[Daniel writes: we like to get a wide range of opinions on Sofabet, which is why the comments section is an integral part of the site, and one of the reasons I enjoy being part of the podcasts produced by the Esctips guys – latest one on the first half of semi one can be found here.
Having reviewed some of the bookmakers’ leading fancies myself – Armenia, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Hungary, UK and Romania – it’s time to turn to the forthright opinions of regular commenter Eurovicious for a different take on the so-called contenders.]
So, an even more underwhelming national final season than last year’s has come and gone, leaving a snail trail of terrible choices in its wake. We’re looking at one of the weakest Eurovision years on record – quality is in freefall, countries are leaving year on year, the venue is being downsized year on year, tales of corruption swirl and the whole event is running out of steam.
This time last year, I wrote a piece on why I thought the 2013 Eurovision market was wrong in the same way 2011’s market was. Ultimately it proved incorrect. However, at the risk of making the same mistake again, I want to offer my thoughts on what many of the market leaders have going against them, and why I think others in the current top 10 favourites (as listed on Oddschecker) are undervalued. Here we go…
Armenia: the day a sonically and compositionally challenging song with a linear structure, no hook and no chorus performed by a 30-year-old Caucasian comedian whose stage name includes the word “MP3” wins Eurovision is the day I, I dunno, convert to Mormonism.
It’s both too sophisticated and too boring to win, and I also don’t think Armenia has quite the built-in televote support some think it does. This will get jury, but it’s anything but a televote magnet. It’s obtuse – too low-key (there’s good low-key but I think this is bad low-key), too repetitive (harmonically, structurally and lyrically), underwritten, and doesn’t build anywhere near as much as it thinks it does.
It’s one of those less-is-more songs you either get or you don’t, like ‘Taken By A Stranger’ (which I get) or ‘I Feed You My Love’ (which I don’t). The climax is, in my opinion, totally underwhelming after the long slow build – it’s a shaggy dog story of a song. More than anything, it’s totally wrong for Eurovision.
Like ‘Silent Storm’ only more so, it’s a song of buttoned-down emotion, whereas what always does well in Eurovision is open emotion (whether Fairytale, Only Teardrops or Euphoria, Molitva, Suus or Kuula). Eurovision is not BBC Radio 6 or whatever your local worthy “indie” station for people who like “credible” music is – it’s more a cross between Radio 2 and Capital, and its audience’s tastes reflect this.
Look at the winners since 2008 and ‘Not Alone’ could hardly differ more from them – the performer isn’t a cute young non-threatening boy (Rybak, Ell, Bilan) or cute young manic pixie dream girl (Lena, Emmelie, ethereal Loreen) singing a pop song with conventional structure (which even Lordi had), but an average-looking older man with a highly unconventional, quite threatening-sounding song that lacks the structure we expect of 99% of the songs we consume via radio/TV/internet and that we’ve all internalised.
This could be taken as a positive, but I just don’t think audiences will go for something this confounding. It fails the recap test (whichever segment of the song you take, it doesn’t stand out enough in the recap compared to catchier and more emotive competitors), fails the one-minute test (there is no memorable motif or chorus in the first minute), and fails the “oh, that’s nice” test (it isn’t safe and unchallenging enough to win). Nothing with dubstep in has won Eurovision and I don’t think it’s going to this year.
Norway: I rate Silent Storm’s chances better than Armenia’s, but still: no, albeit a more cautious no. A grumpy 31-year-old bloke singing another buttoned-down ballad that doesn’t really grow or develop – this isn’t what wins the day.
Structurally it’s more conventional and accessible than Armenia, and sonically more friendly and safe. I’m with it for the first minute, but then my interest fades – it’s emotive, for sure, but not enough, and also not immediate enough.
This will get a “real music” vote due to his look and performance style – people love the lack of artifice and the whole “I’m a man but I’m SENSITIVE” thing, especially when it’s a gruff tattooed fella baring his soul (if, unfortunately for the eurobears, nothing else). But I think it’s too sophisticated/credible, too downbeat and too Antony & The Johnsons to win.
However, I think it has one big thing in its favour: in this recap, it stands out possibly more than any other song, at least to me. While I don’t respond to ‘Silent Storm’ when I listen to it in full, I found that when watching this recap of the 2014 entries, I spontaneously came out in goosebumps when Norway came on – the haunting voice and chorus sear through the bland field.
The recaps are important, and with crap pop to the left of it and bad ballads to the right, ‘Silent Storm’ stands out as raw, real and so alive. That’s not to be underestimated. And remember when Gary Jules and Michael Andrews’s emotive, stripped-back version of ‘Mad World‘ was the surprise Christmas number-one in the UK in 2003? This has something of the same quality. Fails the non-threatening boy test, passes the non-threatening bear test, but the bear vote is negligible.
