Eurovision 2014: How far can ‘Running’ get Hungary?

It’s been a slow, subdued start to Eurovision selection season. This time last year, five of the eventual top six songs had already been picked. You’d hope that wouldn’t be the case with the current crop of twelve songs we know will be on stage in Copenhagen.

The Betfair win market has been similarly unimpressed. Norway leads the way based on the excitement generated by Carl Espen’s song, ‘Silent Storm’. We’ll have to wait till a semi-final on March 9th to check he can deliver it live on stage, and March 15th to see if it wins the national final.

Still, having heard nearly a third of the entries, the law of averages suggests a couple of them will be in the top ten. The one that holds the most respectable spot on the exchanges is Hungary’s selection last Saturday, ‘Running’ by Andras Kallay Saunders, currently available to back or lay in the mid-teens.

In my opinion, it’s the best song selected so far. It’s certainly the most commercial and contemporary. A soulful, piano-driven verse switches into a drum ‘n’ bass chorus, and there’s a guitar to help with the transition. It builds nicely, is well produced and well performed.

Overall, it’s a highly efficient piece of modern pop: ‘Running’ provides a strong juxtaposition in style that holds the interest; making its point and repeating it with effective variation. It was the deserving winner of a strong national final, even if my personal preference was for the hippy schtick of Bogi’s ‘We All’.

I don’t expect ‘Running’ to have too much trouble qualifying for the final, despite the fact that Hungary is in the larger first semi and not long on allies in it. There are ten spots up for grabs and only 16 countries chasing them. The Icelandic and Latvian choices have made it easier for everyone else.

What ‘Running’ can manage if and when it gets to the final is much harder to discern. The entry itself is good enough – for reasons explained – to get a very high finish. There aren’t many songs in the contest that wouldn’t be out of place on a contemporary radio or MTV playlist, and ‘Running’ falls into that category.

One of my concerns is that it may be something viewers would more happily listen to on the radio or watch the video rather than vote for in a song contest. Is that because of the dark subject matter of child abuse?

In a broader sense, it’s just a very worthy song – which is reinforced by the effective presentation witnessed in the Hungarian final. Whether worthy is what a Eurovision audience wants to vote for on a Saturday night is open to question.

Still, I think that won’t harm its regard with national juries. This kind of radio-friendly contemporary pop with a message is just the thing you’d think they’d be rewarding at the contest. There’s a lot of guesswork surrounding jury preferences, but we can say ‘Running’ ticks boxes that will be in their criteria, such as originality.

The other concern is that drum ‘n’ bass is not a genre which the Eurovision audience is expecting, and we don’t have a precedent of the style succeeding in the contest. Will this, like the earnest nature of the act, narrow its appeal?

In its favour here, ‘Running’ is a pretty accessible example of drum ‘n’ bass. And to some degree, it will help the song stand out on the night. But the question of the genre’s popularity among the viewing audience remains an unknown that all the song’s supporters should be wary of.

At this stage therefore, ‘Running’ stands out among those selected, and a top ten result looks very possible. But it’s not something I’d be willing to bet the house on, even moreso without knowing so many of its rivals and before rehearsals give us a chance to assess its relative merits.

What do you think of the relative merits of ‘Running’? Let us know below.

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27 comments to Eurovision 2014: How far can ‘Running’ get Hungary?

  • Ben Cook

    I’m not very impressed and it’s only a borderline qualifier for me.

  • I believe Hungary are looking at a 9th-14th place result.

  • eurovicious

    I basically completely agree with this, it’s the best so far and the only chosen song so far that’s made me prick my ears up (my personal ranking at the moment is 1 Hungary, 2 Latvia, 3-11 everything else, 12 Cheesecake). I’ll say this before anyone else does – I posted a comment along these lines last year (http://sofabet.com/2013/04/14/eurovision-in-concert-2013-review/comment-page-1/#comment-27816), but I increasingly think the “it won’t do well in Eastern Europe cos the singer’s black innit” argument doesn’t hold water, so I’m not too concerned about that. The song’s an unknown quantity in two regards, both as drum-and-bass and as a Eurovision song about child abuse. I believe drum-and-bass is less well-known outside the UK (even outside London), but the song is accessible, oscillates between the more stripped-back verse and the d&b chorus, and I don’t think viewers who’ve never encountered drum-and-bass before (the majority) will find it offputting. It’s less offputting than dubstep and that’s all over the shop.

