Eurovision season really kicked into gear when the Danes selected ‘Only Teardrops’ by Emmelie de Forest last weekend. Watch the song here. Bookmakers cut Denmark to 8-1 joint-favourite, although at this early stage the best indicator of market sentiment is to look at the lay odds on Betfair – the price at which someone wants to back the entry and is hoping to find another punter to take on the bet. Based on this indicator, only hosts Sweden are shorter.
Some fans felt like they had seen this year’s winner already, while others were quick to dismiss the idea. Opinion was also split in the immediate reaction in the Sofabet comments. Ben Cook reckoned “It’s a real contender,” though Panos warned that it could “pull an Iceland 2012” – in other words, be a fan favourite that fails to light up the scoreboard as expected.
Of course, barely a fifth of the songs have been heard, and Malmo is still months away. But it’s never too early to start sizing up a song’s strengths and weaknesses. Let’s start with the song’s strengths, which are many.
‘Only Teardrops’ is a well-constructed ethnic drama. The pipes and drums are effectively used – to indicate transitions between the chorus and verse, and to build up the bridge towards the climax. It’s a cleverly-instrumented, good pop tune.
Furthermore, it’s very well sold by Emmelie. Ben Cook commented that he found her “totally captivating”, and she certainly grabs your attention, being both vocally strong and an intense performer. The Danish televoters obviously agreed, giving her half the televote in a super-final of three against two much bigger names.
There is some debate about her presentation, as reflected in those early Sofabet comments. Panos thinks it needs to be “more current”; Ben felt it should be left “exactly as it is” and Dr Rich agreed, reckoning that the current staging adds to the “mystical” nature of the song – “the messed up hair and dress creates more intrigue”.
For me there is something very genuine about the way Emmelie puts ‘Only Teardrops’ across, and my hunch is that they won’t change the presentation much, if at all. I’ve seen accusations that Emmelie’s schtick is too obviously influenced by last year’s winner, Loreen. I don’t think that’s fair, although she’s certainly comparably quirky. The tousled hair, bare feet, floaty dress, sitting down start and constantly wavy arm movements – just to describe these quirks is to remind yourself of the risk that, in the wrong hands, they might come across as incredibly annoying. It’s to Emmelie’s credit that they don’t.
Can Emmelie match Loreen by winning the contest? There’s no doubting that ‘Only Teardrops’ is the best constructed song selected so far, but there’s the small matter of those other 30-plus songs yet to be selected. Nonetheless, we can consider that one benchmark of most recent winners is that they have had a life outside Eurovision. ‘Euphoria’ was a big European hit last year, ‘Satellite’ in 2010 and ‘Fairytale’ in 2009 also charted successfully across the Continent. The appeal of these songs clearly went well beyond fans of the contest.
Which brings me to my first concern about ‘Only Teardrops’ – I don’t think it so obviously has a life outside Eurovision as these winners. This kind of ethno-drama is a classic Eurovision formula loved by fans, hence Panos’s name-check of Iceland 2012. The Balkans have been plying their own versions of percussion, pipes and emoting for many years – Dr Rich compared the opening to Serbia’s entry last year.
Of course, that’s not a negative comparison – Serbia finished third, and ‘Only Teardrops’ has the advantage of being in English, if not the weight of neighbourly and diaspora support the likes of Serbia get.
But I do think Panos has a point in an overall sense when he doubts how current the song feels – it’s always interesting to ask yourself what comes to mind if you’re forced to compare a song to something outside Eurovision, and for me the first thing that comes to mind here is 90s Irish group The Cranberries. Admittedly, ‘Euphoria’ also sounded like it had come straight from the 1990s – but then, trance is a genre which has endured incredibly successfully, as the song’s post-Eurovision success showed.
It’s interesting to compare ‘Only Teardrops’ with ‘Fairytale’ given that the latter was folky, twee and hardly current. That didn’t stop a runaway victory. But ‘Fairytale’ has some significant advantages: among them the instrumental hook is very much stronger, its visual elements were a knockout and lyrically it’s also interesting – which ‘Only Teardrops’ isn’t.
But what if we have a year like 2011, with no standout like Lena, Rybak or Loreen? It’s worth wildly speculating how ‘Only Teardrops’ might have fared then, to put things in perspective. ‘Running Scared’ had the might of Azerbaijan behind it and was contemporary, which was enough to get it over the line. I don’t think that ‘Only Teardrops’ would have challenged the jury success of second-placed Italy, nor the televote appeal of third-placed Sweden, either.
Concerning the juries, I think they’ll appreciate the instrumentation and Emmelie’s performance to do well here. But Panos rightly points out that we are yet to see just how many jury-friendly numbers we will get. We know they loved the vocal virtuosity of the likes of Pastora, Ott and Rona last year. Emmelie could be up against plenty of that in 2013.
As for televoters, ‘Only Teardrops’ seems likely to go down well with Denmark’s neighbours and with Ireland in particular. I’m open-minded about how it will fare elsewhere. Being rather earnest as a song, and without the most memorable of hooks, it could be damaged by a poor draw in the final. It will be an interesting test of the new system whereby producers decide the running order. Here we have a close neighbour sending a fancied song. How much favour will it get?
In conclusion, I think ‘Only Teardrops’ is a strong enough song to sail into the final, and it has the potential to do well there. My initial hunch is that it’s not taking the prize back over the Oresund bridge in mid-May, but I give it plenty of respect. What are your thoughts on its chances? Do join the debate in the comments section below.