Eurovision years vary wildly in character. Just compare this year’s contest with last year’s: while 2012 was widely perceived as a remarkably strong year by fans and casual viewers alike (especially once the larger-than-usual crop of terrible novelty songs had been filtered out in the semis), the consensus on 2013 – based on polls and online comments – is that it’s the weakest year in a while.
While last year’s contest stood out for its strong, artistic ballads and credible, commercial upbeat numbers, 2013 has turned out to be the year of bland Disney ballads and bad dubstep breakdowns. What does this mean for those of us having a flutter? To get a handle on what kind of year 2013 is and what this augurs, we need to look at the 2009 to 2012 contests, how accurate the market was in each case and how the contests themselves played out.
First, let’s look at the points breakdown in the final for these four years.
I’ve arranged the four pie charts in this order so that you can compare the difference horizontally and the similarity vertically. Basically, 2009 and 2012 look a lot like each other, as do 2010 and 2011, but these two groups look very different to each other, despite the same voting system of 50% jury, 50% televote being employed in all four years. (If you don’t see what I mean, look at the top-right quarter of each pie and the right-hand half in general. The top-placed entries won a far greater percentage of the points in 2009 and 2012.)
From the moment Fairytale and Euphoria resoundingly won their respective national finals, Rybak with over 700,000 televotes and Loreen with over 600,000, they became strong market favourites at short odds, held off all other competition in the market right up to the final, and ultimately ran away with victory, notching up the two highest-ever winning scores and each taking over 15% of the overall points total. In 2012, the market as a whole was highly accurate with some exceptions, while in 2009 it was also largely accurate.
In 2010 and 2011, where the points were more evenly distributed and the victories more narrow, neither winning song was the favourite. In both of these years, the song that had been the longstanding favourite right up to contest week – Drip Drop and Sognu respectively – failed to even crack the top 4, Sognu in particular failing spectacularly. The songs that did win were more “default” winners, taking much lower points totals of only around 10% of all points. And in both 2010 and (especially) in 2011, the market was majorly off on a variety of fronts.
The following graph highlights further how the victories of Satellite and Running Scared differ fundamentally from those of Fairytale and Euphoria.
What’s most of interest here is that the two impressive wins were the favourites and the two unimpressive wins weren’t, and that the market as a whole was much less accurate in the years the points were more evenly spread. Looking at why each year’s favourite was the favourite, we find further differences. Fairytale and Euphoria both rode a wave of huge buzz and massive popularity; Drip Drop and Sognu simply didn’t. They were, to put it bluntly, favourites in lieu of anything else.
It’s important to remember that most people betting on Eurovision are fans to a greater or lesser degree, with casual punters only jumping on board on the night of the final; the market is thus heavily driven by these fans’ bets and inevitably their personal tastes. Fairytale and Euphoria were hugely popular among fans from the moment they were first performed, Drip Drop and Sognu weren’t – but neither were actual winners Satellite and Running Scared (especially the latter). How did we end up with these false favourites in 2010 and 2011?
Drill deeper and we find further differences between these two years. In 2010, given Azerbaijan’s success in the two previous contests, its determination to win, and the quality and commercial nature of the song, Drip Drop being the favourite over Germany’s leftfield Lena is entirely understandable. And indeed, as soon as Azerbaijan was drawn as the opening song of the final, with Germany performing close to the end, Lena duly snook past at the final hour to become the new favourite.
But in 2011, how did the market get it so wrong with Sognu and Running Scared? How in the name of Svante Stockselius did a Corsican-language popera song performed by a greasy-haired Frenchman remain as favourite over a song which was clearly far more contemporary and radio-friendly, and with more chemistry, warmth, visual impact and much broader appeal? It’s easy to forget this was just two years ago, and that’s one of the reasons why I want to examine the major inaccuracies of the 2011 market further, as it is an important precedent.
Behind Sognu, which finished 15th, other leading favourites of the 2011 market included Estonia’s Rockefeller Street – at one point even the overall favourite – Norway’s Haba Haba and Hungary’s What About My Dreams, plus Jedward, Blue, Sweden, Azerbaijan, and Russia’s Alexei Vorobyov. Of these, only Sweden and Azerbaijan ended up on the podium, and only they and Jedward made the top 10.
