Yesterday Russia was backed into single figures after revealing its 2013 entry, ‘What If’ sung by Dina Garipova. You can listen to the song here, although many videos of it were taken down after plagiarism accusations.
A few of these fly around every year and never come to anything, so it’s relatively although not totally safe to assume that ‘What If’ will make it to Malmo. As an internal selection by the broadcaster in question, Dina Garipova certainly should. She was the winner of Russia’s first season of The Voice.
Russia is of course one of the big hitters of the contest, with a traditional televote advantage from all the former USSR countries taking part. This year they are back to full strength with Armenia’s return, and have enough allies in their semi to all but guarantee a place in the final. Will Dina be able to make the most of this opportunity?
It’s become a pattern for me to express my personal feelings about each entry so that readers have some idea where I’m coming from, even though it’s one of my Eurovision top tips that one should be careful not to let what songs you do and don’t like get in the way of an objective view of their chances.
So far I’ve been pretty positive about the entries covered in these previews, but that comes to an end here. ‘What If’ is the kind of dated, saccharine ballad, key change and all, that still seems to find a place at Eurovision despite going out of fashion elsewhere. It’s not the kind of thing I enjoy seeing at the contest.
Some people have compared the chances of ‘What If’ to 2011 winner ‘Running Scared’, and suggested that Russia can take the prize in 2013 because it’s a big hitter with a jury-friendly song in a year that may lack a standout entry. I don’t accept the comparison between the two songs. ‘Running Scared’ is far more contemporary and has a better hook in its introduction than ‘What If’ can muster in three minutes.
I think a more accurate equivalent is last year’s Spanish entry ‘Quedate Conmigo’ which being in the same vein was also not a personal favourite. The overwhelming cheesiness of the English lyrics on display in ‘What If’ makes me like it even less. But the former still managed tenth place, a respectable result for a country with few friends. Set this next to Russia, a major player by dint of its many allies.
The central question concerning its fortunes in the televote is, can ‘What If’ achieve what ‘Quedate Conmigo’ largely failed to do and win over neutrals watching the show?
One advantage it has over the Spanish song is that it’s in English. Clear English at that, it seems, which can be a problem with some eastern European entries. This is not to be underestimated. The downside is that the treacly peace and harmony stuff that transpires reiterates just how dated the song is.
A second potential advantage that has been mentioned by some is that there may be fewer ballads to rival Dina than Pastora Soler faced for Spain last year. But we don’t know whether this is going to be the case yet, and indeed the region could churn out quite a few. From what we’ve heard, Georgia may have a similar feel, Azerbaijan are prone to female balladeering and Ukraine’s entry, whilst not really a ballad, does involve a big-voiced female.
‘Quedate Conmigo’ also had a good draw with which to entice neutral televoters yet still didn’t manage it. The odds are that Dina will not be so lucky.
Therefore, I’m inclined to think that ‘What If’ won’t attract many neutrals. But in recent Eurovisions, Russia’s lowest televote position has been eleventh in 2010 with ‘Lost and Forgotten’. ‘Mamo’ was ninth in 2009. ‘What If’ is a more mainstream experience than either so may manage something closer to the seventh achieved by ‘Get You’ in 2011.
The country has had contrasting fortunes with the jury vote in recent years. Last place in 2011 showed that it may have plenty of neighbours from which it can rely on televotes, but their national panels felt no such loyalty. However, in 2012 the Russian Babushki seemed to be treated kindly, achieving eleventh place in the jury vote despite showing no vocal prowess at all.
It’s more difficult to know how ‘What If’ will be received with juries than might seem the case. On the surface, this kind of ballad is jury-friendly. ‘Quedate Conmigo’ was boosted by an excellent jury score, coming fifth there thanks to an outstanding vocal from Pastora Soler. If Russia could manage something like this, a place higher up in the top ten would be secured. But there’s a chance that even juries may decide to balk at something as dated as ‘What If’ in 2013.
There are a few other reasons why it might not be safe to assume that Dina will do as well as Pastora in the jury vote. She seems as impressive a singer based on the evidence of YouTube footage, but she’s not exactly charismatic. Whilst Pastora looked rather pained, there was no doubting the intensity of her delivery. The Spanish singer also had a big ‘money note’ – a wow moment with which she was able to impress those earnest panels. The closest ‘What If’ comes to that is the final note – will it be as good?
Time will tell on this point and the others covered here. We haven’t seen ‘What If’ performed live yet, unlike most of the songs selected so far. That makes this preview much more speculative. For all we know, Dina could transform the song, or indeed make it even duller. In the circumstances, one shouldn’t form too definite an opinion.
With this caveat in mind, I am unconvinced about ‘What If’ hitting the heights of the top four despite it being an apparently jury-friendly number from a big hitter. Am I being too pessimistic because I don’t particularly like it? Let me know what you think below.