Eurovision 2012: How will Romania fare with ‘Zaleilah’?

Here’s a good question no one truly knows the answer to: at what point during a three-minute Eurovision song do most viewers decide it gets their vote?

Occasionally when watching the contest with friends, I’ve been surprised how quickly one of them will announce, “this is the one I like”. It happened within the first 40 seconds for Armenia’s 2008 song and Azerbaijan’s 2009 number. The fact that both songs didn’t really progress beyond what we’d seen at the start didn’t affect their decision.

I ask this question to lead into another: Is there any more enjoyable opening 40 seconds to a song this year than Romania’s ‘Zaleilah’? (Watch here.) Not as far as I’m concerned.

There’s so much to draw viewers in: the strong percussive opening, the dude with the bagpipes who follows that, the Megan Fox lookalike who next starts ripping her clothes off, followed by the best riff of the whole contest – a bloke with the accordion who looks sure to rival epic sax guy given the enthusiasm with which he plies his trade. What’s not to like?

The fun, summer-hitness of ‘Zaleilah’ doesn’t end there. Megan Fox starts singing in Spanish, which just reminds us of the Macarena and Las Ketchup; the chorus is infectious, nonsensical silliness; epic accordion guy gets to do his riff again, which for me this year is rivalled in catchiness only by the Moldovan trumpet (with predilections like these, I reckon I was a Carpathian goat shepherd in a former life); and later there’s a fun cameo by someone who looks like a member of LMFAO.

I’m not totally sold on the whole package. You could argue that it doesn’t manage to sustain the the brilliance of the opening 40 seconds for the whole three minutes. In particular, I’d have preferred accordion guy to do his shtick again after the second chorus, rather than have the solo vocal that opens the middle eight. Also, the lyrical absurdity of the chorus starts to pall on its third and final sing through. Finally, and this is something we’ll come back to when considering the jury reaction to ‘Zaleilah’, some televoters may find there is too much going on.

But I think that enough casual viewers will already be won over by the enjoyment provided by the song’s opening moments. And ‘Zaleilah’ stands out from the crowd – visually and aurally.

As an added bonus, Romania may not quite be in the top tier when it comes to voting allies, but it gets plenty of assistance, especially with Italy back in the contest. Incidentally, the nation’s Eurovision friends are largely voting in its semi-final – some of them listed by Nick D – and that should easily see the country through to Saturday night, even with a relatively poor draw of sixth in the running order.

In a comment following on from my Iceland analysis, I mentioned that the five remaining big hitters in the contest – Serbia, Greece, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia – look set for the televote top ten. At this early pre-rehearsal stage, with all the caveats over draw and staging that implies, I see Romania as likely to join them for the reasons stated above. Surround ‘Zaleilah’ with earnest stuff late in the running order, and it could do very well indeed in the final televote.

Some commentators are tipping Romania to do extremely well overall because they also think that the juries will be relatively kind. Their reasoning is thus: Mandinga are a professional outfit who have been around on the Romanian music scene for a while now; their lead singer carries the tune well enough; and the song feels like it could be a commercial hit.

I’m not so confident that the juries won’t punish the song, for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, there’s no getting away from the lyrical silliness of the chorus.

Secondly, whilst there are some upbeat entries with plenty of action on stage that have been treated kindly enough (Romania 2010 and Ireland 2011 spring to mind), generally speaking a simple presentation has tended to impress juries more, and there is a risk of ‘Zaleilah’ looking messy in a way that the likes of Jedward last year ultimately didn’t.

Of course, the rehearsal period will tell us far more here. But if, as I envisage, the staging is similar to what we saw in the national final, it could come across as a dog’s dinner. Camerawork will be key – whilst that is true more generally, it is particularly important for as busy a production as this.

Not only could poor shots lessen the strong visual appeal of the act, but it also risks enhancing the impression that the song is messy too. However, one small thing that will help is that the group will have to drop the number of people on stage from the seven seen in Bucharest to the allotted maximum of six for Baku.

