Eurovision 2012: Where will Norway stand with ‘Stay’?

Norway is easily the most rated of last weekend’s three selections which also include Hungary and Iceland, having stabilised at around 13.5 to back and 14 to lay in the Betfair win market. You can watch the performance of Tooji and his winning song, ‘Stay’, here.

The comparisons between this punchy, uptempo number and last year’s Swedish entry, Eric Saade’s third-placed ‘Popular’, are inevitable. ‘Stay’ has a team of Swedish songwriters who have worked with Saade before. Beyond this, Tooji’s background (he was born in Iran, Saade is half-Lebanese), looks and choreography invites further talk of the similarities between these two entries.

But the main question we’re interested in as punters come May 26, is will ‘Stay’ be as popular as ‘Popular’? My initial inclination at this ridiculously early stage is that it won’t, but with such a performance-reliant song (there won’t be any pre-recorded vocals on the backing track as there were in the Norwegian final), the rehearsal period will tell us far more.

On the plus side for Tooji, as a song, ‘Stay’ is arguably more nuanced than ‘Popular’. There are more hooks – the pulsing beats, the pre-chorus transition to name two – which give a greater sense of variety within the song. It deploys a false ending with the pause before the final chorus, which I find infinitely preferable to the key change in ‘Popular’. The overall effect is less frantic.

And the ‘eastern’ influences of the riffs within ‘Stay’ seem apt for a contest set in Baku that requires pan-European appeal. It’s the kind of thing you might expect from Turkey or hosts Azerbaijan, trying to sell a ‘western’-sounding song with a hint of the ‘east’. For further points of comparison, look at the former’s 2009 fourth-placed ‘Dum Tek Tek’ and the latter’s third-placed ‘Always’ the same year.

But on the minus side, whilst ‘Popular’ is not so sophisticated as a song, lyrically or in other ways, there is arguably something more immediate about it. It batters you into submission from the opening Boney M style beat. Likewise the stupidity (or postmodern genius) of lyrics such as, “Stop don’t say that it’s impossible / Cos I know it’s possible.”

My sense that ‘Stay’ is slightly superior but may not be as effective continues when considering the performance, although of course we will have to see what Norway produces on stage for the big event. Tooji’s song has a middle eight in which the lyrics smartly reinforce a dance routine, Eric Saade’s bridge involved him jiggling in a glass box until he smashes it, which is less subtle but perhaps more memorable.

Tooji is a better singer than Saade, but with backing singers and a staging-reliant song, that may not matter at all with televoters. It may help a little with juries – where ‘Popular’ only managed ninth last year compared to their televote second – although these are not the kind of songs that are naturally favoured among the national judging panels.

The sense that Tooji scores more points on an objective measure than Saade but may not get as many points on a Eurovision scoreboard can even be extended to their looks. Conventionally speaking, Tooji is more handsome, but Saade has long proved there’s something about him that sets teen girls’ (and gay men’s) hearts’ aquiver.

This was indicated in the build-up to rehearsals in 2011. Saade had developed a cult following by the time the contest had come around, as shown by the popularity of this Israeli YouTube clip set on the gay beach of Tel Aviv. Israel, which usually televotes with an eastern European bias, gave Sweden 12 points last year.

Saade also became known in Russia and the ex-USSR states due to his rivalry with Russian entrant Alexeyev Vorobyov, and managed to score points in this region too.

It will be interesting to see how much traction Tooji and ‘Stay’ get before rehearsals. There is the potential for him to gain plenty with a song that is clearly going to be a fan favourite. This could be an indication that ‘Stay’ may be able to do as well as ‘Popular’. Or it could prove an opportunity for those looking to lay Norway if its odds continue to shorten before the event, just as fan favourite Hungary’s did last year.

But with less than a quarter of the songs chosen so far, this is all very speculative. Especially as Tooji could find himself in the same semi-final as a trio of other male heart-throbs – Danny Saucedo, the initial favourite to win Sweden’s selection, will soon unveil a song from the exact same writing team, this Saturday Ukraine may pick Max Barskih who has a rather similar number in ‘Dance’, whilst the early frontrunner in the Estonian contest is Ott Lepland with ‘Kuula’.

The second semi could prove very tough indeed given that it includes more of the big hitters too, and qualification alone could be an indication that ‘Stay’ has made an impact. I would hope so, given that it’s a strong, contemporary song that deserves to do well in the contest.

But Tooji may have a harder job in the final than Saade who benefited from the fact that last year’s contest was a relatively weak one, with few standout performances.

