There’s no doubting Italy’s hold at the top of the market, and we now have the Eurovision edit, which cuts the first verse in half and omits the second. Beyond ‘Occidentali’s Karma‘, the outright market has been trying on different second favourites for size. Betfair was briefly blinded by Belgium’s ‘City Lights’, with Bulgaria’s ‘Beautiful Mess’ the most recent challenger to emerge.
But the mantle is currently held by Sweden’s Robin Bengtsson, who won Melodifestivalen with ‘I Can’t Go On‘. It’s a slick pop effort in the Timberlake mould, well sold by its good-looking protagonist. There’s not much to the song beyond the hook and beat behind the refrain, but the travelators make the most of it.
In comparison with Francesco Gabbani and his gorilla, I think the sight of Bengtsson and his banker-clad gym chums lack charm; but then Eric Saade almost won a weak 2011 contest with a sexy glint-in-the-eye, a refrain, and a smashing show. Sweden may currently be ante-post second favourites by default (much as Sanna was in 2014), but a good finish seems likely again.
Five of the clear top seven in the betting are male soloists. Bulgaria’s Kristian Kostov sings ‘Beautiful Mess‘, competing with Australia’s Isaiah Firebrace among those frontrunners as a balladeering pretty boy. It’s a song that’s grown on me since first listen, relying on good production and atmosphere more than immediate hook.
It’s probably best to wait and see at rehearsals if Isaiah or Kristian come across better, but using 2014 as a touchstone again, there’s room for both ballads in the top five should they be effective enough.
In the same genre, Ireland’s Brenadan Murray offers us something a little more obvious, key change and all, with ‘Dying To Try‘. Perhaps my brain has been re-wired by years of Westlife, but there’s something very comforting in its predictability. I’d be hopeful of qualification from the weaker second semi.
Another crowded genre is the electropop offered by FYROM, Serbia and Azerbaijan (the first two share a co-writer, and all of them include Swedes on the production team). Jana Burceska’s ‘Dance Alone‘ is the catchiest and most accessible of the three, although Macedonia rivals Ireland for the worst staging decisions of late, so waiting to see how this looks in rehearsals is probably wise.
Serbia’s ‘In Too Deep‘ from Tijana Bogicevic has a contemporary sound, but is blander, and lacks identity. Like Cyprus, it has to convince me there’s more to it than just modern production. Azerbaijan’s ‘Skeletons‘ is more interesting as a song, but feels like the least accessible of the three. It’s missing a hook, and singer Dihaj doesn’t come across as very votable.
The same can be said for Iceland’s Svala with the much-heralded synthpop ‘Paper‘. Everything is wrong about the way this was staged in its national final, from the general darkness to Svala’s outfit, plus her indifference in engaging with the audience. Repeat those mistakes in Kiev, and I think it will struggle to qualify.
On the other hand, I’m slightly surprised by the very lukewarm reaction to Israel’s ‘I Feel Alive‘. It’s an ethnopop bop sung by the nice-looking Imri, who has good experience of the Eurovision stage. It’s not the best example of the genre, but it’s the kind of thing viewers expect at the contest, and I feel that the Israelis can qualify if they repeat the staging template of ‘Golden Boy’.
Israeli songwriters are behind Russia’s ‘Flame Is Burning‘. Perhaps that’s why it reminds me of ‘Light A Candle’ in all its cheesiness. Whether Julia Samoylova will end up competing in Kiev is still open to question, and you won’t find me touching this song in the markets right now beyond laying in the outright.
There was some hope that Armenia’s late reveal would find us a new second favourite, but Artsvik’s ‘Fly With Me‘ has drifted on release. It’s ethnic, contemporary and in English, which makes it distinctive; as does a building structure, not unlike the same team’s 2014 effort, ‘You’re Not Alone’. I think it has good chances of being the highest-placed entry from the ex-USSR, which is to say it can easily achieve another top ten placing for the nation. But it doesn’t feel like a contest winner.
The other recent selections – Norway, San Marino and Lithuania – are considered no-hopers in the market, and not even particularly fancied to qualify from the weaker second heat. Norway’s JOWST with ‘Grab The Moment‘ is the most likeable and modern of this bunch, and I think it has the best chance of sneaking into the final.
San Marino’s Valentina Monetta returns, this time with Jimmie Wilson, and three key changes. If this is the ‘Spirit of the Night‘, I’d rather go to bed early. Lithuania’s Fusedmarc give us ‘Rain of Revolution‘, an anonymous song that is relying on diaspora votes to get through. Meanwhile, Albania’s revamp of ‘World‘ has an uphill task to qualify from the first half of the first semi.
The market confusion behind Italy may only be clarified during rehearsals, whilst the upcoming London and Amsterdam events could be slightly more enlightening than usual. Let us know your continued thoughts below.