Sweden: a 29-year-old styled as a 45-year-old, who barely scraped victory domestically in a weak national final, singing an incredibly facile and repetitive ballad that’s about as contemporary as shoulder pads and that doesn’t even have a middle-eight. It’s pretty much the chorus over and over again – it’s the ‘La La La‘ for our times, but without the fun. Even a lot of her fans don’t like it.
I originally thought it’d do comparatively well, due to the weak competition and the way the warbly chorus relentlessly hammers itself into your head in typical Kempe style – more ditty or meme than true composition – but that was before other countries like Norway, Azerbaijan and Austria came out with stronger ballads.
This ain’t a winner, it’s really uncool: a DFS advert of a song. And that chorus can get pretty irritating, not least due to how often it’s repeated; the way Sanna sings the word “Undo” reminds me of the grating way Grazia sang the word “hide” in the chorus of Germany’s misfiring 2005 entry. Totally fails the manic pixie dream girl test; she’s more like Claudia Jung or that divorcee friend of your mum’s who sings at people’s weddings in the greater Lichfield area.
Hungary: Given the blandness of the rest of the field, I think this song’s theme, tone and energy, far from being a potential concern, help it stand out all the more. Which it does by a country mile. It’s one of the very few entries this year that really grabs you and makes your ears prick up. The song is fresh and invigorating in every way, the theme serious without being clunky or sentimental, the staging (as we last saw it in the Hungarian final) just right.
While drum-and-bass is less well-known outside the UK, the song is accessible, contemporary and oscillates highly effectively between the stripped-back, haunting verse and the pumping chorus, so 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.)
The song’s musical narrative comes through so much more strongly than that of Armenia and Norway, neither of which offer Running’s contrasts (spartan verse and dynamic chorus, just like the UK) or its stakes. Eurovision is a Saturday evening family entertainment show that for decades has been synonymous with unchallenging muzak and camp gimmicks, and this year is no exception, so an excitingly modern song about a serious subject stands out like a creme brulee in Farmfoods. No song this year is more relevant.
Possible downside: it doesn’t pass the “oh, that was nice” test and doesn’t necessarily pass the non-threatening boy test. But the personality that comes through is “strong, sensitive boy who’d help you out in a crisis”, which is itself a positive.
Azerbaijan: yeah, this totally deserves its place high up in the market. Dilara’s a superb vocalist with a soulful, powerful voice not dissimilar to Adele, Duffy or Amy Winehouse. The song is a classy, intricate affair – while I may not agree with Stefan Örn selling his services to Azerbaijan, there’s no doubting he’s an excellent songwriter. Compare this to ‘Undo’ and there’s no contest – ‘Start A Fire’ really shows up the weakness of Kempe’s writing. The best English ballad and the best (biological) female ballad.
One big downside: not quite accessible enough. It doesn’t have the immediacy of ‘When The Music Dies’ and the structure is considerably more ornate. Azerbaijan has selected a singer and song that really justify a high jury vote across the board, even sans brown envelopes; I expect to see this high up, but it’s not a winner. Probably doesn’t pass the manic pixie dream girl test, will depend on staging.
Denmark: getting a lot of ljubav in Daniel’s article and the comments on it (if not on Twitter, where someone called it “less Bruno Mars, more Bruno Uranus”), which means it’s time for me to gleefully chuck a bucket of skepticism over the love-in, y’all.
This is nails down a blackboard for me. It has me until about 50 seconds in, then the chorus comes… and we discover we already heard it right at the start, which is a disappointment. The chorus just isn’t good enough, and that’s the song’s biggest problem – I don’t know about you, but I hear it and think “That’s the chorus? Surely it should be the pre-chorus or a bridge, not the actual chorus?”
From then on, the song offers nothing new for the remaining 2 minutes apart from a competent yet pretty standard middle-eight. There’s no emotion here, no built-in drama, no narrative taking you from the beginning of the song to the end – just a happy guy and a bunch of happy dancers singing a happy song that doesn’t grow, change or develop and that has no hint of depth and no sense of finding love or overcoming adversity, unlike all winners since 2007 apart from perhaps Satellite.
There’s no meat to it whatsoever – it’s too weak, too Glee, too X Factor, too “lobotomised Jackson 5” to challenge for victory. And I completely agree with commenter Ben Gray who points out this is a specific type of American pop that viewers in the UK and quite a lot of other Western European countries won’t bat an eyelid at but certainly won’t be popular everywhere.
The chorus is also quite irritating in an inane sort of way. With a late draw of 23, it should do pretty well – it’s catchy (like shingles), well-performed, mainstream, fun, telegenic… but I think it’s just too lightweight and generic, too much of a Bruno Mars album track, to come close to winning. It washed over me in DMGP and it washes over me now. I also can’t see it getting enough jury to remotely challenge, though juries are unlikely to punish it either. Passes the non-threatening boy test.
Belgium: another ballad by an older guy, this time a melodramatic popera affair about – believe it or not – how much he loves his mother. At least that’s the intended message: it actually sounds more like he’s in love with his mother. I can’t listen to it without thinking of Buster from Arrested Development and the Motherboy contest.
