It’s the final weekend of selection season, which means Melodifestivalen final on Saturday night. The Swedish contest usually has a significant bearing on the Eurovision market, and this year is no exception.
Sweden is already a short-priced favourite to double up on home soil, based on expectations it’ll be represented by 17-year-old Frans, singing ‘If I Were Sorry‘. Hugely impressive sales and streams since his semi-final performance should translate into a massive televote on the night. I’ll be surprised if that’s then negated by international juries, as happened to Yohio in 2013.
Rightly or wrongly, how well Frans does with those juries will be used as evidence of just how Eurovision-friendly the package is. If the international juries reward this intimate, vulnerable performance, Sweden’s odds will come in further. My guess is they will, and we’ll have a very short-priced favourite come May.
Saturday’s other final is in Lithuania, where Donny Montell attempts to overturn his semi-final defeat to Erica Jennings. Otherwise, we’re waiting on a new Maltese song, an Albanian revamp and the Azerbaijani, Serbian and Bulgarian entries as Monday’s deadline looms. That’s when the Heads of Delegation meet in Stockholm for a few days. Amongst other tasks, a random draw will be made to decide the host’s running order position in the final. This will be another big moment at the head of the outright market.
Plenty of selections have been made since the last article. For the third time in the last five years, Sweden’s closest rival in the market looks like being Russia after Sergey Lazarev’s ‘You Are The Only One‘ galloped into fanboys’ hearts last Saturday. The song sits firmly in the canon of its Greek producer Dmitris Kontopoulos, which includes Eurovision classics like ‘Shady Lady’ and ‘Hold Me’.
The question is: how far has Eurovision moved on from this kind of noughties schlager banger? Last year, the likes of Mans, Loic and Aminata seemed to show that something more current and credible was required under the jury and televote ranking system. But there’s less competition this year, and the ranking system has been dropped. Those Russian televote points will stand, and unlike in 2015, there’s nothing the likes of the Lithuanian jury can do about it.
Still, each overall winner since the return of juries in 2009 has been placed at least second by those national panels (the lowest overall placing among either the televoting or jury constituency being third). ‘You Are The Only One’ is the kind of package that in a normal year manages top ten rather than top five in the jury vote, like Eric Saade for example. Russia is thus relying on the weakness of the competition to win the prize.
Current third favourites are Croatia, who return with Voice winner Nina Kraljic. ‘Lighthouse‘ has been described as Ellie Goulding meets Emmelie De Forest, though I think it lacks the drive and melodic insistence of ‘Only Teardrops’. Like Russia’s ‘You Are The Only One’, it has a redundant middle eight followed by a clunky key change, which detracts from an otherwise enchanting song. It’s another that’s a short enough price in the circumstances, but there is potential based on Nina’s strong vocals.
Australia’s trajectory in the outright market this week has been instructive. A teaser of ‘Sound of Silence‘ from X Factor winner Dami Im saw it shorten into 6.0 the outright market, but since the full song was released yesterday, it now stands at 20.0. The power ballad just doesn’t develop sufficiently (if at all) over the three minutes. Still, it’s a well-produced song with a sterling performer, and I don’t expect Australia to be discredited in May.
The biggest “shock” in national final season came in Poland where Michal Szpak overturned contest favourite Margaret. ‘Color Of Your Life‘ is a rather dated ballad with no less than two key changes, though there’s no denying the impressive vocals. Veering much further into melodramatic musical theatre territory is Romania’s Ovidiu Anton with ‘Moment of Silence‘. Both are in the weaker second semi-final, though it still feels like Romania’s perfect qualifying record is under threat.
Elsewhere in that second semi-final, we’ve been promised a major revamp of Israel’s ‘Made of Stars‘, which is wise, though Hovi Star was the best choice in the final round of a nail-bitingly close contest. FYROM’s Kaliopi makes her return with ‘Dona‘. As in 2012, she’ll be relying on her vocal skills and voting allies, rather than the pull of the song, if she’s to make it to the final.
The first semi-final will be a tougher heat, though I’d be hopeful of the Netherlands’ qualification chances despite a muted reaction to Douwe Bob’s ‘Slow Down‘. Expectations were high for a worthy sequel to ‘Calm After The Storm’ in 2014, and ‘Slow Down’ has an excellent, Eagles-esque build with some wonderful instrumentation. However, the chorus underwhelms in its failure to develop, a criticism that can be made of many entries this year.
Estonia’s Juri Pootsmann gives us an altogether darker retro number in ‘Play‘. I felt it was the deserving winner of Eesti Laul, but the overall package is rather brooding and less voter-friendly than the Netherlands’ sunnier offering. It’s in the qualification mix alongside the Czech Republic’s Gabriela Guncikova. Her ballad ‘I Stand‘ is another song that doesn’t really develop sufficiently, but she’s an excellent vocalist, and my guess is that producers will grant her the pimp slot given the country’s failure to ever reach the final.
Three less competent entries in the first semi-final include Greece’s messy ‘Utopian Land‘, with its ethno elements and simplistic chorus. With doubts over Argo’s live capabilities, the country’s 100% qualification record will be tested this year. Montenegro’s Highway give us something equally incoherent in ‘The Real Thing‘. But neither can compete with San Marino’s Serhat for sheer hopelessness. ‘I Didn’t Know‘ would be my defence too.
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