So whilst I’m not ruling out an excellent finish for ‘Zaleilah’, I’ll have to wait for rehearsals to further assess just what the juries are going to make of it, whilst enjoying epic accordion guy again and again.

Agree or disagree? Let us know what you think of Romania’s prospects in the comments section below.

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35 comments to Eurovision 2012: How will Romania fare with ‘Zaleilah’?

  • Panos

    Hey Daniel, I surely agree with your theory of the strong opening and the casual eurovision viewer. I’ve had similar reactions to those described by you from random friends watching with me on the night, for example for Playing With Fire in 2010. I cannot stop myself from comparing ‘Zaleilah’ to France 2010 with Jessy and, to a lesser extend, Ukraine 2009 with Svetlana (the latter mostly due to busy-ness on stage and its obvious anti-jury-ness). Also, the jury treatment of last year’s spanish entry springs to mind. I totally agree with you that ‘Zaleilah’ can match and beat the televoting result of, lets say, Jessy (8th) given the right circumstances outlined by you (this is Romania afterall, not poor France!). However, the 3 songs I used as examples above only finished 22nd, 16th and 24th respectively with the jury. In line with your similar concern, I am still waiting for a strong, convincing point from someone to sway me into believing that ‘Zaleilah’ will NOT be placed within that bottom 10 window by the juries. If that’s the case, I think we should be talking about its top10 and not its top5 potential.

  • Substanshell

    I agree with your analysis except the Megan-Fox-lookalike. Are you serious? At best she is a blend of young Paula Abdul/ Tulisa from x-factor.
    What is your take on Zaleilah’s similarities with Michel Teló’s “Ai se eu te pego”? No. 1 Hit-Single in Belgium, Austria, France, Germany, Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland.
    I’m undecided if this works against Romania’s chances or in its favor.

  • Emma

    I’m not totally sold either. She can sing, and that helps, because often those party-esque acts have damningly bad vocals but not always. Panos’s comparison to France 2010 works for me–fun summery dance song not (fully) in English–and rewatching the performance, I don’t think Jessy’s or his backup singer’s vocals were in any way bad. The song was, however, so transparently catchy and so shameless about it that it seems to me that juries felt obligated to punish it. Jessy may have missed the top 6 but the song was easily one of the most commercially successful (Case in point: almost two years later, the music video comes on in a Berlin bowling alley) so perhaps the juries don’t care about commercial success as much as people think. Zaleilah (hate spelling that:P) isn’t as quite as unashamedly catchy and funyet, but it’s heading down that path and if anyone starts stripping or backflipping, they’re done for.

    My one complaint about the song’s appeal to televoters in the chorus. It’s catchy as hell, yes, but I think it could be bigger. Allez Ola Ole had a huge chorus going for it and a bunch of recent winners have too. Alexander Rybak’s chorus was HUGE (made a great ringtone, too, I might add:)), Lena’s was smaller but still present and Ell and Nikki’s felt rather big too, especially since they only sang together at the chorus and the backup singers’ perfect timing right after the first “I’m running, I’m scared”. Eric Saade came in second with the televoters from a rubbish draw early on and surrounded by other high energy young singers with catchy pop and the chorus of Popular was smashingly big. Conversely, Anna Rossinelli scored last with the televoters last year and her choruses felt very mellow. Zaleilah won’t suffer the same fate, but I don’t the song is living up to its exciting-potential. And would I sound too very Swedish if I said I think they need a key change? As Blue said in that documentary last year, if the song’s not enough without a key change, it’s not enough, period, and I think that’s true.

    I don’t see Bucharest 2013, but who knows. I’m trying to figure out this year’s Popular, the song most people don’t take seriously until the voting’s half over and it’s in the lead, and Zaleilah could be it.

  • I can be short and simple: Romania is a true contender for the victory. It has everything that both televoters and jury’s like.