Axel’s voice is superb and this should get jury, but Belgium doesn’t do well at the best of times, and while Mother might pull in the old-lady vote, it’s also gonna turn a lot of people off. It could have been an entry 10, 20 or 30 years ago, and it’s the opposite of what wins Eurovision. Sognu had more chance.
Eurovision isn’t Europe’s Got Talent, Axel Hirsoux isn’t Paul Potts and ‘Mother’ isn’t ‘Nessun Dorma’ – it’s total kitsch for the grey market, like a climactic solo number from a spoof Sigmund Freud musical written by Trey Parker, imbued with the cloying sentimentality of European schlager.
He has the Mrs Brown demographic in the bag, but how many people under 40 (at the very least) are going to vote for this mortifying, syrupy gubbins with so many other more credible, catchy, contemporary songs on offer? ‘Silent Storm’ slays it in the same category and demographic.
If Axel qualifies but gets an early draw and ‘Silent Storm’ a late draw, I’d expect Mother to do a “jury drop” too, just as Eveline Sasenko (great voice, cheesy and dated song) saw her jury vote collapse when Maja Keuc (great voice, credible song) had a much later draw than her in the 2011 final. Fails the “non-threatening boy” test, duh.
UK: it’s ‘Love Shine A Light’ via Florence And The Machine – anthemic, modern, perfectly judged for the contest and for the type of British music that’s popular in continental Europe. This is exactly the sort of thing the UK should be sending to Eurovision and, as such, I expect it to score well across the board with both juries and televoters.
Molly’s voice is excellent, and she’s cool and credible without being either too twee or too rock-chick – she’s type of performer who appeals equally to men and women. While the verse may seem underwritten, this maximises the contrast between it and the juggernaut chorus (a structural technique also used in Bad Romance).
The middle-eight is excellent and lifts the whole thing to another level; it’s where singer and song shine most. The lyrics are empowering and mean whatever you want them to, and both the chorus and “power to the people” are strong hooks.
Having only listened to the song twice – once during the live reveal, once later the same evening – three days later, I could still remember both of those hooks exactly. I also found the powerful middle-eight knocking around in my head several days later, and ended up absent-mindedly thinking “Is that from some Florence And The Machine song or is it really from the British Eurovision song?” Surprise surprise, it was the latter.
In short, this is radio- and viewer-friendly, very mainstream but with substance, ticks almost every box, and I think it’s a magnet for the “oh, this is nice” vote. Passes the manic pixie dream girl test – she’s a rockier, more credible, more adult Emmelie, one you’d probably enjoy hanging out with more and who’d be less averse to footwear.
Romania: two over-35s singing EDM. Need I continue? Given the duo’s popularity in the fandom, it’s worth emphasising that to the overwhelming majority of viewers on the night, Paula and Ovi will just be some bloke and bird; outside of Romania, Norway and the fan community, they most certainly won’t be known or remembered from 2010.
So from the viewer’s perspective, while the two work well together, they’re just as put-together a duo as Greta and Jonsi, Sophie and Nodi, Nico and Vlad. The big problem with ‘Miracle’ is that, as a sub-David Guetta/Avicii song with a tokenistic stab at a piano, it eschews Paula and Ovi’s entire USP – it has no identity, doesn’t play to their strengths and could be by absolutely anyone.
As factory-produced Scandinavian dial-a-songs go, it has some merits – it’s fun, the chorus is good, Paula rocks the middle-eight – but ‘Miracle’ totally lacks the flirtatiousness and humour of its predecessor, which is a really important point when you consider Eurovision as a personality contest and as a competition between a series of three-minute audiovisual memes, which is really what we mean when we talk about the “overall package”.
I don’t need to tell you whether this passes the non-threatening boy/manic pixie dream girl test; it’s more like something two of your high school teachers who think they’re still quite cool (by virtue of being younger than most of the rest of the staff) would perform at a gala event to raise money for a new playing field. “Mr Jacobs and Miss Selling are going to sing a song together!”
Ukraine: first impressions matter most and this song got an overwhelmingly negative reaction when it won the Ukrainian final in December. But so did ‘Gravity’ the year before.
In composition and sound, the original version of ‘Tick Tock’ was exactly the sort of disposable europop, thrown together as an entry but never intended as a real contender, that was a staple of a lot of national finals in the mid- to late-2000s. Now, the song has been reinvented as a slice of modern pop – gone are the naff lyrics and europop production in favour of a contemporary package.
Mariya Yaremchuk is an able singer, and I think Ukraine will get a perhaps not inconsiderable sympathy vote from a lot of Europe, including juries. Add to which the package we see on the night is likely to be very professional, as ever with Ukraine. But still: the song is weak. I don’t rule out top 10 at all, I almost expect it. Depending on staging/styling, probably fails the manic pixie dream girl test (which Zlata, with her perfect yet innocent beauty, mystical forest and ethereal song, kinda passed).
So there you have it. Let us know your reaction to these opinions below.