Eurovision 2013: What are Russia’s chances with ‘What If’?

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.

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26 comments to Eurovision 2013: What are Russia’s chances with ‘What If’?

  • I find it quite bland and unoriginal, it’s your typical x factor winner stylesong/Disney ballad nothing we haven’t heard a million times before. Personally I doubt it will get too high in the televote being Russia might help it a bit but we already have a few far more Televote friendly songs in my opinion,
    It might get a bit of jury support but I can’t really see it topping that either, it’s probably a easy top 10 but I can’t see it winning.

  • Boki

    Yes, agree with all said here (especially on comparison with Running scared), no winner and shouldn’t finish at top4 either with still lot of songs to come.
    Btw, I’m puzzled with Denmark – Norway flip flop, I’m not convinced Norway is a winner but really think Denmark has much less chance to win. It’s a nice esc package but nothing more (which is required these days).

    Current 1.15 @Bwin on Denmark to qualify looks generous for the OR favorite but I believe it will go sub 1.05 as many other ‘favorites’. Only 16 per semi will make the quali odds even lower, I’m afraid Daniel that this year will be terrible for low odds lumping but we’ll see…

  • Daniel

    Hi Pimpin and Boki, agree with your points here. ‘Bland’ is an excellent description of ‘What If’. It just has no colour at all. Boki, that first semi will be particularly bad for qualification odds given the general mediocrity on offer so far and you shouldn’t be able to get 1.15 Denmark once rehearsals start.

  • Justin

    While I agree it is a dated, saccharine and a bit Disney I can’t bring myself to dismiss the Russian entry as a top 10 or even top 5 contender.

    From a jury perspective I’m reminded of the Lithuania entry from two years ago which won the jury vote in its semi (though it admittedly bombed in the final from a poor draw). We don’t really know how good Dina is live or how this is going to be presented on stage but girl and piano can be quite effective as Lithuania proved – even if she is lacking charisma.

    If we take Pastora as a precedent for the televote we can see that Spain scooped the majority of its points from Western Europe. In fact only Estonia from the ex soviet block gave it any points. We can roughly conclude then that this sort of song has at least some west European appeal. If we add the hefty Russian diaspora to this western appeal it adds up to a rather tidy televote score.

    Just playing devils advocate really and I cannot really see myself backing or laying this one but I think we have to be wary of a big hitter fielding a western televote friendly entry.

  • Being the Russian entry she will deff b in the top 10…Compareing her with Pastora Soler is a bit bold…

  • I agree that a less-than-Pastora jury score and more-than-Peter-Nalitch televote score are probable, but lets not detract ourselves from how crappy the song is. Justifying its place in the top5 reminds me of the efforts to justify Aphrodisiac’s top10 place in 2012. Of course, there’s always the chance of Dina and the russian machine producing a Mika Newton explosion on stage! Or not?

  • Sander

    Another great article Daniel! I always like to read your reviews.

    I think this song is standard and not special. She is a good singer but she just can’t show the audience what she can in this type of song. I did not always like the songs Russia sent in, but at least they had something memorable. 2012 had the grannies, 2011 was regular pop but catchy and people seem to like that. In 2010 there was a bit of a strange but original song and in 2009 there was an interesting song sung with passion. I really think the 2013 entry is forgettable but still decent. I am sure it will go to the finals because it’s Russia and if C’est ma vie could make it, why this dull song from Russia won’t? And I really think that a song as standard and simple as this won’t make it to the top 10 in the finals. If I look at the results from previous contests:
    2009 televote 9 (118p) jury 17 (67p)
    2010 televote 11 (107p) jury 15 (63p)
    2011 televote 7 (138p) jury 25 (25p)

    I think if this song is well sung and has a good draw it can have a score around 10th or 11th place with the televote. I think a jury won’t put this song in the top 10 and it can have a result like between the score of 2009 and 2010, so around 16th but it could be a bit higher. I am not sure how the combined results will turn out, but overall it definitely won’t be a top 10 result.

  • sorry for trolling (just a bit)

    I will be a bit of a troll here, but check out this guy, a completely surprising hit in the hungarian national final. He reached the final with viewers voting him through twice (very surprisingly as he is relatively unknown and was up against very popular x factor and other casting stars). Others contestants are being pushed heavily, but he is proving to be an instant hit. It would be lovely if hungary would for once try not to play safe and take a risk.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65q4sUq6XOk
    Oh and votes internationally welcome are basic price(i tried), the grand final is on saturday.

    • sorry for trolling (just a bit)

      ByeAlex won hungarian national final with an overwhelming edge. spread the word, take the young philosophy graduate with the gentle lullaby to the top!

  • Jake Kl

    Are u gonna make one on France with Amandine Bourgeois?

  • Chewy Wesker

    Daniel i think your comparison of “what if” to “quedate conmigo” is a good one, i’m no way in the mindset that this is anyway as good as “running scared” no way do i think it’s a winning song. However I don’t think it’s bland maybe a little dated, and i know you hate it!! But it should get a 5th place jury vote much like “quedate conmigo” and maybe a televote of around the same, last year 5 top ten places came in the first half of the draw so where ever this gets placed i reckon it’s a back in my books for a top ten spot. Neutrals will go for it i’m sure. But if anyone wants to lay it for a top ten place i’ve seen a chunk of money at 1.5 betfair. (hey it might even be mine).