  • One question I have for Daniel though. I am reading so much, also on other sites, about the countries that will be helped most from televoters. But which TOP 3 of countries will be helped most by jury’s this year, helping them actually in the final TOP 3?

    I am asking this, because I still have a feeling pundits focus to a larger extend on the televoters behaviour. For me it is interesting to find the new ‘Italy 2011’ of this year: The only song in the competition that scores BIG among jury’s (1st or 2nd) and does more or less okay but not that well among televoters (8th to 11th).

    I think Spain should be added to that list then. Moreover, where is Germany in this discussion? I can see Germany doing an upset victory as I explained before (Maybe 5th among televoters and 1st among jury’s).

    Moreover, what I also forget in this discussion is the difference in music styles. Taking in account the impact a audivisual total package can have, we have seen many kinds of music winning or ending in the TOP 3: Belgium 2003 (folk, slow-tempo), Serbia-Montenegro 2004 (folk, slow-tempo), Ukraine 2004 (up-tempo), Malta 2005 (ballad), Greece 2005 (up-tempo, pop), Bosnia 2006 (folk, slow-tempo), Finland 2006 (rock, gimmick), Serbia 2007 (ballad), Ukraine 2007 (gimmick), Russia 2008 (popballad), Iceland 2009 (ballad), Norway 2009 (folk, up-tempo, pop), Turkey 2010 (rock), Germany 2010 (up-tempo, pop), Azerbeidzjan 2011 (slow-tempo, pop), Italy 2011 (softjazz, pop).

    Therefore, I’d rather look which different styles of music will have impact enough to do very well, or to end in the TOP 3: I’d say at this moment, by taking into account the latest live performances, that
    – Germany ánd
    – Romania
    are the ones to beat.

    Slightly down, but this having good opportunity to end 11th to 3rd:
    – France (underestimated by many, take in mind the whistling, halfnaked Armani models in Baku),
    – Italy,
    – Norway,
    – Serbia,
    – Spain,
    – Slovenia,
    – Spain,
    – Sweden and
    – Turkey.

  • Andrew

    Hello esteemed Sofabet commenters,

    Just to let you know we have (finally) implemented a feature Boki asked for an embarrassingly long time ago – a page which has a longer list of recent comments than the five which appear in the top-right column. Here it is –

    http://sofabet.com/recent-comments/

    Hope you find it useful. It should come in handy if you’ve been away from the site for a few days, and to avoid missing comments when there is discussion happening on multiple posts at once.

    Any suggestions for improving this page, and indeed the site in general, are always gratefully received!

  • Boki

    I’m afraid I can’t discuss much about Romania, I find it ‘el cheapo’ but I admit it’s really the type of song I can’t feel at all so will just avoid it (only thing I’m sure of it’s not a winner). Another thing in this article strikes me more but hopefully will come back to it later this evening.

  • Jamie

    Daniel,

    Great site. Your posts are always well thought out and they make me think even when I disagree with them, but this is the first time I have posted.

    I am interested in what makes people tick and how they make decisions, so I really like the question you posed at the start of your post.

    Most televoters are casual viewers. Eurovision is the type of programme that many people watch while doing other things. This might be chatting about what they’re going to do tomorrow, doing the ironing, browsing the internet for the football results, tweeting or any number of other things. Also, viewers are asked to listen to around 25 songs in quick succession despite the fact that they don’t know the songs or the singers, and often they don’t understand the words. This means that they are easily distracted and each song needs to grab their attention quickly.

    One of my tests for finding a likely Eurovision winner is to listen to the first verse and chorus of each song only, and then to discard any song which hasn’t captured my attention. I don’t believe that most televoters will listen all the way through these songs. I’m not sure that I agree that people decide the winner within the first minute, but I do think that they decide the also-rans.

    This is a very harsh test and bears little relationship to the overall merit of the song. Novelty songs and songs with flashy staging will pass this test, whereas many slower songs with more musical merit will fail. I think this is one of the reasons why simply staged ballads do rather badly in televoting compared with jury voting. That doesn’t mean all ballads though, but many Eurovision ballads start very slowly and build to a climax in the third minute.

