thing in the late ’80s, but now is kind of annoying), the song has a strong rhythm and melody which I think is part of what’s drawing people in. Make no mistake, Emmelie’ll do well, and because she’s so hyped going in, she’s likely to receive a good draw in the final from the contest organizers.¬†But in our hearts, we don’t see her winning. This is a similar gut reaction we had about Amaury Vassili in 2011 when everyone was convinced it was his year.

Reflecting further on what it is¬†about the song we don’t like reveals some bigger, more general concerns. One thing–more obvious in the recorded track than the MGP performance–Emmelie is inexperienced. She leans on vocal affectation, drops off at the end of musical phrases, and doesn’t bring enough power when varying the melody in the final refrain. Her vocal should be better than it is.¬†Keep in mind, too, Denmark doesn’t tend to change their staging much between the MGP and Eurovision, so while others may grow, Denmark probably won’t. Of course, Sweden won last year without changing anything, but the quality of Denmark’s staging is hardly as distinctive or interesting as Loreen’s.

San Marino is overrated.¬†As we write this, San Marino is 2nd in OGAE voting and hovering around 25-30 in the Eurovision outrights along with Azerbaijan and the UK. Sorry folks, this song is fanwank. Eurovision fans like us are predisposed to like Valentina because last year she was saddled with a truly horrible song. We all had great sympathy for her because she was professional and sang well. We’re trying to see why this year’s song,¬†which has elements of drama and disco, pushes so many fan buttons. Donny Montell did something similar last year, and it felt like everyone complained about it being two different songs. We think “Crisalide” is just as¬†just as bipolar as “Love Is Blind.” Donny¬†did well for Lithuania, but we don’t think Valentina is going to bring his kitsch value (because, really, who can?). Qualification for San Marino is by no means guaranteed.

France is underrated. France is currently buried in the bottom half of the Eurovision outrights table with the likes of Serbia and Armenia. You can’t see how strong a vocalist Amandine is by watching the official video or listening to the recorded song. This gal has the¬†capability¬†to deliver expecting a riveting live performance, along the lines of Patricia Kaas (France 2009) or Alyosha (Ukraine 2010). We also know that juries respond to that sort of thing.

Safe isn’t enough. What better way to minimize uncertainty than go with an artist that has a previous history of commercial success. This year¬†Germany¬†and¬†UK¬†both have taken the approach of selecting a known act, and in both cases the song is good, not great. Neither will embarrass, but we don’t think either will produce this year’s winner. Russia’s¬†also gone safe this year. Though sung well, we think the song will trigger enough gag reflexes to keep it out of the top spot.

So, whose chances do we like?

We do like Ukraine, because Zlata is like some beautiful, talented, crazy goddess, and if the video is any indication then Ukraine will have an epic staging. The current market value has shortened in recent weeks, and at around 5, we feel that’s about where it should be. But, even here, “Gravity” is a show tune and generally suffers from a lack of levels. We cannot get past its similarity to “Defying Gravity” (from Wicked) in words and spirit. We aren’t sure this is the winner either–the song simply isn’t strong enough.

We like Norway, because the musical production value is fantastic. But if we’re honest, we are a little skeeved out by the idea of feeding someone their love.

There’s Malta. This song has grown on us a lot. Gianluca is not the best looking guy in the competition, but he’s one of the most¬†likable. He has a good chance to win people over, but on the other hand, he may be undone by his inexperience.

Italy is not to be overlooked. Nina Zilli came 9th last year, and her song wasn’t in the same class as “L’Essenziale.” The song has had over 13 million views on YouTube, and its Sanremo pedigree is bound to attract some jury support. The song builds well, but takes a while to get going and some may be put off by his look. It’s currently 5th in the outright market and should be regarded as a dark horse contender.

And then there’s Netherlands. What a conundrum Netherlands is this year. This is a class song, sung by a class artist. In our opinion, it’s the best song in the competition. But the lyrics, we grant, are unsettling: “birds falling down the rooftops.” Yeah, there’s a mental image. <Splat> Combined with Netherlands’ historic challenges with voting partners, we are hoping more than believing this is the winner.

Going into the rehearsals, here are the questions we are asking:

Can Hungary qualify?¬†Is there any doubt that “Kedvesem” is this year’s too-cool-for-Eurovision entry? We love this song and as far as we can tell, Hungarians love this song. There seems to be a positive buzz over this song. So can ByeAlex do well with international voters and the juries?

Why not Ireland?¬†What gives, people?¬†We’re willing to chalk this one up to personal preference, but we still say this song and Ryan’s singing talent are underrated.¬†We like Ireland a lot, but then we also liked Alexey Vorobyov (Russia 2011) at this same point and look where that got us.

Where does Georgia fit in?¬†Currently 8th in the Eurovision outrights, similar to Germany and Sweden, we wonder whether Georgia is undervalued. This song has a lot of elements that historically bode well for a strong finish: male/female ballad, Eurogasmic key change, G:son melody, lots of friends that give them votes. Spain, which has fewer voting allies, finished 10th last year with a similar song, and we are also reminded of Chanee and N’evergreen (Denmark 2010) who had (ahem) some chemistry issues and still finished 5th overall. Can Georgia pull off the Ell and Nikki? We’ll be watching to see if the staging is right.

