Eurovision 2017: Westerners’ Karma

Fake news isn’t new; we’ve always lived in a constructed reality. I don’t mean your garden fence is a hologram, I mean that stories and symbols shape our societies in ways that are profound but commonly invisible, unarticulated and taken for granted. Money has no intrinsic value, it’s just paper, metal, and figures stored in a computer (plus the occasional injection of pig fat); prices are arbitrary because no-one knows the true value of anything (the haircut I paid €14 for today would have been €35 at the hipster male-grooming place down the road or free if I’d asked the woman next door who perms poodles on the side), there’s no particular reason why you should work 5 days a week not 3 or 6, or perhaps even work at all, and most of the planet’s population believes the world was created by a supernatural being (they just disagree which one; I’m going with Dustin the Turkey) who still oversees it and even actively intervenes in their lives. (Or as an American friend once explained to me after surviving a car crash with only minor injuries, “God protected me”.) Before you click away to Digital Spy lest I hit you with even more aphorisms straight out of an A-level philosophy essay-writing contest, let me bring things back to Eurovision. Allez!

Both the EU and Eurovision share a founding story of being created to bring the continent together after a devastating war, thereby helping prevent further conflict. They’re peace projects. If everyone trades together without tariffs, if we’re free to move between countries without any checks or restrictions, even free to work or study in whichever EU country we choose, if we all use the same currency, and if we’re exposed to each other’s cultures through the Eurovision broadcast network and its eponymous song contest, this increased togetherness – unite, unite, Europe – decreases the likelihood of our knocking seven bells out of each other, right?

Nyet.

It worked for a while. And it’ll keep working in a lot of important ways; both the EU and Eurovision are here for the duration, whatever the Trump-Putin-Erdogan-Assad-Siegel axis might have to say about it. But for storytelling to succeed in making believers out of us, keep us on board and keep attracting new followers, it has to stay relevant, which is why organised religion is in freefall and the European project is starting to resemble Dorret’s gateau on Bake-Off. Institutions lose power when the stories they tell don’t speak to us anymore. For instance, Labour is in freefall because they have no idea what story they want to tell anymore or even to whom, and because their outdated basic appeal of “Vote for us because we’re not the Tories” hasn’t been good enough for quite a while now. As to the EU, the basis on which people are expected to feel positively towards it needs to be greater than just the absence of war, because that’s something people long take as given and that isn’t in living memory for most. How do you tell a country like Portugal that the EU’s primary purpose is to maintain peace in Europe, as various senior EU figures have asserted, when euro membership has harmed its economy and it wasn’t even involved in World War II in the first place?

When the status quo has forgotten how to engage with the citizenry, all you have to do to get people on board with your alternative is tell them a better emotional story, one that’s more relevant to their lives and speaks to them on a more fundamental level – even overtly or covertly acting as a vector for their inchoate fears and desires – than the competitors. It’s the intersection of story and identity, and the feeling of being listened to and appealed to, sold by a personality with perceived authenticity and sincerity. Make America Great Again. Take Back Control. Rise Like A Phoenix. Boum Badaboum.

“Over the past few years, Eurovision entries have been gradually shifting towards a more cinematic approach, focused on story-telling rather than just presenting a musical piece. So when we refer to ‘Beautiful Mess’, we want to call it a story and not just a song. The story here is quite simple – it’s about love. But we don’t mean love in the sense of feelings between two persons, but rather love for humanity and friendship, as both are an integral part of the core values of the Eurovision Song Contest. The main character is a youngster who is facing a world full of darkness that he is living in and is searching for an oasis of light for him and the people he is willing to fight for. ‘Beautiful Mess’ is a story of contrasting pictures and characters – both on the dark and bright side, all combined into one eclectic mixture. Our project this year is dedicated to all young people living in the midst of [an] insecure and confused world. We are urging them to define themselves and fight for the values they believe in.”