    Compare two of the better fancied slower songs in this year’s contest: Spain and Iceland. Listen to just the first minute of each. The Icelandic song is full of colour and variety while the Spanish song goes nowhere. The Icelandic song is probably sufficiently interesting to get most people to listen all the way through, whereas the Spanish song is not. That’s a shame because the third minute of the Spanish song, when it goes all Simon-Cowell-big-ballady, is actually pretty good.

    If I were betting on one of these two songs I would definitely choose Iceland.

    As you say, Romania passes this test with flying colours.

    • Daniel

      Hi Jamie and welcome to Sofabet – nice to hear from you. I agree with you entirely on how the casual viewer watches the show: the first minute is indeed crucial. Personally, I think that both Iceland and Spain fail this test. I see where you are coming from in terms of Iceland having ‘colour’ but there’s a pretty slow build here too. However, disagreement is the oil that greases sites like ours, and indeed betting in general, so long may it last. 🙂

  • Boki

    Hi Daniel,

    Just like Jamie I’m was intigued by your question when people decide during the 3 minutes? Normally I agree if a song begins strong it captures your interest to watch it till the end and vice versa. Jamie’s experiment seems also fair because it includes the chorus which is important, right? I have a theory about decision moments and I think during those 3 minutes you find a favorite here and there but still there are more to come and you know it, so no voting until you hear them all. So I believe that average viewer (not a euro fan of course who knows the songs in advance) will send his votes after the recap and the decision might be heavily influenced by it.

    My recap theory says that people heavily use it as a reminder what they heard in the past hour, I don’t expect them to make notes when they like a certain song and it’s not easy to remember everything on a first listen. The fact they changed the voting rules back confirms that majority votes after the all songs performed but my point is: voting is based on the recap.

    So what you get as a reminder is not a first boring minute but the best part of the song and that can certainly change your
    perspective. Recap doesn’t have the pauses or breaks between the songs, it’s just chorus after chorus and the order (who comes after who) is even more important there. Would Greece last year win their semi based on the horrible first 40sec? Don’t think so but chorus was well powerfull and recap makes you forget the rap part (maybe the Greece example was not good because he sang last but you get the
    point). The opposite example from last year would be Armenia which begins quite ok but chorus was flat and that’s not something you want to hear again later. I also remember poor Harel Skaat who got those false notes in the recap and then people are supposed to vote for him !?

    To recapitulate: it’s of course the best that you have a Rybakesque song from beginning till end but I think the chorus is still the key especially the part that gets in the recap which determines where your votes finally go.

    • Boki

      Hi Daniel,

      I miss your reaction to the recap theory. It was either so brilliant that left you speachless or I was talking 100% bollocks and you couldn’t find a polite enough answer 🙂

      • Daniel

        Hi Boki, I have been travelling over the last day or so and not been able to access Sofabet regularly. There’s nothing I find to disagree with in your recap theory. It is an important moment.

        I’m not sure if you are aware but each delegation has the power to choose which part of their song to recap. So if the recap shows the wrong part of the song, a delegation only has themselves to blame.

        • Boki

          No problem Daniel, sorry for being a little pushy. I’m aware of that and normally it’s a best part of the song, Skaat was only example in my mind where it went wrong. Could it be that they have chosen like between 2:30 and 2:45 in advance and it was too late to change after his performance? That shouldn’t be the case since recap is filmed on the afternoon’s last general rehearsal, right?

  • Agree completely with Panos and Emma – and Boki.

    I think it’ll get a middling jury result (as it’s well-performed but simplistic and repetitive). As regards the televote, Romania’s voting allies will be a big boon, especially in the semi, but the language will be a barrier – that’s not something to be underestimated.