2 thoughts on “Sizing Up the Competition On the Eve of Rehearsals”

  1. Lemurs, I totally agree, and I am even Danish to boot!

    Emmelie is totally favorite-fodder-falling-flat. I am saddened to see all of Denmark buying into the hype. This song would have given Eimear Quinn a run for her money back in 19ireland, but seems far to antiquated for 2013. OGAES digging it I get, but not the bookies.

    And a big fat yes to France too. That song rocks seriously, and her performance at the Eurovision Concert was not much short of sensational (just watch it back-to-back with Esma and you’ll get it). The song is fantastic, she posseses an interesting quality of rage, and I feel certain this is going top 5, which would be the first time for France since Sandrine Francois. I would love for this song to win, but I think it will alienate voters in the south and east.

    Which brings me to Malta, as you do. Seemingly bland, this is likable, cute, catchy and Bruno Mars and Jason Mraz couldn’t have wished for a nicer compliment. Malta is going to score with every country there is, and with middle of the scoreboard points all over and a few 12s could win a victory similar to Helena Paparizou.

    My favorite is the Netherlands as well, but unless the staging is truly spectacular, we are going to have to settle with a Patricia Kaas-like result for precious Anouk.

    But in the end, Ireland will prevail I think. This might be 1992 all over again. There are very few up-tempo male songs this year, and if he nails it (why shouldn’t he), this has got a happy, broad quality to it that many voters will dig.

    As for Georgia, the singers are kind of funny looking, and I think that will be their undoing. Look out for Azerbaijan to do well from that region.

    Ukraine has got one problem: Who is the audience to this song supposed to be? Is it an uptempo Streisand anthem, or a fresh poppy Girls Aloud thing? Laura and the Lovers faced a similar problem with another perfectly decent song – it drowned. “Gravity” will probably have excess nudity and/or ventriloquists act enough to qualify, but I will be surprised if this ends up in top 10.

    Worst songs this year have got to be Armenia, Macedonia, Serbia and Slovenia. Not a particularly strong year for the Balkans in general.

  2. Agreed about Denmark. I don’t get it. Yes, this should easily qualify from what I think is the worst semi in ESC history (remove Denmark, Belarus and the Netherlands, and there’s nothing even remotely appealing left in there), but I don’t see this as a runaway winner. The OGAE voting might suffer from a case of me-too syndrome; when all the other fanclubs seem to believe this is the designated winner, it becomes more difficult to go against the grain.

    I could, however, not disagree more about San Marino. “Love Is Blind” had no justification and no point to its sudden tempo change, and its buildup part had about as much drama as a bowl of rice pudding. “Crisalide” has the justification for being two different songs built into its lyrics, and they mesh far better. This is Ralph Siegel’s best Eurovision entry since “Johnny Blue” (which, yes, I like a LOT better than “Ein bisschen Frieden”). It will still suffer for being from one of the friendless small nations, but I hope and pray it finishes well, if only to make the case for the small countries still standing a chance, perhaps drawing Andorra, Monaco or Luxembourg back.

    France is good, but I think it’s too inaccessible to stand a chance. The song lacks a decent hook, anything that draws you in, and stage presence alone won’t cut it (Patricia Kaas, the queen of stage presence, finished 17th with the televoters in 2009).

    Norway is well-produced, but I think that production value amounts to polishing a turd. That intro alone will drive potential voters away in droves, similar to InCulto’s entry for Lithuania in 2010, where a nice song was completely ruined by the first fifteen seconds.

    Malta…well, WGWAG songs (White Guy with Acoustic Guitar) tend to be popular. If Bruno Mars could have a hit with the utterly reprehensible “Lazy Song”, this might do well, especially because its lyrics are nowhere near as inane and actually kind of charming. Remains to be seen if this is another “Me and My Guitar” or just the next “Life Looks Better in Spring”.

    At their third participation this century, Italy have managed to send a song that does absolutely nothing for me. “L’Essenziale” is well-performed and all, but it’s about as exciting as a glass of lukewarm tap water. This might do well with the juries, but the televoters will probably leave this by the wayside. “Madness of Love” this isn’t.

    Netherlands. Oh, Netherlands. I want to like this song. I really do, because I can recognize the quality, but it just doesn’t click for me, and I don’t think it will for a lot of people. This might pull a “S’il fallait le faire”, becoming the best ESC song EVARR in the eyes of a small minority of fans, but getting ignored by the viewers. The juries will help this one along, I think.

    Hungary. Yay, another WGWAG. Singing a love song. Were this in English, I would probably hate it, but it’s not, so I really like it. Also, the lyrics are nowhere near as dumb as one would expect from a WGWAG love song – “I’m Yours” this sure isn’t.

    Ireland? Really? Germany are playing it safe with a near carbon-copy of “Euphoria” and don’t stand a chance, but Ireland are supposedly in the running with … a near carbon-copy of “Euphoria” sung by someone who presumably doesn’t have Natalie Horler’s experience on a big stage? How does that add up, exactly?

    In a year as mediocre as this, Georgia is definitely among the extended circle of favourites, but I don’t see it happening. This is light-years behind “Qu√©date conmigo” in quality, and you have to wonder whether Mr. G:shvili brought his A game after having two songs in the top 10 last year. I don’t believe he did. This is phoned in from beginning to end, and it makes me want to hang up almost instantaneously.

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