Thus reads the Bulgarian press release. This very much echoes what I’ve said in past articles about how Eurovision today is about storytelling, perceived personality, and conveying a meme with an emotive take-home message in the space of 3 minutes. As video walls, LED flooring and augmented reality have vastly broadened Eurovision’s technical possibilities, some countries now treat their entry as a 3-minute film with the act as protagonist – Sweden 2015 and Russia 2016 are archetypal recent examples of entries staged primarily as mini-movies in which the song acted as backdrop to the visual storytelling rather than the other way round. Bulgaria’s statement on how Eurovision is now about cinematic storytelling most strongly echoes my 2015 article The Affect Effect, in which I talked about birth/rebirth narratives and concluded that “with a good song and performer as prerequisite, I think countries succeed best at Eurovision by using the storytelling tools at their disposal to tap into universal emotional currency via the classy, intimate metaphorical depiction of a birth, rebirth or transition characterised by the presence of mixed strong emotions, just as these moments are in our lives. Entries that succeed in activating affect in the viewer by triggering personal emotions and recollections from their own life experiences establish an emotional connection with viewers much more readily and are perceived as more intimate and sincere.”

It’s Easter weekend, and I think for most of us in the secular West, the amount of time we spend thinking about the religious aspects of why we get a four-day weekend is inversely proportional to the amount of milk chocolate we consume during it. As religion has atrophied out of our everyday lives in the transition to modernity, other coca dei popoli, oppio dei poveri have taken its place. Because of our basic need for community, identity, and for heroic and inspirational figures to look up to and model our behaviour and values on, as we’ve moved away from organised belief, we’ve turned to a variety of other sources in our attempt to find meaning and affirmation – including Eastern religions but also technology, as Francesco observes. In our ever more atomised lives, as loneliness skyrockets, social media fills the void – each Facebook post, each tweet, each mugshot posted to Instagram by the soci onorari al gruppo dei selfisti anonimi is an act of communion, as is this article; think of me as a marginally burlier Dami Im reaching out to you through a screen, trying to feel your chest hair through FaceTime face time. We all seek certain things in our lives – role, purpose, meaning, belonging – and while the internet is a major paradigm shift in how we seek and form these, it was preceded by two equally great paradigm shifts in the form of the invention of the car and the television, the widespread availability and affordability of which starting in the 1950s hugely transformed how we relate to each other and form basic communities. With car ownership and the post-war social settlement came the creation of the suburbs, and people began to leave dense inner-city housing and rural villages – both organic communities where everyone knew each other and children played together outside – to live in better-quality new housing with far-improved amenities but without that community, and with the spectre of the automobile leading parents to discourage outdoor play. So kids stayed indoors and watched TV, and here we are today – in a society where screens are our primary form of engagement with the world, and where visual narratives have superseded both books (holy or otherwise) and oral tradition as our society’s main form of storytelling and central cultural tenets.

In the post-religious West, our favourite media narrates the trials and tribulations of larger-than-life celebrities we look up to, and our favourite oppio dei popoli cinema entertainment consists largely of superhero and epic fantasy films that are highly mythological and full of characters with godlike powers who battle evil within the framework of a well-defined value system. Eurovision is itself a kind of polytheistic folk religion, fans worshipping an annually-changing pantheon of demigods and gleefully memorizing each new batch of hymns to sing along with.

For an act to succeed at Eurovision, does it have to provide secular audiences with something akin to a communal religious experience? I’d argue yes, increasingly so. Many recent winning and successful acts display something akin to supernatural powers in their staging, manipulating either organic or technological elements in a display of demigod omnipotence. The staging for 1944 portrays Jamala as a kind of nature deity – we see a tree grow out of her, and as she sings “We could build a future where people are free”, a new world is born from her pain; the idea of the world tree is central in Indo-European mythology. Zoe and Greta were also depicted as nature goddesses, but while the former appeared as a virginal innocent in a paradisiacal garden who magicked some poppies into life (a benign and pleasant gesture yet not especially moving or transformative, making her a friendly minor deity), the other was essentially depicted as a goddess of the underworld – dressed in black, controlling flocks of crows and hurling them at the audience, with ghostly shadow-figures behind her; at one point, a woman running towards her is even transformed by her body into a plume of dark smoke emitted from her bosom, pretty much the opposite of a rebirth narrative. There was no sense of the darkness that accompanied Greta being overcome, whereas in Jamala’s performance, we see Ukraine reborn out of pain (just as Conchita was) in the form of the giant tree of light that spawns from her. It’s the dendrological equivalent of Rise Like A Phoenix. The fact Jamala physically reaches out to the viewer at the end, almost as if drowning, is also crucial, I think, in establishing the need for the viewer to Do Something (by televoting) and in its echoing of renaissance art.

