Eurovision fans who pore over the national finals and changing versions of selected songs develop a speculative sideline in counterfactual history. They posit theories such as if only country X had chosen song Y instead of song Z, they would have had a much better chance in the contest. Then, was it better to keep song Z in the language of X, rather than change it into English?
You can construct a whole essay of speculative counterfactual history on the Italian selection process this year. First of all, there was the question of which performer at the San Remo Festival that broadcaster RAI should have gone with. Having selected Nina Zilli, the singer and her management initially confirmed that she would be performing ‘Per Sempre‘.
I have a soft spot for ‘Per Sempre’. I’m not sure how other televoters would have taken to it, but I could have seen it scoring very highly indeed with the juries. However, the song was subsequently ditched a few days before the deadline, in favour of a track on her new album, ‘L’Amore e Femmina’.
That wasn’t quite the end of it. A final, bi-lingual version of the new song, ‘L’Amore e Femmina (Out of Love)’ was revealed with an official video. This is what casual viewers will see performed on the big night, blithely unaware of this torturous process and the ‘what ifs’ it has produced among Eurovision anoraks.
‘L’Amore e Femmina (Out of Love)’, with its “boom boom boom” moments and fashionable retro sound, is arguably a more accessible song for televoters than ‘Per Sempre’. It has a couple of extra reasons to stick in the memory too. Firstly, it is the only song of its kind in the final. Secondly, it makes the Amy Winehouse comparison that much more pertinent. Nina doesn’t only look a bit like Amy, perform a bit like her, she’s now also singing an Amy Winehouse-style song.
Actually, I think Zilli is a star performer in her own right, one of the few in the contest who is capable of displaying some kind of artistry on stage. But that doesn’t necessarily translate into televotes, as Patricia Kaas showed in 2009 when managing only 17th with this constituency from a terrible third slot in the running order. Zilli herself is not brilliantly drawn, at number 10 in the first half, just after the French entry. Which is why a Winehouse analogy may be a useful shortcut for viewers sifting through 26 songs on Saturday May 26th.
A more useful comparison than Kaas may be the Italian entry last year, ‘Madness of Love’. Raphael Gualazzi showed plenty of artistry and had a memorable schtick of his own: some virtuoso piano-playing for a standout jazzy number. However, hampered by a similar draw in 12, that was still only enough to manage eleventh among televoters, being helped up to second place overall by running away with the jury vote.
Gualazzi’s song was, like Zilli’s, a mixture of Italian and English. There’s an argument that Zilli’s diction isnt great and the translation doesnt really add anything to ‘L’Amore e Femmina (Out of Love)’ – the title itself is evidence of some degree of clumsiness. When previewing the chances of the Hungarian entry last year, I explained that switching languages can be a bad idea in these circumstances. However, in this case I’m not sure it will make that much of a difference to televoters. Most importantly for them, it is perfectly clear when she is switching between the two languages.
This is a song we are yet to see presented on stage, and the rehearsal period will give us a much more useful sense of its relative merits for the TV audience. But that’s true for all of them to some degree and if forced to predict, taking into account the advantage of Zilli’s charisma and the disadvantage of its draw, I can see a similar televote result for Italy this time around to last year.
If that’s the case, how much Italy can climb up the higher echelons may be dependent once again on the juries. They have proved a little bit of a law unto themselves, but I can envisage them being impressed by Zilli’s class in a genre that allows her to express herself more than others have the opportunity or ability to. I see ‘L’Amore e Femmina (Out of Love)’ performing very highly among this constituency, though maybe not quite as magnificently as ‘Madness of Love’ in what is a more competitive year.
This all adds up to a pretty reasonable case for Nina Zilli doing well, though at odds of just 12.5 in the Betfair win market, this has already been factored into her price. Does this represent a realistic assessment of her chances? Let us know what you think in the comments section below.