Hot on the heels of an exceptionally early UK selection, the rest of the Big 5 – the largest financial contributors, granted a free pass to the final – followed suit in the last week or so. As did Switzerland.
This time last week, the earliest known entries hadn’t excited the betting market. (That’s often the case, and can lead to hype building around a half-baked contender, such as Croatia last year, or Slovenia in 2015). But the conclusion of Italy’s Sanremo Festival late on Saturday brought a surprise result and a new favourite for Eurovision, in the shape of Francesco Gabbani and his dancing gorilla.
At the time of writing, punters are queuing to back Italy at under 5-1 on Betfair. Is the market just monkeying around?
I think there’s a hell of a lot going for ‘Occendentali’s Karma’. It’s a contemporary, ear-wormy number infectiously performed by a charismatic, attractive guy. Both song and performance are tremendous fun and full of character. It promises to be unique and memorable on the night, without even considering the potential flood of depressing, female numbers shaping up elsewhere.
We can carp: it’s no vocal masterclass; it’s a shame viewers won’t see it performed in full during the semi-finals; and we have to hope the edit to cut the song below three minutes is judicious. However, I think its strengths outweigh these concerns, and it can score very highly in the Grand Final.
A more immediate qualification concerns it current price, now too short in my opinion. It reflects the early-season lack of contenders, when other potential big hitters have yet to play their hand. Should some of them – such as Greece and Australia – deliver, there will be a correction. But not a huge one: Gabbani and his song’s distinctive qualities will endure.
I’m also a fan of the chosen French song – Alma’s ‘Requiem’. It’s an Indila-inspired piece of midtempo pop, that beguiles me in the studio version. I think it’s a worthy follow-up to France’s sixth-placed effort last year – Amir’s ‘J’ai Cherche’. ‘Requiem’ songwriter Nazim Khaled co-wrote the 2016 entry, and I think he’s penned another potential top ten finisher.
My concerns about its translation to the Kiev stage are greater than for Italy. Alma’s live performance currently lacks polish and confidence. Like ‘J’ai Cherche’, you can accuse ‘Requiem’ of being too wordy to work as well on stage; more importantly, it’s not as immediate as the former, working more on general atmosphere rather than hooks.
Still, Amir’s performances weren’t secure at this point either. Strong backing assistance can address these issues, lifting not just the vocals, but Alma’s confidence too. Rehearsals in Kiev will indicate how far the French team have come, and whether ‘Requiem’ can achieve its potential.
My positivity ends here. I don’t mind German song ‘Perfect Life’ nor Levina as a vocalist. But the overall package is utterly bland and characterless in a way that means it will likely be passed over on the scoreboard. I can say exactly the same thing for the Swiss entry, Timebelle’s ‘Apollo’. I wish both acts had more interesting material to work with.
Still, I don’t actively dislike either, which I can’t say for the Spanish choice, Manel Navarro’s ‘Do It For Your Lover’, every bit as unbearable as its title suggests. The way the backing track electronically plays on the word “lover” should be on rotation in the seventh circle of hell. I’m clearly not the only one who feels this way: some Spanish fans are currently contesting the result.
We’re moving towards the busiest period of national selections over the coming weeks. Do keep the conversation going with your latest thoughts below.