Last night we were presented with this year’s songs from Bosnia and Montenegro. This completed the set of entries from the Balkans. There are a few reasonably big names in regional circles but none as big as Serbia’s Zeljko Joksimovic, which is reflected in his position in bookmakers’ lists.
His entry, ‘Nije Ljubav Stvar’, was broadcast for the first time on Saturday in both English and Serbian. It was confirmed a few days later that the Serbian language version would be the one we will see in Baku. I think this is a wise move – to my ears, the English version is a lot less powerful.
Joksimovic can currently be backed at 18 in the Betfair win market. He has form in the contest, penning and performing the close second in the 2004 contest, whilst he also wrote Bosnia’s third place effort in 2006 and Serbia’s sixth-placed number in 2008. How do the chances of ‘Nije Ljubav Stvar’ compare?
There are plenty of good reasons to think that Joksimovic will find himself in the top echelons again. One main difference between those years and now is the reintroduction of the juries, and ‘Nije Ljubav Stvar’ comes across as very jury-friendly. It is a powerful ballad containing some excellent instrumentation, and Joksimovic is an extremely strong and charismatic vocalist.
Serbia’s placings have dropped under the jury system, which some have used as evidence for the wider theory that juries are, consciously or not, punishing countries that have plenty of televoting allies. I don’t think this is true in Serbia’s case, at least, as their 2009 and 2010 entries were not jury-friendly in the slightest. In 2011, however, Serbia made the final only thanks to the juries (102 jury points in the semi compared to 42 points in the televote). ‘Caroban’ also did better with juries in the final, despite Nina not being at her best during the jury rehearsal, and a plum draw for televoters. So the juries treated Serbia without prejudice in 2011.
Turning to the other 50%, this is the most televote-friendly set of contestants for Serbia since they won the contest in 2007. Last year’s return of Austria and this year’s return of Montenegro are two televote 12s that Marija Serifovic secured with ‘Molitva’. I reckon that Italy’s handful of points for both Bosnia and Serbia last year also came as a result of a diaspora televote, though one cannot know for sure.
It also helps that Serbia should be, in my view, easily the biggest points scorer from the region. Last year’s unprecedented lack of any 12s from its neighbours – as the fame of Bosnian act Dino Merlin and the jury popularity of Slovenia’s Maja Keuc meant that regional 12s which Serbia often gets, as the biggest hitter in the Balkans, became 10s or even 8s – is unlikely to be repeated. Joksimovic is the big name from the area this time around.
Admittedly, this year’s Slovenian entry, ‘Verjamem’ also has some fans, including Sofabet commenter Gert. But in televote terms, Slovenia is the Balkan minnow. Personally, I think their song is a pale imitation of Serbia’s 2007 winner ‘Molitva’, right down to the staging – and Eva Boto, whilst a talented young vocalist, is just a little shouty on the big notes when she needs to nail it (which is not a problem for Joksimovic). The backing singers are a distraction too. As a result, I don’t see ‘Verjamem’ grabbing any regional or diaspora 12s over ‘Nije Ljubav Stvar’.
Bosnia is the second biggest hitter in the region, but looks unlikely to threaten for top scores this year with their rather dull entry.
If you think I’m building quite a compelling case here that Serbia has plenty going for it in 2012, you would not be wrong. So it would be prudent to consider the case against: What may prevent Joksimovic going one better eight years after coming so close? I can see a couple of causes for concern.
I think the greatest fear is the possibility that this kind of Balkan ballad might simply have had its day in the contest. Perhaps people have become bored by the string interlude, a pipe or two, a lot of emoting. Is the gradual decline of Joksimovic’s previous songs in the pecking order indicative of this?
To be fair, his third and most recent effort, ‘Oro’ sung by Jelena Tomasevic, was the dullest package that he had offered. ‘Nije Ljubav Stvar’, with Joksimovic himself back at the helm, packs much more of a punch. In fact, Joksimovic gets more animated here than he did for 2004 runner-up ‘Lane Moje’.
Still, we already have Sofabet commenter Boki noting that it’s ‘more or less his usual stuff’. I don’t think that’s going to bother his many supporters at all, which in itself ought to be enough for at least a top 10 finish. But to climb as high as possible on the scoreboard, Joksimovic will need to find a way to appear more fresh and modern.
One way of doing so would be to keep the outfit he wore at the song presentation rather than go ethnic as he did in 2004. There was something else he needs to change from 2004 as far as fashion goes. He was all in white back then, a look that has been done to death at Eurovision – especially with this kind of number (see also the members of Hari Mata Hari performing Joksimovic’s song for Bosnia in 2006). If Zeljko comes out for the first dress rehearsal in Baku in a white T-shirt and trousers to match the white jacket, I’ll be disappointed – it’s cheesy and dated, which is the last thing the song needs.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle in Zeljko’s way, however, is the likelihood that ‘Nije Ljubav Stvar’ will not be a big hit with western televoters. Apart from the language issue, the structure is not what these voters expect and most respond to. It takes Joksimovic 40 seconds to start singing. Soon after we get another instrumental segment. What he sings following this is not a repeat of what he sang before it. Indeed, ‘Nije Ljubav Stvar’ doesn’t really have a chorus as such.
‘Lane Moje’ in 2004 and ‘Lejla’ in 2006 also had long instrumental openings, but at least both had a hook based around their titles. Interestingly, Serbia’s 2007 winner ‘Molitva’ was structured more traditionally by Eurovision standards, apart from an instrumental first part to the second verse.
I always feel that while it’s hard enough for a standard pop song to fit the three-minute Eurovision rule, it’s even harder for these slow-burning Balkan ballads, which really sound like they need five minutes to do themselves justice.
Having said all that, the overall effect here is pretty powerful. I think ‘Nije Ljubav Stvar’ has an excellent build, which is what you need if you’re not going down the traditional verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus route. Joksimovic becomes far more animated with his second burst of singing but somehow the instrumental has prepared you for it. And it’s possible that the Celtic tinge of the instrumentation may help sway some televoters in the west.
It should also be pointed out that a lack of great enthusiasm from the Western televoter didn’t stop Joksimovic’s previous entries all managing a top six finish.
So, with a strong showing from regional juries and regional and diaspora televoters appearing highly likely, but the song unlikely to get a huge amount of love from western televoters, I think the biggest imponderable we’re left with is the western juries. If they show it respect, I think ‘Nije Ljubav Stvar’ would look set for somewhere in the top 5, and then it would depend on how the other contenders pan out for its position within that bracket.
Panos, a long-standing Eurovision commenter here on Sofabet, makes a compelling case that a top four placing is highly likely this time around (and incidentally, top 4, top 5 and top 10 markets are all now open on Betfair, though currently still highly illiquid). Do you agree? Do let us know in the comments box below.