Haba Haba, at one point second-favourite, failed to qualify; What About My Dreams, which had risen to fourth-favourite, finished 22nd, two places above the highly thought-of Rockefeller Street in 24th. In short, the 2011 final market was a dog’s breakfast – bookmakers and punters were all over the place. This was the same in the first semifinal, where the qualification of Iceland, Lithuania and Switzerland over Turkey, Norway and Armenia was widely seen as a major shock.
In both the final and the semifinals, the importance of the jury, and of being contemporary and credible, seemed to have been forgotten; fan tastes had propelled songs that were never going to do well, songs that could only exist in the Eurovision bubble, to unrealistic market heights.
This contrasts hugely with 2012, where things played out largely as the market had predicted, the most notable exception being the surprise failure of Denmark, Iceland and Norway and the (to some) surprise success of Albania and Estonia. Again, fluttering fans had overvalued entries (from Scandinavia, surprise surprise) that could only exist in the Eurovision bubble and never stood a real chance outside of it, while undervaluing tremendously performed ballads that were too un-Eurovisiony and Eastern European for their taste.
The phenomenon of “fanwank” isn’t just about a single beloved entry being erroneously high in the market, like Kate Ryan in 2006 or DJ Bobo in 2007 (or Valentina Monetta in 2013); fan tastes skew the entire market to a greater (2011) or lesser (2012) degree.
Looking at these major differences in market accuracy in recent years, coupled with very different patterns in the overall spread of votes, what can we extrapolate to 2013? Let’s look at the current market top 5: Denmark, Ukraine, Norway, Russia and the Netherlands.
Only Teardrops has remained a strong favourite since being chosen and has now been at incredibly short odds for some weeks. However, it’s not comparable with Fairytale or Euphoria on a number of fronts. It wasn’t the favourite to win its national final, and when it won DMGP in January, relatively early on in the national final season, it wasn’t widely expected to remain the favourite right until May. The assumption was that something better would come along.
The perception that nothing has helps explain its accelerated shortening in price once all the songs were chosen. It’s certainly not because of pan-European buzz; it made an unimpressive dent in the Swedish iTunes chart after being shown in that country’s preview show.
Ukraine’s rise to second favourite is extremely curious. Gravity won the Ukrainian national final before Christmas and has only recently rocketed up bookmakers’ lists on the back of a reworked version of the song (compositionally identical but with extra polish) and revelations regarding the staging, an area that Ukraine has a very strong track record in.
While Zlata is vocally superb, none of this changes the fact that the song is structurally and lyrically just as all over the place as it was in December, when it was dismissed by many. When a highly problematic song like Ukraine is second-favourite at this stage based largely on vocal prowess and staging, it tells you something is not right about the market. Punters and bookmakers are clutching at straws.
Norway was accompanied by a lot of buzz, was the favourite to win its national final and did so with almost twice as many televotes as its nearest rival. But we’re still only talking around 90,000 votes. Last year, Tooji won with 137,000 televotes – just like Berger, almost twice as many as the song in second place. In other words: no correlation can be drawn between Berger’s domestic victory and potential contest success. The Norwegian song is credible but I question its televote appeal, and these domestic figures would seem to back me up.
Russia is fairly high in the market most years due to its huge diaspora and voting power combined with a strong track record. Dina Garipova is vocally accomplished, but not to the same degree as Zlata or any of the female balladeers from last year’s top ten. Her song is generic and formulaic to the point of self-parody; I can’t remember another leading contender with a similarly insipid number.
Rather than any recent contest entry, it reminds me most of the uninspired, throwaway euroballads and world peace songs that annually clog up national finals from Valetta to Vilnius and only rarely make it to the contest, where – as in the case of Cyprus 2006 – they don’t do well. This being Russia and the singer being competent, I’d argue top 10 is pretty much guaranteed. But it’s not a winner. Ballads need something special to make the podium, full stop. This doesn’t have it.
