It’s been a strange year for Eurovision betting. Ante-post plunges on a Norwegian bouncer and Armenian comedian abated by rehearsals, to be replaced by an Austrian bearded lady and a Dutch country and western act. Sweden’s cookie cutter Eurovision entry has just about held fast at the top of bookmakers’ lists as a concession to normality.
In this atypical year, with none of the front-runners quite ticking all the boxes, to some degree one’s gut has to come into play. That’s no bad thing in Eurovision, because it’s the acts that form an emotional connection with viewers that end up succeeding. It’s something that all recent winners have in common: Emmelie, Loreen, Ell and Nikki, Lena, Rybak etc.
Something else they had in common was a good draw – 17 or later. Each formed that emotional connection with viewers at a crucial part of the show. It’s worth pointing out that this can be done earlier in the show with something amazingly memorable – the Russian grannies almost beat Loreen in the televote having performed early on in sixth.
But the juries extended Loreen’s superiority, and the power of national panels in the contest is more powerful than ever under the new ranking system. Juries like to see artistry, musicality and professionalism on stage, whatever the genre. So I’m looking for a combination of these factors: an emotional connection, a good draw and a jury-friendly package.
The entry that best ticks these boxes comes from The Netherlands and that’s my recommendation for the win at a best-priced 4-1. I like the song, and mentioned it in the comments section as a dark horse for a top ten placing a few months ago. I would never have imagined tipping it for the win until watching its first rehearsal, when I was captivated by the staging triumph on display.
It’s all about the sequence where the TV feed circles around the two performers and they seamlessly switch between making eye contact with the camera and each other. It’s this year’s most believable love story, and its widespread popularity on itunes following Tuesday’s semi-final was testament to the connection made. It’s perfectly drawn to provide that tonight in the 24 slot.
It’s my guess that it won last night’s jury vote, and the revelation of tonight’s voting order – decided as in the last few years by a computer model that aims to initially mask the final result – did nothing to dispel that feeling. Thanks to Ben Cook for pointing out the countries from which Dutch entry Anouk got high points last year, which seemed to provide a correlation between where they are placed in the voting order and the positions from where Emmelie got her 12s last year. Admittedly, this is highly speculative.
The main point of concern for The Netherlands is its possibly poor impact in the large former Soviet bloc. (Except of course, the Baltic States, where ‘Calm Before the Storm’ has charted best of all, which leaves us with the seven others from this region.) In a normal year, you’d expect a Western European winner to be picking up perhaps 5s and 6s here. One straw I clutch is that Belgium’s Tom Dice didn’t come away completely empty-handed from this region when almost winning the jury vote with ‘Me and My Guitar’ in 2010. But it’s the main argument against a Netherlands victory and it’s a valid one.
Thing is, none of the runners are without caveats. One of the other big emotional connections of the night comes from Austria’s Conchita Wurst. I’m not a particular fan of the derivative song or vocals. However, it has an impact in a Eurovision context because ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’ taps into a clear and uplifting narrative.
But it feels like there are more doubts here. As well as question marks about televoting impact in certain parts of Europe, it’s a more divisive act for juries and it’s less well drawn (though memorable). I’m not dismissing a strong showing on the scoreboard, but I think the price reflects fans’ hopes more than a cold, hard analysis of her chances.
The other act contending for a place at the top of bookmakers’ lists is Sweden. In one sense, you could argue the case for ‘Undo’ as a default winner given that it offers the most polished, traditional Eurovision package among the market leaders. I’ve never been a particular fan of the song, but the Swedes are masters of production, and there’s an impressive wall of sound created.
My problem with ‘Undo’ is that it doesn’t offer viewers enough of an emotional connection: not in the way it’s sung, nor in the way it’s staged. Arguably, female balladeers from Austria and Spain offer more genuine passion. Sanna is also moderately drawn in 13. That’s enough for me to oppose it at current prices.
Finding the other podium finishers is fraught with counterargument, so I want to be looking for better prices. If we stick to the jury / draw / emotional connection factors, that brings the UK, Denmark and Hungary into play, all at half-decent each-way odds. Of the three, I’ve gradually come round to the idea that Hungary’s angsty storyline is too dark for a Eurovision audience.
Denmark and the UK are therefore my other podium suggestions. Basim had been rather lacklustre in rehearsals, but brought things back to the national final standard for the jury performance of ‘Cliche Love Song’ last night. Televoters looking for an immediate, joyous moment in the final 30 minutes of the show need look no further. Juries may not be quite as kind, but it’s a perfectly acceptable retro-pop package.
The BBC have done everything they can to get a good result for Molly. She provides a credible, jury-friendly, well-staged entry in the pimp slot, which I steadfastly believe is an advantage despite the interesting debate on both sides in our comments section. My worry is that ‘Children of the Universe’ is not quite impactful enough for televoters to win the whole thing, even with that running order boost.
I don’t have an entry from Eastern Europe in my top three. I feel I should address this by saying that Ukraine and Armenia both offer packages that can easily reach the top five given the voting power behind them, but have been rather stymied by the draw – at numbers 1 and 7 respectively.
In terms of other top ten contenders, I feel safest saying that Greece may get a traditionally Greek result: that means around fifth in the televote, 14th with juries and 7th overall. But there’s precious little value in the market. Looking beyond the 2-1 mark brings in possibilities such as Spain (Ruth was impressive for the juries last night), Malta, Switzerland, or even Eurovision powerhouse Russia. I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of them manage it but none of them individually stick out enough for me.
I usually tip up something in the last place market for a bit of fun, and this year will be no exception. It’s always a bit of a crap shoot: for example, last year’s favourite Spain managed to avoid the wooden spoon thanks to some points from the maverick Albanian jury. This year’s contenders have to include Germany and France, and I’m going to suggest the latter because it’s slightly better-priced at 9-1 with bet365. I love ‘Moustache’ as a song, but visually it’s a headache-inducing mess, and the vocals are all over the place.
Good luck to everyone tonight. As a reminder, my top three prediction is as follows:
1. The Netherlands
Do keep you thoughts coming below, both before and during the show itself.