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.