    Personally I find it throwaway and it doesn’t speak to me, though I do like the group. I also don’t think it’s catchy in the way that Allez Ola Ole or Popular were – both of those are also simple, performance-based songs with a repetitive hook, but as Emma says, Zaleilah just isn’t quite as fun or belting by comparison. It runs the risk of being passed over (both by televoters and juries) as lightweight, insubstantial and throwaway, especially if it gets an early draw. The chorus just isn’t strong enough or, I think, universal enough in its appeal – this is a “Latin” song in its melody and temperament.

    As to epic accordion guys (and I love a good epic accordion breakdown), Latvia 2001 still takes some beating for me 😉 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZPChW-ZDjws. And if you ever get the chance to see Global Kryner (Austria 2005) live, do, Anton Sauprügl’s accordion solos are legendary…

  • Uncle Si

    Jamie and Boki, I liked your comments and Daniel thanks for another stimulating article. Indeed, for me a fascinating aspect is at which point in the show voters at home decide.

    I’m with the recaps theory. The one-off viewer isn’t obsessively scoring and noting each song. Perhaps one or two jump out at them, then they watch the recap to make sense of a blur of new songs, and remember the one they like most. However:

    Finland 2006, Lordi. I bet lots of voters straight away thought yeah, this is a good tune and wacky. So memorable no recap needed.

    Serbia 2012, Zeljko: Great song,
    Takes 2 minutes to get going, so a recap will help, but even then what will the recap show? Part of the last minute but does it remind the voter of much? For me it’s too amorphous, not repetitive or memorable enough. I think Slovenia has more if you’re after that kind of thing, yet in turn has less than the similar Molitva. (Serbia 2007 and check out the dance version!)

    By the way, Iceland: overblown, too dark, perhaps 5th to 10th or lower.
    Romania: fabulous, probably not top 5 but solid top 10.
    Just my thoughts!

    At this stage before we see the staging, I think Germany will do it and Sweden and Ireland will be top 5.

    Enjoy the build-up!

    • Boki

      Hi Uncle, there are exceptions as you mentioned if a song is so memorable (either in good or bad way). Agree fully on Zeljko but he has a lot of support (maybe not like Merlin last year but comparable) who will vote just based on his name. Molitva was better and it won, Zeljko should be happy with top10. Btw why do you see Ireland in top5?

  • Why did the slow-tempo entries of Serbia 2007 and Azerbeidzjan 2011 won actually? The first 20 to 30 seconds not much happens on stage. Still, they won.

    • Boki

      Strong audio-visual package combined with strong diaspora support. And not to forget, it seems lot of people actually liked the songs 🙂

    • Many people talk much about diaspora. Sometimes they overlook the facts. ESCbet wrote Azer won probably because Turkey failed to qualify for the final. Well, in Germany we had a lot of Turks, nevertheless Germany gave 0 points to Azer. So it is not enough to think, oh it’s Russia, Turkey, Romania. You have to count the points, how many points do you expect, country by country. Otherwise you play negligently.

  • Uncle Si

    Hi Boki, yes indeed. It’s a bit of a punt to put Jedward as Top 5, but I think their sheer hard work bouying up their fans will see them improve on a solid 2011 result. And it’s always hard to separate one’s own appreciation of a song from what the public will think, but I prefer Waterline to Lipstick. Time will tell!

    I missed out Russia… it’s hard to call it lower than 5th, because of the appeal of the sudden switch from dirge to uptempo, even if the juries mark it down. (But will Europe be putting on its kettles after 5 seconds of grannies’ dirge?)

    All of human life is here!!

  • Tim B

    Just realised that I haven’t yet weighed in with my thoughts on Romania. I think it’s fantastic and definitely my favourite of the uptempos this year. It’s very distinctive with the bagpipes and accordian, and the chorus is seriously catchy and infectious. As long as they get the staging right, I think televoters will love it. I agree with most people who have said that it will get a middling jury vote. Therefore I think a top 10 result in the final is quite likely. It probably is a bit cheap to be honest, but not as cheap as Bulgaria, Cyprus and other songs this year. I think the bottom line is that the song is very memorable, so likely to do quite well.