  • Tim B

    What does everyone think of Georgia’s entry? Personally I think it has enormous potential and I can’t wait to see what it will look like on a proper Eurovision stage. The juries are going to love it. My concern here is whether or not people overestimate Georgia’s voting power in the contest. It’s clearly not as powerful as Russia or Azerbaijan. Perhaps about the same level as Ukraine? I ask this because the incredible ‘Shine’ in 2010 criminally only made 9th place in the final despite ticking many boxes.

    • Boki

      I agree on Georgia as a potentially great if they don’t screw up the staging and I’m surprised the market didn’t move much (as it was in case of Russia). The answer to that is that probably people assume their voting power isn’t that strong, should make top10 but for more the song needs to resonate with the public, being possibly the only duet helps.

    • Chewy Wesker

      Hi Tim, I must say i love “waterfall” i was praying it would be a bit of a let down as the top ten market is filling up for me, i’m now looking for songs to lay. This however is not one of them, it’s way stronger than “shine” 2010. They even have placed the pastora soler $ note in “waterfall” maybe not as spot on as pastora could pull it off, but still makes it a great song. But do you think there’s room in the top ten for all these ballads i.e russia ukraine possible azerbaijan and now georgia?

      • Boki

        Last year 5 ballads ended in top10, this year lot of ‘euphoric’ dance tracks so there could be room for ballads again if the juries support them as usual.

  • Justin

    Tim, my view is that it’s a horribly dated, sickly sweet poor imitation of Running Scared. There are definitely echoes of Quedate Comigo in there as well.

    While I think a young Russian girl soloist can get away with something like this, a duet sung by two singers who at least appear to be a little more mature than optimum for eurovision success empahasises the dated nature of this entry. It also takes a lot longer to get going than What If.

    I agree that the staging and changing of the awfully out of touch customes could help. If they can produce a vocally excellent performance juries may be sympathetic but I would still worry about its attempt to emulate Running Scared and being marked down for lack of originality.

    Interesting to hear Daniel’s comments as I know he had high hopes for this one…

    • Boki

      They could emulate Running Scared in the staging if that’s what you mean, song itself has a nice build up and that’s an interesting issue – do people prefer a slower start with a big climax or they go for a toilet break after first 30 sec. I guess we can find examples supporting both theories.
      Btw I find Pastora’s climax from last year less natural than in Waterfall, maybe G:son learned a lesson there, anyway he’s basically copying/pasting himself.

  • Tim B

    I was wondering about this earlier. Usually there are a couple of strong ex-USSR entries and the weakest one is edged out of the top 10. We don’t know what Azerbaijan (and Armenia) are sending yet, and if I were them I would look at the competition and send something uptempo ethnopop, like a follow up to 2009’s ‘Always’. I think if the contest were held tomorrow and the songs didn’t go through any changes, I think Ukraine would get the lowest placing from the bloc.

    By the way, in Eurovision people slate songs calling them ‘dated’ like it’s the worst thing a song could be. This is *NOT* necessarily a bad thing when it comes to a ballad – just look at the massive jury scores for United Kingdom 2009 and Spain 2012. Juries can be very impressed by ‘dated’ ballads if they are impeccably sung, and when this is combined with a televote big hitter like Russia/Georgia, then a song has to be taken very seriously indeed. Send a dated uptempo entry however – Latvia 2012 springs to mind here – and you’re doomed.

  • Chewy Wesker

    Oh! God yes armenia’s back with us this year, let’s hope they go up tempo. Otherwise ukraine may end up just out of the top ten. I think russia is much the stronger of all, having hearing again i think it’s less dated than the others, production can lift it and drums to me can make a track much more contemporary. I know Daniel hates this type of song, but i like a good old dated ballad. It just wouldn’t be eurovision without them. Thanks Tim for your imput.

  • Janem

    I like the song to some extent, but the lyrics kill it for me. It’s way to cheesy. I also don’t like the comparision to last year’s Spain. Quedate conmigo was a good song, sung very powerfully, which you won’t see repeated by Russia this year. What if is bland at best while still somewhat cute. Plus it’s Russia, so I guess a top ten contender.

  • alf

    As it could be seen from this video
    http://www.1tv.ru/sprojects_edition/si5759/fi21992
    the final version of this song will have less sound effects and be more vocal and academic.

  • Tim B

    I don’t think ‘Quedate Conmigo’ is the best comparison for Russia this year. For me, this is a song that ticks pretty much all the boxes. It’s a ballad (check) in English (check) sung by an individual with a powerful voice (check), guaranteed to be very high up the televote thanks to disapora/neighbours (check) and with the juries (check), appealing to both western + eastern Europe (check). Russia also strikes me as a country that *wants* to win – surely they thought they had a deecnt chance last year. I’m expecting some impressive staging, hopefully in the same league as winning song ‘Believe’ in 2008. The downsides for me are the split vote between the bloc – Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, Armenia and Azerbaijan in particular, in addition to the vast number of ballads we have so far.

    For me, the right comparisons are Ukraine 2011, Azerbaijan 2012, and also Serbia 2012/Iceland 2009 to a lesser extent. These were also box-ticking entries. The song may be clichéd and lack that x factor for punters, but in an open year, it’s bound to be top 4 at the *least*!

  • Just to play devil’s advocate, the juries were not shy in 2009 when they ranked a similarly named bland ballad by a similar vocal powerhouse 13th (Malta – Chiara). Plus, the juries have not had Russia in their top 10 in the final since their introduction in 2009, re-iterating the point that they are much less affected by diaspora voting.

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