The Netherlands hasn’t been in the final since 2004 and has extremely low voting power. This is best evidenced by the 2008 contest, in which Armenia and the Netherlands sent extremely similar middle-Eastern-themed dance-pop songs. Qele Qele finished 4th in the final while Your Heart Belongs To Me failed to qualify. Now, the country has sent a female ballad in a year packed with female ballads from countries with far greater voting power.
On top of this, the song is much more esoteric and less accessible than rivals like Russia and Georgia, and without the direct emotional pull of past idiosyncratic ballads like Suus or Magdi Ruzsa’s Unsubstantial Blues. Undoubtedly it will be a jury magnet, but it faces heavy competition on this front, while in the televote, it could easily go under, especially with an early draw. There’s a fair chance of top 10, but it’s certainly not a winner.
Now that I’ve argued the case against each of the present top 5 based on the hypothesis that the market is inaccurate, which songs do I think are currently undervalued? Today’s letter is G – Georgia and Germany.
While Waterfall isn’t as contemporary as Running Scared, has less in the way of hooks, and the performers are older and have less chemistry, I feel that Georgia is being overlooked the way Azerbaijan was in 2011. Georgia made the top 10 in 2010 and 2011, and was only just outside it in 2007 and 2008.
Male-female duos – at least those who look and sound like they’re enjoying themselves, unlike Iceland’s twosome last year – have a strong recent track record, as evidenced by Romania and Denmark both making the top 4 in 2010 and Ell and Nikki winning in 2011. Nodi and Sophie are highly vocally competent, much more so than Ell and Nikki, and the song’s staging is likely to be highly effective and impactful. It’s a jury magnet and a televote magnet, and the most sincere, emotive, uplifting and memorable of this year’s ballads.
Germany is a tricky one. Natalie is a competent performer and sounded great in the arena at the German final, but watching the televised performance, I realise her vocal isn’t quite as strong as I thought it was. But there is a precedent, in years heavy on ballads, for credibly performed and staged upbeat songs to stand out all the more and do very well indeed – witness Eric Saade almost winning the televote and coming 3rd overall in 2011, despite an early draw next to a clutch of other (less credible) upbeat numbers.
There’s the question of whether Glorious is too similar to Euphoria to do well, and whether juries will punish it for this – witness Tooji’s catastrophic failure the year after Eric Saade. But, have you turned on the radio recently? Since 2011, commercial dance music (of the form popularised in the US as electronic dance music and exported to the rest of the world) has denegerated into a homogenous mass of identikit songs.
Glorious sounds like Euphoria, but it also sounds like Swedish House Mafia, Calvin Harris, David Guetta, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Ryan Dolan, David Lindgren… everything sounds like everything else and people still lap it up in droves. Euphoria faced its own plagiarism claims last year and could accurately be described as a watered-down, schlagered-up version of Delerium’s Silence (Airscape remix); originality has never been Eurovision’s strong point.
As such, Cascada could do better than many anticipate. We can take it as read that Glorious will feature a competent vocal and strong staging, and that Natalie will connect with viewers and communicate the same sense of enjoyment she did in the German final. This could give a ballad-heavy final the kick up the arse it needs, give viewers the fun commercial dance hit they’ve been waiting all night for, and thus attract a major televote plus (as Saade did in 2011 and Gaitana last year) significant jury support.
I could continue to work my way through the market and list the other songs I think are under- and overvalued, but I think I’ve given you enough information for you to be able to do this yourself.
- In previous low-quality years like 2011 with a “default” favourite rather than a runaway favourite, this favourite has been incorrect and much of the rest of market significantly off.
- In these years, winning margins have been much smaller and points far more spread out. Given the new voting system, I expect this to be the case this year too.
- Dubious, non-commercial and oddly structured songs at or near the top of the market, like Sognu in 2011 and Gravity in 2013, are a warning sign that the market as a whole may be significantly off.
- Fan tastes distort the market, creating a bias not just towards outright fanwank but towards Scandinavian entries and songs that appeal to western European ears in general.
What are your thoughts on all these points? Let us know below.