Organic elements grow outwards from behind each of the last three winners – while Conchita sprouted wings and Jamala was the seed from which a tree grew, Mans summoned a following of virtual disciples to march behind him and even had his own sacred heart moment. Arguably, dancers can also be the organic element summoned or brought to life in a successful but less overtly sacral Eurovision performance, as in the case of Loreen and Poli Genova, whose dancer(s) materialize just 30 and 20 seconds before the end of the song respectively.

Sergey’s wings superficially fall into the same category of organic manifestation, yet unlike Conchita’s transformative rebirth which endures until the end of the entry, Sergey promptly loses his wings shortly after the start, and much of the rest of his performance shows him scrambling to keep up with various obstacles rather than directing the action around him. While Jamala, Zoe and Greta were shown as being in deity-like control of the elements to varying effect, Sergey is at nature’s cold mercy as he leaps from platform to platform – rather than summoning the asteroids (or regrowing his wings), he has to risk life and limb to reach the next one in time; he is never in charge. (Why does he have wings at the start of the presentation then lose them when it’s in this section that he actually needs them?) But still he overcomes all manner of obstacles in those three minutes without making it look easy, making him a likeable action (super)hero who takes on the gods – more Hercules than Hera – as we follow his journey and root him on until he completes his trial and ends up on top.

While the above acts are shown commanding or mastering nature in different ways, Dami is shown commanding technology. Her swiping a few graphics may pale in comparison to Mans leading and inspiring a cartoon army, but the emotional content is resonant and contemporary, and she displays greater actual control over her environment than Sergey. Dami’s alienation-infused lyrics and augmented reality visuals convey the sense of her being trapped in digital isolation, forced to interact with others only through screens (highly relatable in 2016), until she dismounts her podium and sings “I know I’m stronger and I’m capable”, moving freely around the stage and interacting radiantly with the camera. It’s the Eurovision equivalent of turning off your phone and going outside, a sentiment no less powerful for its mundanity. Dami leaves behind the technological to embrace the organic, just as Super Sergey navigates the level to win the princess.

Sergey wouldn’t have done as well if he’d stayed at the bottom of the wall, Dami wouldn’t have done as well if she’d stayed on her podium, Jamala wouldn’t have done as well without her tree and Poli wouldn’t have done as well without her “friends” joining her. So what does this mean for 2017’s storie dal gran finale? This year’s short-odds favourite, Occidentali’s Karma, is seemingly loved by all (including myself) because it’s a good tune by a charismatic performer with a neat gimmick (though I think it’s harmed not inconsiderably by the three-minute edit that leaves the song excessively repeating its chorus in the first half rather than the second). It‘s fun. As commenter Ron writes, “the song is a hit because people like the gorilla, the fun dance and the bit where everyone shouts ‘Allez!’. The social commentary is [merely an] Easter egg for those who want to dig deeper.”

This being the case, the question is: Is fun enough? I dunno about you, but when I look back at the past 10 winners, even the top 2/3 of the past few contests, I don‘t exactly think ‘fun’. Emotive, for sure – whether Conchita and Jamala‘s issue-driven performances or the bottled Scandiproduct emotion of Heroes, Euphoria, Only Teardrops and Fairytale – but not fun. Fun can perhaps win the televote, as Sergey and Il Volo go at least some way toward proving, but can it win the jury vote? The last pure ‘fun’ winner was Lordi – and they wouldn‘t have gotten past the jury these days. Will Francesco? Does his gorilla count as a summoned organic element? If so, is it a meaningful and effective one? What does it say about Francesco and in the context of the song and performance? What are you saying by voting for it?

Demigod staging aside, voting for Conchita and Jamala allowed people to say ‘I support gay rights’ and ‘I support Ukraine’. This is a really important factor in an increasingly issue-driven contest. In a world characterised by superficial-only interactions where we’re starved of meaningful connection, televoting becomes a way of reaching out to others and showing you give a shit about a hot-button issue. Eurovision allows us to have encounters we wouldn’t normally have – to hear an Austrian drag queen or a Crimean singer whose great-grandparents were forcibly displaced from their homeland tell their story in song form makes an issue real and relatable through the emotional connection. (This is also why Russia has a superb chance next year if it re-enters Yuliya with a song genuinely intended as a contender: what better backstory for your entry than the expertly orchestrated debacle of the past month?)

