Betting on Greece to finish in the Top Ten at Eurovision used to be a pretty straightforward affair. They had a knack for sending catchy tunes, combined with enough allies and diaspora to make it happen. It was a nice little earner, no moreso than when bookies offered 10-3 about it happening before the 2011 final.
But repeated success can be the breeding ground of complacency, an adage both broadcasters and punters like myself should bear in mind. Last year, I felt there was nothing to stop Greece’s typical ethnopop ditty ‘Aphrodisiac’ repeating the trick and doing very well. I came unstuck when Eleftheria Eleftheriou could only manage 17th place with 64 points. Her televote total of 89 points was far lower than her recent predecessors had managed.
This year’s Greek national final was won last night by Koza Mostra featuring Agathonas Iakovidis with ‘Alcohol Is Free’. You can watch it here. The combination of traditional Greek folk music with ska is a world away from ‘Aphrodisiac’. Will it help Greece return to the top ten, where it had been every year from 2004-11?
I like ‘Alcohol Is Free’ and was happy it won the national final. It’s ethnic, catchy and full of high spirits (pardon the pun), and I have a weak spot for that kind of thing – especially when it’s done by Moldova. The mixture of the two styles works surprisingly well, there are some enjoyable guitar and trumpet riffs, and the performance is fun with a charismatic frontman.
Admittedly, it’s not to all tastes, and there’s been a Marmite reaction to it on messageboards. The testosterone-fuelled noise of it is the opposite of what many fans are looking for in a Eurovision entry. These critics find it a shouty mess. It’s true that the repeated ‘Alcohol is Free’ refrain is a little jarring in the first chorus and it’s not structured like a western pop song.
Having said that, there’s a good instrumental bridge where you’d expect for a Eurovision entry from where it builds well to a second and final chorus which by this point feels like a better fit for the rest of the song than first time around. I’m tapping my toes and repeating the refrain every time at the climax.
There’s no doubt Greece is sailing out of the second semi-final. They may be without their Cypriot cousins here, but most of their other voting allies are present and correct. It’s an even friendlier semi than the one they were involved in last year which was pretty kind. So let’s look at its televote and jury potential in the final.
The question with the televote is: will ‘Alcohol is Free’ push the buttons of allies and diaspora as recent Greek entries managed until ‘Aphrodisiac’?
I think there are reasons for encouragement. I’m not a huge fan of using YouTube views as an indicator for Eurovision itself, but over a million hits for the main preview video of ‘Alcohol Is Free’ before the national final, twice as much as its nearest rival, suggested a certain popularity among its target audience. The unusual marriage of old and new in style and personnel may have helped.
Being largely in Greek and having proper ethnic influences may aid its popularity with the Greek diaspora. The mainly Greek-language entries of 2011 and 2010 both did better in the televote than the more western-sounding, English-language pop efforts that sandwiched them chronologically. 2010 number ‘Opa’ is as close as any of their recent entries gets to ‘Alcohol Is Free’. (Incidentally, this was the last time Greece got the UK 12 or indeed any points at all from my home country. I can see the Madness-esque anarchy of ‘Alcohol is Free’ scoring well on these shores.)
Meanwhile, 2011 entry ‘Watch My Dance’, with its ethno-emoting moments from Loukas Yiorkas, received points not only among the usual suspects but also slightly more generally south-east of Vienna. ‘Alcohol Is Free’ may manage a similar regional reach, though ‘Watch My Dance’ had the advantage of being a rare ethnic moment in that final – this year we know that Bulgaria will go the whole nine yards and there may be others such as Macedonia.
Still, ‘Alcohol Is Free’ will be visually and aurally distinctive, as the oft-kilted Koza Mostra boys perform around Iakovidis. There is a precedent for well-performed songs that are punkier than you’d expect at Eurovision going down well with the TV audience. I think that’s in large part because they bring a different kind of energy to the stage that makes them a real niche on the big night. One only has to think of Athena for Turkey in 2004, and Zdob si Zdub for Moldova in 2005 and 2011.
One shouldn’t go overboard on its general televote appeal. The Baltics and Nordics will probably ignore it as they tend to do for Greek entries. But given the arguments that ‘Alcohol Is Free’ can “delight the demographic” in the way that the 2011 and 2010 entries did, I’d be hopeful of a Greek televote score that returns to healthier pre-2012 levels.
Let’s turn to the juries, who since their reintroduction in 2009 have always given Greek entries a significantly lower total than televoters. One has to assume this will happen again, but to what extent? Will they punish ‘Alcohol Is Free’ in a way that took big hitter Russia out of a comfortable top ten televote place in 2011, or give it a softer landing?
Many of the song’s online detractors think ‘Alcohol Is Free’ reeks of a bottom five jury placing, which would endanger its place in the top ten overall. One example they point to is Lithuania’s ‘Eastern European Funk’ in 2010, featuring five plaid-clad shouty men with a repetitive refrain that was prevented from qualifying by the juries.
I don’t think this comparison is fair on a few levels. First and foremost, Koza Mostra are far better performers than Inculto. ’Alcohol Is Free’ is also much less of a joke entry than ‘Eastern European Funk’. An indication of this is that Inculto played fake instruments on stage, whereas proper instruments played by the band members are central to ‘Alcohol Is Free’. Even more obviously, Inculto ripped off their trousers.
There is a difference between being nothing more than a joke entry and having fun on stage. Juries appreciate the latter some of the time. For example, they treated Moldova in 2012 and Jedward in 2011 better than televoters.
Some but not all of the time, and this is my main worry for Greece’s top ten prospects. The two examples that best illustrate my point are Serbia 2010 and Turkey 2012. The former was written by famous Serbian songwriter Goran Bregovich, and ‘Alcohol is Free’ has been likened to his style. Both these examples were fun, upbeat ethnic entries that jurors crucified. They placed both in their bottom five, enough to send Serbia out of the top ten, though not Turkey.
Will they do the same to ‘Alcohol Is Free’? There are a few reasons to think not. Firstly, Can Bonomo and Milan Stankovic had quirkier vocals and these affectations may not have been helpful, especially as soloists. Which brings me to the second reason. The ensemble nature of Koza Mostra with Agathonas Iakovidis reinforces the sense that there is ultimately a decent amount of originality and musicality from ‘Alcohol Is Free’ (a song that’s been written by the band’s frontman Elias Kozas), as opposed to the likes of Russia 2011 or indeed ‘Aphrodisiac’. I think that will get them enough jury points to allow Greece to return to the top ten this year.
Do you agree or disagree with this view and the arguments used to justify it? What do you think of ‘Alcohol Is Free’? Let us know below.