    • Nick D

      I’ve not chipped in either (apart from pointing out in the earlier post that it will qualify)… I think it’s fun but maybe a bit lightweight. However… however, however… it’s just *possible* that juries will like seeing a bit of musicianship on stage, even though there’s not going to be any significant noise coming out of the instruments! I can’t absolutely rule its winning chances out, but my gut is saying “no” to anything more than a 6th-10th placing.

  • Donald

    Like the intro and accordion, noticed on very first listen but it goes all over the place after that, doesn’t use its strengths as you pointed out above.

    Think it is overall a bit dated, past two years winners very well styled and presented and targeted at youth market.

    The song I think that has instant grab you appeal is Ukraine but their semi final draw not looking good but there is something about the song that with good staging could be a surprise. The French song could be the real surprise especially with EDM (Electronic Dance Music) on the rise again.

    I notice Sweden appearing in iTunes charts around Europe.

    So early doors Sweden, France, Ukraine, Germany, Belgium and Malta (bad draw also) on my radar, followed by Spain, and few others but really think it will be down to draw and performance. Hungary last year being an example and the winners well they did appear in the semi final as you so well pointed out Daniel so best wait I think for now.

  • Ben Cook

    Totally agree with everything Daniel says. This really could be a surprise winner. 40/1 is ridiculous odds and I may have to take a punt on it. Draw will be very important though.

    I do hope that she sings it in the original key of the studio version though, because she wimped out in the NF and it lost a bit of impact for me.

  • jenny

    Hi! I liked your article,very well written,objective and it shows you know what you’re talking about 🙂
    About Mandinga,I’ll say it’s underrated like all the Romanian entries.Being the only latin country surrounded by slavs isn’t easy.They can only count on Moldova,Spain and Italy’s votes.
    There are many different songs this year,and this one I guess will stand out for being catchy and the best dance song.
    Good things:
    -epic intro-drums and the bagpipe guy makes his entry
    -they have accordion guy
    -the singer is hot (there are only 2 hot singers this year-Elena and Elefteria)
    -the song is a dance one and it will do well in charts across Europe
    -not only is a dance song but they will make a great choreography-I heard tehy’re working with Skrube,the one who made Master crew,they will add lights on instruments and they’re working on backdrop

    Bad things
    -till now they’ll promote the song only in Belgium and the Netherlands,it’s not enough
    -early draw
    -juries might not like it,but we all know they do politic more than the public,this is why he hear scandals about this thing every year

    Now I’m curious about what they’ll do,they deserve a great place and to be famous.They existed for 10 years,sing latino,jazz,dance and live for music,and this is what an esc artist that deserves attention should be…

  • Tim B

    Daniel, check out these two Zaleilah performances if you haven’t already. The first one showcases her excellent vocal while the second (skip to 16 minutes) shows the effectiveness of the staging/dancing. What do you think?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=zWWWgfvDB7Q

    • Daniel

      Hi Tim, I was pretty impressed with her vocals in the first clip. The second clip does tell us what the staging seems likely to be, and epic accordion guy continues to be epic 🙂

      • Tim B

        It seems like it’s all coming together for me. Can you imagine how dangerous they would be in the 21st slot?!?!

        • eurovicious

          I still don’t think it’s going to win – because of jury and language, and because I think it’s too lightweight and people may also think it’s the Spanish entry. Guaranteed 12 points from Malta for Glen Vella on bagpipes though.

  • Tim B

    I had a nibble at 42 in the win market, which I may or may not hedge depending on the draw.

  • Emil

    Hi there, I’m a Romanian so i’dd realy love Romania to achieve something this year, but honestly and realistically speaking BY FAR the best song comes from SWEDEN. There are other realy good songs from Serbia, Belarus, Denmark, even Spain or Norway or others. I think Romania wont make it in the top 5 but it will be from 5 to 10. Best of luck to ALL the participant countries (long live Europe)

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