    Regarding the subject matter, it’s serious, which I love, and the singer has said “Not every song has to be about love”, which I also love – we take it as a given that the overwhelming majority of Western pop songs are about love and relationships without asking why. The bulk of these are also lyrically incredibly facile – outside of Robyn’s Body Talk albums, mass-market Western pop simply doesn’t deal with relationships in an insightful or adult way, because it’s primarily marketed at kids and teenagers. Running, while not about love, is mature and does sensitively address an adult issue – not bringing any insight to it (hard in 3 minutes) but just highlighting it. The mere fact that Hungary is sending a drum-and-bass song about child abuse to Eurovision, an overly-safe Saturday evening family entertainment show that for decades has been synonymous with non-threatening schlager and limp muzak, and that today is still largely packed with twee, unchallenging fare (*cough* Only Teardrops, Tomorrow, Kedvesem, EVERYTHING LAST YEAR *cough*), is brilliant. I hope it wins but it won’t, it doesn’t tap into the cult of “nice” that Emmelie/Rybak/Lena/Running Scared etc do. He might want to perform it barefoot to boost his chances, not least because it’ll get all the gay foot-fetishists voting.

    A couple of people have said the presentation is maudlin and cynical/calculated, and while I think it perhaps walks a finer line here than it should, it didn’t strike me as such at all – I completely bought it on first and second viewing and I didn’t think the treatment of the subject matter was melodramatic or twee. I have mixed feelings about the use of the teddy bear, but it’s actually a good visual prop to communicate the theme of the song, especially to people with less-good English (most viewers). For a Eurovision song on a not-dissimilar theme that was saccharine and overegged, you have to back to Ralph Siegel’s “Johnny Blue” sung by Lena Valaitis (I was diagnosed with that once) about a blind child being bullied (http://www.diggiloo.net/?1981de11).

    Beyond that though, I’m not so worried because I don’t think most people give a shit about lyrics or pay much attention (certainly in continental Europe), they go on the overall impression. Emmelie’s sad lyrics were totally incongruent with her jaunty music, Rybak’s winner opened with an awful lyrical clunker (“Years ago, when I was younger”), Loreen’s lyrics were mumbled into her hair, Bilan’s lyrics were emoted in an accent so thick you could cut it with a knife – people don’t care or notice. In the UK, where we expect songs to have English lyrics that make sense, we may laugh about Andrius’s shoes being called “love” and “pain” (or “Spain”), but the rest of Europe is too foreign (and sloshed) to give a shit. (Extreme example: I used to know a German who was really into US hip-hop but confessed to me the only words he understood were “bitch”, “nigga” and “motherfucker”. He said he liked it “for the attitude”. What I’m getting at is: Europeans don’t expect to understand songs in English, and eyebrow-raising lyrics or nuanced themes go straight over their heads. Lily Allen songs sell very well in Germany and Central Europe because they’re slightly quirky but with a very radio-friendly sound, and not because Central Europeans care about the issues raised in LDN or It’s Not Fair or her latest one. Themes go over people’s heads, they just want something with a tune.)

    One word of warning is that, as in the case of other shows like X Factor and Melodifestivalen, music-lovers/record-buyers and people who vote in TV music shows are two separate groups with only a partial overlap. Right now, the most listened-to MF entry this year on Spotify is Ace Wilder, but I and most others don’t expect her to win because the people on Spotify aren’t the people who vote in the show. Like Ace Wilder’s song, Running is a progressive, radio-friendly hit with a good USP (musically and lyrically), but is that what Eurovision viewers want?

    One thing on Latvia – I think Belarus is awful, but I came to love Latvia pretty quickly after the first performance. It’s knowingly jokey and flippant (unlike Cheesecake, which is unfortunately clearly intended to be credible), the chorus is incredibly catchy, the stage performances have a wonderful amateurish feel, and it’s refreshing, positive and uplifting with a very Tomorrow-esque vibe. It’s so fun and likeable that I don’t think it should be written off (as an NQ) – everyone loves the underdog, the endearingly ordinary person who finds themselves on stage in a field of polished professionals. It’s My Lovely Cake. Juries won’t like it though.

