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.