The best backed song in recent days has been Iceland’s entry – see the video here. ‘Never Forget’ is now down to 22 in the Betfair win market, seventh best in the 42-runner field. Kudos to Nick D for seeing this coming a few weeks ago because he felt the song was likely to be a fan favourite.
Indeed, a consensus has formed that this is some kind of contender. Sofabet commenter Tim B reckons, “now that it has been translated into English, I can really see Iceland winning”. It has been given a highly positive review by ESCBet and tipped up as an each-way selection by Entertainmentodds. Likewise, plenty of influential judges on the ESCNation messageboard have it in their top 5 prediction lists.
I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. I think Iceland’s chances of winning are minimal, as are its top 4 prospects. If it gets into the top 10, it will be a struggle and thanks only to the juries. Why? Because it’s the kind of song that Eurovision fans respond to in a way that casual viewers don’t. Whilst the former dominate current discussions, it’s the latter who will form the huge majority of the televotes on the big night.
Let’s start with the reasons why fans like it. “It has everything,” Tim B explains. Indeed, it seems to tick a lot of boxes. We have two telegenic singers, just like last year’s winner, one of them fiddles on a violin occasionally, just like the 2009 winner, and it’s a powerful plea about a love that refuses to die, as was the 2007 winner.
No surprise then that it looks and sounds very Eurovision-y. The male / female duo emoting at each other is a reliable old trope in the contest – I’ll offer Norway 1994 as one I remember from the sands of time. The four backing singers moving forwards as the song reaches a crescendo, likewise. There are little hints of the exotic, both lyrically and with the violin riff, giving it the faintest whiff of ethnicity. And it’s as earnest as the Balkan ballads that have become a feature of the competition since 2004.
So why might Iceland fail to deliver the high placing achieved by many of those Balkan songs and the winners I have compared it to? Well, for a start, this is Iceland we’re talking about. Recent results show a normal televoting range of 40-65 points for the country even when well drawn (2011), a fan favourite (2010) or extremely well performed (2008).
The one year I have missed out here is Yohanna’s excellent second in 2009 with ‘Is It True’ (fourth in the televote), but that at least sounded like it could have a separate life away from the contest and on your radio, which – damningly – you could never say of ‘Never Forget’.
There are plenty of reasons to think it will be hard for Iceland to break out of this televoting range this year. For a start it’s probably only fourth in the televote pecking order even in the Nordic region, behind Sweden, Denmark and Norway. When Iceland goes eurodisco, as in 2008, it can also rely on the UK, but this year’s entry is not the kind of thing that British viewers respond to at all. Looking further afield, why would the Balkans or former USSR bloc televoters notice ‘Never Forget’ over their own?
Of course, an amazing draw could see it break out of this points range with the public poll, though even then another comparison that comes to mind is Norway’s ‘Hold On Be Strong’, which got the pimp slot in 2008 and still managed only fifth. And this was another song you would far more likely find on your radio – I think Greta and Jonsi’s song has much more limited appeal.
Why? To the casual viewer, ‘Never Forget’ takes a long time to get going, and when it does, risks coming across as overblown and fails to provide a decent hook. Also, this is not a duet like Azerbaijan’s last year, when the performers sweetly call out to each other. By comparison, ‘Never Forget’ is rather shouty at the big moments.
Though the video is lovely, the live performance in a competitive Icelandic final – where incidentally, it didn’t even win the televote – was satisfactory enough but less powerful. Jonsi is slightly weak in the verses, and the overall effect is curiously unmoving.
Talking of Jonsi, presumably those talking up Iceland’s chances have put out of mind his previous appearance on the Eurovision stage back in 2004. It was not a glorious moment, despite plenty of fanboy hype beforehand, and even with a decent draw he managed just 16 points in the final. Admittedly he will have far more vocal and physical support this time, and the routine doesn’t allow for as much cringeworthy overacting, but anyone hoping for flawless vocals on the big night should beware.
It’s a slightly unfair comparison given that ‘Never Forget’ is a superior song with more going for it, but I’m slightly reminded of the consensus that put Croatia’s 2010 entry in many pre-rehearsal top five lists that year because fans felt it was “powerful” and “haunting” whereas the act in question, Femminem, had far from wowed in their previous Eurovision appearance back in 2005. ‘Lako je Sve’ failed to qualify for the final despite an excellent draw, because neutral televoters ignored its emotional bombast.
Iceland is drawn badly in second position of the first semi-final. Yet despite being rather dismissive of its chances in the final, I think it will get there with ease. How come? Despite my arguments about its limited televote appeal, I still recognise that ‘Never Forget’ is jury fodder – as eurovicious summed up so well, ‘the juries vote for earnestness’.
In the first semi-final that is a commodity in short supply. Only Denmark (usefully, Iceland’s closest televoting ally) will overshadow it here, in my opinion. In this left-field heat, a three-digit jury score for ‘Never Forget’ looks very achievable, and that would comfortably see Jonsi and Greta through.
The pair will be hoping that juries will be as generous in the final. Here, though, ‘Never Forget’ will come up against much stronger competition; there’s plenty of jury fodder among the automatic qualifiers and within the second heat. Quite how far juries will reward Iceland amongst these stronger rivals is harder to predict. In its favour, there’s hardly any duo or singing violinist among the acts, so ‘Never Forget’ has that as a way of standing out against the plethora of other earnest stuff.
The problem is that I think it will require a significant jury score to lift Iceland into any kind of half-decent position, and that’s far from guaranteed. My expectations for its chances in May thus remain significantly lower than those of most punters, with the usual caveats of seeing how it shapes up at the rehearsal phase.
Do you agree, or can you convince me that casual viewers will not forget ‘Never Forget’? Let us know in the comments section below.