    • I kind of agree with your comments on the overall impression mattering more than lyrical content, but unless I’m taking you too literally, doesn’t that fly in the face of the supposed advantages to singing in English, if nobody really cares?

      • Chris Bellis

        I agree too. I remember taking the bus from Pernik to Sofia when the train staff were on strike. The driver was playing music with homophobic, misogynistic and obscene lyrics in English. None of the passengers appeared to mind, and some of them were tapping their feet to some of the songs, none of which would have had airplay on UK radio.This despite the passengers being the usual rural, mainly elderly, Bulgarians with very conservative religious attitudes. They probably didn’t mind the homophobic lyrics, but they wouldn’t have liked the “motherfuckers” every other word if they had known what it meant.

    • Kelly Ann

      A small point, but I’m surprised you assert that “Cheesecake” is meant to be a totally credible package – everything I’ve seen from the singer makes me think it’s knowingly a bit tongue-in-cheek.

  • Justin

    My initial reaction was that this was another radio-friendly Hungarian entry in the same way as ‘What about my Dreams’ and ‘Sound of our Hearts’. Neither of those performed particularly well in the final – and both were far more effective in their studio-produced incarnations.

    But I think entry is superior to those other two. What this entry appears to have is a superior vocalist who is more telegenic and the makings of a simple but effective staging. I agree with EV above that one-off viewing televoters are going to be more concerned with the overall impression rather than dwell on the lyrics or subject matter of the song.

    What concerns me more is the change in tempo and style in the chorus. To me this makes the song stutter, fall apart and then start all over again. It denies the song of that important three minutes of continuity. I’m not sure how juries or televoters are going to react to that – but I don’t think it helps in either sphere.

    Saying all that, effective staging and camera work can mask lack of continuity to some extent and although its always an uphill struggle for Hungary, with so few voting allies, I can certainly see this one doing rather well in the semi from its second half draw. In the final I’d be concerned that it is a candidate for ‘jury drop’, but I agree with Daniel … its the best we have so far.

    • Interesting comment about the lack of continuity. I’m curious as to whether you’ve listened to some songs like this before, or even had any exposure to the general style? I think that might be all it comes down to, since I find “Running” to flow rather well, even though it’s not structurally typical.

  • sonovox

    Daniel – thanks for this. I think you’re spot-on in your assessment of the field so far and Hungary’s place within it. For me this song has immediacy and no obvious weak points. The subject matter is a bit of a curve ball, but I daresay just a fan echo chamber in the long run.

    I did catch the live performance upload to YouTube before it got removed (though it might be back up now, haven’t checked in a couple of days). Anyone else get a look at this? For me there was one clear concern: overly busy staging. Lots of fast-moving backup choreo, lasers AND the wispy piano-playing girl with teddy-bear gimmick combined to make it a bit of a hot mess. With a ‘less is more’ approach to the final presentation, I see this doing well.

    Of the other entries, I detest everything about Latvia’s, find Finland’s quite listenable but not really a stayer, and have an inexplicable soft spot for ‘Cheesecake’, even though, let’s face it, it’s a bit pants. (Unlike Eurovicious I do not think it is in earnest – which makes me like it a lot more than I liked ‘Blurred Lines’).

    Spain’s third minute is a sort of ghastly epileptic clench which I’d rather not endure again until the final, if even then.

    Looking forward to further articles!

  • I think its pace/rhythm/structure might prove confusing in its quest for televotes.

  • Also, I am keeping my mind open re ‘Cheesecake’ à la Lipstick Lautar.

    • Also, Cheesecake gives me some ‘We Are The Winners’ vibes. That was a song immensely underrated even for qualification, but which ended up 6th in the final. Cheesecake is fishing in similar waters as Lithuania 2006 in some respect. These are the ”cool dude singing about funny stuff, who is so cool I am not ashamed to vote for him, even as a protest for silly gay Eurovision” waters. This is the same niche that got all the str8 guys who unwillingly ended up in a Eurovision party back in 2006, to pick up the phone and vote for Lithuania.

  • Alexander S.