Despite the doubts I have expressed, punting-wise I’m staying on the fence about ‘Stay’ for now. It’s the kind of song that I’d prefer to compare directly with its competitors on the Eurovision stage during the rehearsal phase before I make my mind up. Especially as we are yet to see it without pre-recorded backing vocals.

How about you? Have you decided whether it’s one to back or lay already? Let us know what you think about Norway’s entry below.

16 comments to Eurovision 2012: Where will Norway stand with ‘Stay’?

  • Nick D

    I think it’s too early to consider what bets I’d like to still have exposure on come May 26th, but Norway (and also Iceland) are looking like excellent candidates for some early bird back-now-lay-later activity.

    Results in Baku are hard to predict. The opinions of Eurovision fans, on the other hand… somewhat easier! Norway and Iceland are obviously going to soar in the polls, and the markets are likely to respond to that. Just like Kati Wolf.

  • Daniel

    Hi Nick, agree with you here. I’d be surprised if Norway wasn’t at or near the top of fan polls once all the songs are selected, and that will have an impact on its odds. It slightly surprises me that Tooji is still twice the price that Stella was at this point last year.

  • Rob

    This business of backing tracks, Dan – is there still some level of sound trickery/clever engineering allowed at the ESC? I ask this because I was stunned by the vocal Eric Saade produced last year while leaping around the stage doing all that choreo – it seemed to me virtually on a par with what we heard, and saw, during Melodifestivalen – when a backing track was used. ‘Stay’ appears to tick as many boxes as ‘Popular’ as a televote-friendly pop tune, maybe more so incorporating those Eastern sounds. But might it suffer to a degree by being perceived as something of a copycat of what we saw from Sweden last year – when songs try to copy a winning formula from the year before, what is their record of success at the ESC? The other reservation I have, and maybe why the Norway price has held up in double figures – this year’s ESC is shaping up to be much stronger than last year. There are some very good songs knocking around and we’ve not seen the traditional big guns reveal their hands yet.

    • Daniel

      Hi Rob, you make some excellent points here. I’ll take them in turn.
      1. All vocals have to be live. I have emailed the EBU for clarification on the rules regarding vocal effects. A vocoder or phaser was used by Denmark’s victorious Olsen Brothers for ‘Fly on the Wings of Love’ in 2000, but I’m not aware of any other examples since. I will let you know when the EBU have got back to me and what they say.
      2. If you listen back-to-back to the Melodifestivalen ‘Popular’ (where pre-recorded vocals are allowed) and its Eurovision version (where they are not), there is a difference in vocal quality, and the latter is not as strong. Nonetheless, two very good backing singers clearly helped carry the vocals in Dusseldorf.
      3. How well do ‘copycat’ versions of successful entries from the previous year do? Generally not so well. One can only speculate on the reasons for this, but if the copying is too obvious, then it’s not going to seem as fresh to juries or viewers.
      4. Last year’s volatile early market, with short prices for the win traded on the likes of Norway and Germany, did reflect the sense that early selections did not inspire, whereas we have had a stronger first ten this year. We’ll have to see what the rest, especially the big hitters, come up with.

    • Daniel

      Hi Rob, I got a very quick reply from the EBU, confirming no use of vocals or an imitation of vocals on the backing track, but other vocal effect technologies are allowed. Now I remember that Sopho used a vocal effect with her microphone for Georgia last year too.

      • Rob

        Thanks for getting that clarified, Dan. I still think the Swedes have some of the best sound engineers around. You listen to the acts perform in Melodifestivalen, then see some of the very basic stages and sound studios other ESC nations use… it’s like chalk and cheese. It would also appear some countries understand the importance of great staging at the ESC far more than others do.

  • rikku42

    I am placing a bet on ireland to winn,their song waterline by jedward could be a runaway winner.

  • James

    Great article as always. I actually agree with pretty much everything you say here. Stay is a much more contemporary (and better imo) offering than Popular was, but whether it will do as well is another matter, especially in what’s looking to become the strongest year in a while.

    On the subject of the other three possible heart-throbs in his semi, Max Barsikh’s song strikes me as a lot less instant and harder to like than Stay, not to mention it’s the kind of song that sounds like it could turn into a car crash live on stage. Max is undoubtedly sexier than Tooji though, and I’m sure he’ll use that to its full advantage in the performance. Ott Lepland has a beautiful song but I don’t think it would be fishing in the same waters as the Norwegian entry; his look and sound are both more mature. As for Danny, I’m beginning to doubt his chances of even make it to Baku. I don’t know whether you saw last Saturday’s Melodifestivalen heat, but the audience was going wild for David Lindgren, who has an uptempo club number that was originally written for Danny, and he duly sailed through to the final. Couple that with the overwhelming support I’ve seen for Loreen – in fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen an MF song get such a positive response – and I think she has a very real chance of taking the title from Danny.

