Caution is a watchword in many of our articles. Perhaps it’s the stirring of Spring, but I feel like being unusually optimistic about some of the last entries selected for Eurovision 2015. Punters agree: in the Betfair outright market, which is the best place to measure current sentiment, five of the breakaway top nine came to light in the frenzy of the deadline weekend.
Sweden top the market after Mans Zelmerlow’s landslide Melodifestivalen victory. Based on song clip, I was initially sceptical of ‘Heroes’, with its Avicii-esque country-verse-meets-EDM-chorus. But on watching the whole package including performance and staging, I think it ticks more boxes than anything else, and deserves its place at the top of bookmakers’ lists – where it seems likely to stay.
I take Mans’ 35.1% audience share in the Swedish final – more than Loreen in 2012 – seriously. A valid counter-argument is he had less competition, but runner-up Jon Henrik Fjallgren was thought likely to be a televote magnet after winning his semi-final, and could barely manage half the ‘Heroes’ vote. Zelmerlow’s song is contemporary and highly accessible; whilst it’s no masterpiece, that’s well hidden by its presentation. I’m staying on the right side of it in the run-up to rehearsals.
My feelings for Norway’s selection, ‘A Monster Like Me’, have to some degree had the opposite journey. I thought the studio version powerful and captivating, whilst vocalists Morland and Debrah Scarlett promised plenty. I liked the way it was staged and initially enjoyed the live performance, but further watching showed that Debrah’s nerves rather got to her and affected the harmonies in the crucial final minute.
A close-run televote with Tooji MkII also rang alarm bells. As stated, I take such metrics seriously in the right circumstances. Not all the time: sometimes a domestic audience has different tastes and priorities than a Eurovision one. To take one random example, Roman Lob scraped through a German two-horse final before a much more solid showing with European televoters. But a tormented ballad such as ‘A Monster Like Me’ seemed ideal for its Norwegian audience, and they weren’t resoundingly impressed.
I won’t write it off yet: ‘A Monster Like Me’ remains one of the best compositions in the contest. Tighter staging and a more confident performance from Debrah could yet bring all its promising elements together in Vienna. But they didn’t come together convincingly in Oslo, and that means a waiting brief until rehearsals.
The contest got tougher the following day when Russia and Azerbaijan came up with two of the best songs in the competition. Russia’s ‘A Million Voices’ is well structured, anthemic and accessible, if a little familiar in a Eurovision context. Carried by confident vocalist Polina Gagarina, it has obvious potential to best the many female ballads in this year’s competition.
A hot topic in our comments section has been the impact of current politics on the nation’s votes in the West, with some pointing out that their 2014 seventh was managed with eastern points only. It’s worth pointing out that ‘A Million Voices’ is a much stronger composition than ‘Shine’ and indeed their 2013 fifth-place ‘What If’. A likely strong Russian showing in this year’s competition adds a certain frisson to it.
I like Azerbaijan’s ‘Hour of The Wolf’ too, with a chorus echoing Queen’s ‘Who Wants To Live Forever’. Vocalist Elnur Huseynov has experience of the Eurovision stage, as part of the duo that performed the country’s inaugural song in 2008. Arguably, ‘Hour of The Wolf’ has more depth but is slightly less accessible than ‘A Million Voices’. Both have to be respected going into rehearsals.
As indeed does Australia’s ‘Tonight Again’ from another experienced vocalist, Guy Sebastian. Deciding against taking something from his current album, the singer and his team spent 72 hours cunningly coming up with something distinctive for this year’s contest: a contemporary, funky, R&B number.
‘Tonight Again’ would have plenty of life in the charts separate to its Eurovision existence. Indeed, it sounds more like a worldwide hit than anything else in the competition, though that comment partly reflects the more American sound of its genre. Taking into account the strength of the artist too, I think Australia will distinguish itself in its supposedly one-off participation.
Best of the rest among the last entries to be revealed came from Albania’s Elhaida Dani. This decent vocalist, a winner of Italy’s ‘The Voice’, sings ‘I’m Alive’, a mid-tempo empowerment belter. It holds out promise of a decent jury result, which allied with a strong televote in certain countries, may see a very respectable finish on the scoreboard.
It goes downhill at this point. Montenegro have employed the services of serial Eurovision success story Zeljko Joksimovic to pen their entry ‘Adio’. But he’s re-hashing his typical sound with diminishing returns here, and it’s in the hands of 90s Balkan throwback Knez. It turns out San Marino’s ‘Chain of Lights’ has once again been penned for the country by 70s Eurovision throwback Ralph Siegel, and it’s one of his most hopeless efforts yet.
The running order for the semi-finals should be revealed later in the week. In the meantime, keep the conversation going below.