    I’m not sure this is the most instant song for the televoters. To me it sounds like something juries will appreciate much more. I quite like it, but I find his stage show and appearance a bit problematic. It’s pushing too hard on the drama factor (for the light entertainment that Eurovision is), with him coming across as simulating fake emotions. I expect this to be noticed and punished by televoters.

  • Guildo Horn Forever

    Anybody any news yet on which country will be benefiting from the choreography of Fokas Evangelinos?

  • Guildo Horn Forever

    And can any of you guys with a lovely cubed image in the box to the left of your username inform me how to achieve that pictorial outcome. Was trying but have given up, befuddled.

    • Chris Bellis

      Guildo You could use Gravatar, or log in with facebook, twitter, wordpress or google plus. But then you are traceable if you don’t want to let everyone know your respect for Guildo. Personally I don’t mind people knowing as they already think my musical tastes are weird. Just never post your desire for regime change in a country like eg Belarus and expect immigration not to look at your account and take what they feel is appropriate action.

  • Chris Bellis

    Some songs must make more sense in the original lnguage. Having looked at the translation of the Icelandic entry (by an Icelander who is fluent in English, not google translate) I can’t believe that it would sound better in English. Worthy but bouncy song about prejudice against people with speech disorders. Have some Eurovision entrants decided to do worthy this year? Mind you, I went to Iceland last year and noted that their greatest treat is well rotted shark meat washed down with vodka, so sometimes you have to wonder about how well you understand another nation’s culture, even if they do all speak perfect English.

  • Justin

    Hi Daniel, any initial views on the Polish entry? In terms of potential Eurovision success I’m not sure what to make of it yet.

    • Daniel

      Hi Justin, for me this is one to wait and see how it’s presented on stage. It has some potential, especially in the televote, but could go the way of Igranka and get stuffed by the juries. Very open-minded about it until I see it in rehearsals, basically. What do you think?

  • Justin

    Agree, on a personal level I think its a cracking song and good on Poland for entering it.

    I also drew comparisons with Igranka but I think its a far far more coherent, listener-friendly and immediate package for both juries and televoters. It made me smile and tap my foot straight away which the Igranka song never would have achieved.

    Saying that, its Poland and as you suggest ’empowered’ Slavic women (I assume this is what its about?) flaunting cleavage may not be a big Eurovision vote winner either with juries or televote.

    Its got potential ingredients of both Fanwank and ‘surprise’ top 15 (top 10 possibly pushing it) placement for me at the moment.

  • Justin

    There appears to be a top 10, 5, 4 and 3 market on Betfair now.

  • chewy wesker

    Can I just say that I’m a fan of Andras Kallay Saunders, and that there is every reason to believe “Running” could well win in Copenhagen. Going on the songs that have been selected so far, Andras is worlds apart and ticks a hell of alot of boxes for me. The songs sound production and engineering are all fantastic, and Andras vocal is in my opinion a natural and perfect fit. There is uncertainty of the “drum n bass” which is new to eurovision, but this is not a worry. I feel it works well with the song lifting it and giving it a punch of energy. The songs lyrics about child abuse and the assumption that this is somewhat negative to it’s chances of success, on the contrary I believe it will only help it score well with juries, I’m reminded of Suzanne Vega “Luka” a worldwide hit about child abuse. However there are one or two stumbling blocks, EV mentioned that Andras doesn’t tap into the “Nice” cult Emmelie/Rybak/Lena, this is very true and a bare footed floaty nightie (I’m sure Andras doesn’t own a nightie or even pyjamas) won’t be on show here. Also on the issue of racism in eastern europe is a real concern and must be factored in, if punters are going to plunge to 17.5 betfair I expect price to hold firm even drift. Whatever the outcome “Running” is very promising.

  • chewy wesker

    IMO you’d have to be a “fruitcake” to like “cheesecake”

  • Hi Daniel, are you going to be writing a Melodifestivalen final article this year?

  • Daniel

    Good question, Tim. I have been following it carefully and I will write an article later in the week, possibly even wait for comments from Friday night’s jury rehearsal.

  • Is that girl at the piano over 16? They can’t take her otherwise! They will need to find a 16 year old girl who looks 12 tops to keep up with the theme of the song!

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