When I was a teacher, I found that repeating myself could occasionally be a useful exercise if I felt the point was worth ramming home. Forgive me then for reminding you of something I wrote at the end of yesterday’s article:
In a semi-final where qualification odds are very short on those seemingly certain to go through, whilst the borderline cases are dependent on the whims of the juries which are generally much harder to predict, one way to find value is in the potential for disconnect between fans’ assumptions and what will turn out to be Eurovision reality.
With that in mind, there’s one bet I will recommend for this evening’s semi-final.
That bet is Cyprus not to qualify. You can sell ‘La La Love’ at 1.4 in the qualification market on Betfair or get 9/4 with Betfred.
My views on ‘La La Love’ have long been known. I labelled it this year’s potential “fanwank” – a song that is near the top of fan polls but then fails to be anywhere as near as popular on the Eurovision scoreboard. It shares many classic features of previous fan favourites that have disappointed, such as Hungary 2011 or Sweden 2008. It’s an upbeat number, the studio version of which is great to dance to at a Eurovision disco – as I can happily testify.
The problem comes in trying to bring this kind of thing to the Eurovision stage. It’s much more difficult staging upbeat numbers, as I’ve already indicated. There needs to be a dance routine which throws up ancillary dilemmas. What’s the routine going to be? How much do you get your lead singer to dance when he or she is trying to sing? How many backing vocalists and backing dancers to have?
This seemd a particular issue for Cyprus this year because Ivi Adamou is no more than an adequate vocalist and dancer, which could be just fine for a song like ‘La La Love’, but it means greater ingenuity is required in its staging.
It’s interesting that rehearsal reports have been so positive, but whilst Ivi’s practices certainly haven’t been a disaster, they have been far from convincing too. They have come across much better in the camera footage from the arena posted on YouTube than they have on the TV feed in the press centre – which is where it really matters.
The song’s many fans were clearly relieved that ‘La La Love’ was no car crash on stage, but that ignored fundamental problems with the way it is being staged. I understand exactly the idea that Cyprus have in mind, I just think it has been the wrong idea.
They have gone for a classy, feminine, slightly baroque feel with the floaty dresses, balletic movements, the plinth made of books, and the backdrop of picture frames – all in cream, white, or a rather neutral kind of mauve so that the action on stage blends into the backdrop. This feel is rather at odds with the song, which is a bit of a stomper.
This is best demonstrated by the attempt to marry a balletic female dance routine with a dance/pop tune. We have a great example of another upbeat fan favourite that tried this with little success – Iceland in 2005.
The use of female backing dancers means that the lifts, especially the first one, are not as convincing as they might be. Incidentally, the first one is a moment where Ivi’s vocals have tended to wobble. The flapper dance for the chorus makes it cheesier than it needs to be and brings to mind Spain 2011. Again, the energy required for it affects Ivi’s vocals.
I think they’ve asked Ivi to do too much in general. She has her moments. The “woo-oh-oh..I feel the energy” part has been her strongest in rehearsals. Unfortunately, Cyprus appear to have chosen not to use this bit in the reprise, but concentrate on the chorus, with its cheesy lyric and cheesy dance that gets Ivi rather breathless.
Ivi’s performance during the jury rehearsal last night was one of her worst of the week. There was one very painful long note, “when you are neeeeaaaarrr” and other wobbly moments. I can’t see the judges being impressed by what was one of the notably weaker vocals of the night.
This is not naturally a jury-friendly song anyway. It is very hard for me to envisage Cyprus even vying for a top ten position among the juries, especially when there is so much that is competent in this semi (bar Montenegro, San Marino and the way Latvia looks). The fact that others raised their game when it mattered, such as Greece, doesn’t help.
An upbeat song with a simplistic lyrical refrain, performed unconvincingly, is in fact a perfect storm for the juries: one only has to look at their treatment of Armenia, Russia and Norway (the early favourite to win the whole contest) last year – they scored 33, 31 and 29 points respectively with juries. There is a decent chance that Ivi will score something similar with juries this time.
In which case she is relying on an excellent televote score tonight. Problem is, Cyprus only has one certain ally in Greece. It also faces a huge amount of competition from the many other upbeat entries in this semi. Romania and Greece are drawn before Cyprus, but can at least rely on far more voting friends.
Following ‘La La Love’ we have the Russian grannies, the Austrian Trackshittaz, Moldova’s trumpet man Pasha and Ireland’s Jedward, who I believe are all going to have a bigger market among viewers – they are more memorable, better drawn and more convincingly performed. I can therefore envisage Ivi coming seventh in the televote among the upbeat numbers alone.
This is before we have factored in Albania’s reasonable amount of allies, the straightforward quality of the better drawn Danish and Hungarian songs, and the potential niche for the well performed Israeli, Swiss and Belgian numbers.
In the circumstances, I think Cyprus has a bit of a mountain to climb. And yet you can get 5-2 that it won’t qualify. Why? Because it’s a fan favourite that is popular and fun to dance to in Eurovision discos. To repeat myself again from yesterday:
The opening of the envelopes to reveal tomorrow night’s qualifiers will be the first time that fans’ expectations meet with Eurovision reality this week. This goes some way to explain why more often than not there are ‘shock’ results. The shock to fans is that viewers around Europe and national juries have different tastes to them. Which shouldn’t be a shock at all.
I’m not usually one to tip a country to lay in the qualification market, because with 10 songs going through from just 18, it is possible for most songs to sneak in. And that indeed could be the case this time with Cyprus. The news that Albania will not be showing the semi tonight and will therefore give just a jury vote adds an extra element of uncertainty to the scoreboard.