    Apologies for the long post, concision isn’t really my stong point. 😛

  • Agree entirely with this superb analysis: Stay is a brilliant song and vastly superior to Popular, though it may do marginally less well. Popular was in many ways was more of a meme than a song and drummed itself into the audience’s memory through sheer repetition. It was also one of the few upbeat numbers last year. To my delight after the past 3 years of relatively low-key contests, this is shaping up to be a strong year with many of the songs chosen so far being very good indeed (Norway, Cyprus, Iceland, and Albania which I think is stellar but isn’t everyone’s cuppa).

    While I’m here, their song hasn’t been chosen yet but I happen to know that Slovenia is pretty determined to do as well as it possibly can this year (ie. they want to win) and build on Maja’s relative success last year (Slovenia won the jury vote in the 2nd semi and qualified for the first time since 2007). Already since last October, they’ve been running a major artist selection (with auditions in all major Slovenian cities) modeled on X Factor and the German “Unser Star für…” model that produced Lena with Satellite. For the song selection, they sourced potential songs from Iceland, Denmark and Malta as well as Slovenian and ex-Yu composers. These have now been narrowed down to 6 songs personally chosen by Darja Svajger, the head of RTV Slovenia, and the Slovenian head of delegation. Eva Boto appears to be the preferred candidate in the final – of the three songs she’s been given, one is by the composer of Molitva, one is by Christina Schilling et al, and one is by the Vlasics who wrote Slovenia’s 2001, 2006 and 2011 entries. The other act in the final has been given three songs by lesser-known domestic songwriters. So while it may be early days, assuming Eva Boto wins with a good song (which is how things appear to be being steered) I’d consider Slovenia unlikely not to qualify this year, especially as they’ve been drawn in the second half of their semi. What will happen in the final is anyone’s guess. No matter how determined to win they are, they may be hampered by a lack of voting partners in the final.

  • I take that back – the Slovenian songs aren’t that great, despite the big-name composers.

  • Gaitana: doubt Ukraine will go top 10 this year. With an early draw in semi 2, it’s possible it may not even qualify, but Ukraine has a lot of voting partners so it may well still qualify. Nowhere near strong enough to match the broad appeal of Ruslana, Tina Karol, Verka, Ani Lorak, Mika or even Alyosha. Expect it to do similarly to or worse than Svetlana in 2009 (a similar song/performance though arguably much better, but did not score will and came 12th in the final).

    • Daniel

      I agree with you eurovicious…as the song stands. I wouldn’t rule out a change in the arrangement though. Always best to keep a watching brief as far as Ukrainian entries go, especially with a strong vocalist.

  • bee

    Currently my top 5 are
    Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Ukraine and Hungary.

    Wondering on your thoughts on Jedward this year? I’m really hoping they DONT get picked for eurovision. Their song seems very poor compared to Lipstick, but that might just be me.

  • Emma

    Hi Daniel,

    Agree with everything here. Stay is slightly more mature than Popular…but that comes at the cost of it not being as instant. But if Norway’s drawn well and Danny Saucedo doesn’t make it to Baku, I could see this doing really well.

    Turkey recently released their entry and I was wondering what your thoughts were on it. You mentioned they have quite a few allies with them in the semi-final so their chances of qualifying are looking good. However, I admit I was a little underwhelmed by the song. It wasn’t bad–it was moderately catchy and had that seemingly crucial ethnopop tinge but the staging was terrible and I found it hard to watch Can flailing around the stage like that. Do you think that would seriously have an impact on Turkey’s chances or is their qualificaiton a sure thing at this point?

    With some Rybak-esque dancers in the background and Can standing still, of course, Turkey’s problems would be solved. They do seem to have a history of memorable stage shows (2010 comes to mind) though, so maybe I’m overthinking this:)

  • Daniel

    Hi Emma, and thanks for your comments. I felt similarly when watching Turkey’s song presentation. It started promisingly enough but didn’t build on that and the staging became distracting. I still think that it’s a qualifier with that many allies in its semi, and will be pushing for a top ten finish on the back of its allies too.

  • There are some tremendous odds available on Norway at the moment – currently 32/1 on Betfair to win. Surprising they’re so high, considering what Dan said (“I’d be surprised if Norway wasn’t at or near the top of fan polls once all the songs are selected, and that will have an impact on its odds”), which I agree with. So it could make a good back-then-lay option. All the attention is on Sweden at the moment and Norway’s strength is being overlooked. The fact he’s not competing against Danny merely strengthen’s Tooji’s hand.

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