But even if Cyprus does emerge from an envelope tonight, I’ll try not to be too downhearted. Looking on the bright side, it will give me opportunities to win back my losses by laying ‘La La Love’ in the Top 10 market for Saturday’s final. Overall, I hope I have outlined why at current prices, it represents the best value bet in the qualification market for this semi.
I had built up a case for backing Denmark in the win market before last night’s jury rehearsal, but Soluna Samay surprised us all by starting off rather shakily in ‘Should’ve Known Better’. It was easily her worst rehearsal, though these things are relative – I don’t see it affecting her qualification chances. Last year, Azerbaijan had easily their worst rehearsal for the jury semi. It meant they just lost out in the jury vote (to Lithuania) and in the overall scores (to Greece), but it didn’t dump them out of the competition.
Each candidate for the semi win has something to overcome. Romania’s Mandinga merit the utmost respect, especially with so many allies to rely on. My reasons for not quite bringing myself to tip ‘Zaleilah’ are its poor draw and the fact that there is so much upbeat, zany stuff that follows to rather steal its thunder on this occasion. Give it a later draw on Saturday night, and a semi defeat can be easily reversed – it’s not an unusual occurrence from semi to final.
Russia’s Babushki are favourites to win this semi. Their televoting appeal is obvious, and they are well drawn in 15. However, there are reasons to think that ‘Party For Everybody’ may do relatively better in the final too. Firstly, they have far more voting allies stuck in the other heat. Secondly, their appearance feels like one of many gimmicks tonight, especially with the Austria-Moldova-Ireland triple whammy to conclude. Finally, I am still of the belief that juries will not be adding too much to potentially high televote scores, whereas the likes of Denmark will score more consistently well with both.
Iceland offer something jury friendly, but being drawn at number two in this semi doesn’t bode well for its televote potential tonight. Greece has neither a good draw nor a jury-friendly package, though its allies will be of great importance to Eleftheria. All these are highly probable qualifiers, but I think that it’s between Romania and Denmark for the win.
Here’s an interesting stat. Since the two-semi system started in 2008, at least one of the last two acts to sing in each heat has finished in its top 3. In eight semi-finals, 11 of the 16 to perform in the pimp slot or penultimate place have managed a podium finish. That’s quite a record. So the question is: can I build a case for Moldova or Ireland to join them in the top three tonight?
Jedward themselves failed to reach the semi podium from the pimp slot last year, managing only eighth in their heat. It’s difficult for me to then recommend a sneaky each-way punt on ‘Waterline’, which lacks some of the punch of ‘Lipstick’. However, they were at least looking more polished for the jury rehearsal than they had been for the previous practice yesterday, and that combined with the draw could be enough for qualification.
Moldova has plenty of friends in this semi, including what is usually a guaranteed 12 from Romania. There are worst bets than 33/1 each-way for Pasha Parfeny, but whether it’s because I don’t want to push Nick D over the ledge, or because I think it’s slightly too niche and not of enough interest to north and western Europe, I can’t quite bring myself to recommend it. I told Nick that ‘Lautar’ was not as good as ‘Hora Din Moldova‘, although watching Nelly in 2009 back again, she’s not singing in English, is therefore more niche and managed fifth in her semi.
In terms of who else qualifies it’s worth bearing in mind the analysis I wrote before last year’s contest on what juries go for. In short and general terms, there seems to be a bias towards earnestness. The fact that few songs in this semi display this kind of earnestness has implications for its scoreboard. The implication is that those songs which are jury-friendly have less competition in fighting for high marks from this constituency.
A second feature of this semi is that it contains far less of the big hitters in terms of diaspora and neighbourly voting: only Russia and Greece from the top tier and Romania from the second tier. In fact, the latter has more voting allies than anyone in this semi, having been drawn with all its friends bar Portugal, whilst Russia have been left with relatively few of its allies. Overall, this makes life slightly easier for the countries historically less favoured with voting allies.
That’s all going to help Iceland, Albania, Belgium, Finland, Denmark and Hungary who offer something more downbeat in tone at places 2, 5, 8, 9, 13 and 15 in the running order. It’s worth bearing in mind that a semi ‘shock’ has usually involved something slow and steady coming through the middle, such as Lithuania in 2011 or Portugal 2010. One exception is Sweden in 2010, which surprisingly fell out of the top 10 in its semi but the problem there was a surfeit of female ballads that we don’t have here.
This all leads up to me putting Belgium in my speculative list of ten qualifiers. This is a jury-friendly package: a straightforward ballad, simply presented and sung well. Iris put up a good performance in yesterday’s jury rehearsal. Her ability to work the camera and the emotional connection she makes as a result of this may see a better televote score than most fans imagine too.
That leaves me with two other spaces to fill from a list of potentials that comprises Albania, Switzerland, Hungary, Austria and Israel. Told you this semi was tricky. It wouldn’t surprise me if any of them made it, and as I’m writing this, I’m choosing Albania and Austria at opposite ends of the musical spectrum. At a different moment, I may have chosen two different ones.
So, my personal list of qualifiers are in draw order: Iceland, Greece, Albania, Romania, Belgium, Denmark, Russia, Austria, Moldova and Ireland. Getting them all right is notoriously tricky, so bragging rights are up for grabs. Let me know your prediction for the ten envelopes tonight and your other thoughts below. Good luck to everyone.