Female Eurovision singers in particular can also function as personifications of nationhood – think back to how nations used to be represented as women like Britannia, Germania and Mother Russia (as well as how since the introduction of in-vision voting, broadcasters have overwhelmingly chosen young, conventionally beautiful woman as the beneficent face of their nation to read out the points.) ‘Singer as nation’ is a function that Jamala absolutely fulfilled last year in the context of her song, performance and staging combined with her country’s geopolitical situation, given even more resonance and credibility by the fact it was her own personal story. Obviously whatever artist you send to Eurovision automatically becomes the representative of your nation to the European audience, but when you just send a generic artist and song, this particular resonance is absent: for instance, Mariya Yaremchuk couldn’t become a vessel for expressing Ukraine’s pain – and for Europe to show solidarity with in return – to anywhere near the extent Jamala could. Nations don’t have to be geographic: Conchita also functioned as a representative of LGBT+ people as a disparate nation without borders, united by their outsider experience.

To summarise: in a high-tech, secular but socially atomised era where people don’t know their neighbours, screens are our tools of community, and celebrities and superheroes our folk gods. TVs are our church, Eurovision is the pulpit, and the more cinematic and issue-attuned the contest becomes, the more I think Eurovision performances need to have a sacral quality – in the combined effect of staging, performer and song – to hit the very highest reaches of the scoreboard by giving viewers something approximating a religious experience and meaningful sense of communion. Even if you dispute this, I think we can agree that staging and connection are everything: if you don’t get those right, you can have one of the best songs in the contest and still come last (just ask Jamie-Lee).

So what will Bulgaria’s cinematic staging be? Which other countries will roll out visual narratives that portray their act as a demigod able to exert control over organic or technological elements? What form does this control and interaction take, and what’s the take-home message for the audience? Is the singer shown as a goddess of nature, of rebirth or of a nation (Jamala and Conchita were all three), or as a superpowered masculine folk hero with admirable qualities of messianic leadership, unification and standing up for the weak (Mans) or Herculean courage, perseverance and tenacity in the face of insurmountable odds (Sergey)? Or something else altogether? Both Beautiful Mess and City Lights explicitly mention dark and light, with the singer being instrumental in the transition from the former to the latter (a transition carried out more completely in the Bulgarian song than the Belgian, which ends on the downbeat “Are we going to lose it all?” as opposed to “Our love is untouchable”), while Armenia’s lyrics refer to casting winds and flying high. There’s a lot of possibility here.

126 comments to Eurovision 2017: Westerners’ Karma

  • PurpleKylie

    Great article as always EV. It further convinces me that Italy just don’t fit into what seems to be an increasing pattern of winners (the supernatural as you say), Italy are basically dancing around going “lol, everyone lives on their mobile phones and appropriates Eastern practices like Yoga with no thought to its meaning, and lol I’ve got a dancing gorilla”. Also in terms of “hot button issues”, I don’t think the average Moldovan housewife could consider that a high priority in current world issues (given that they understand the lyrics in the first place). Compare that to both Bulgaria and Belgium who could very easily reflect the emotions that a lot of people in my generation are feeling in this current world climate right now.

    I’ll bring up another point in relation to the “religious experience” theory you bring up. A Latvian friend of mine who is fluent in Russian told me that he thinks Serbia won in 2007 because the whole Slavic-speaking world understands what the word “molitva” means even if they don’t understand most of the lyrics, they got the gist of what the song was about from the title alone and from the emotions on stage. Compare that to Verka who like Italy this year were dancing around going “lol, I’m telling Russia to go shove it and no-one knows”, and that failed to win in a year with 100% televote. I’m sorry guys, but satire doesn’t win Eurovision.

    • wef

      “Compare that to both Bulgaria and Belgium who could very easily reflect the emotions that a lot of people in my generation are feeling in this current world climate right now.”

      As could the UK if they manage to do something decent with the staging….. Interesting times indeed.

      Thinking about it far more than Bulgaria

      • James Martin

        With the right staging the UK could be dangerous. In 2014 we had a great package until Molly just didn’t connect with the camera. We know from X Factor that that won’t be an issue this year. 2015 could have done a lot better but the staging was diabolical. 2016 went in the right direction but again the staging was seriously meh.

        This year we have a song written by a former champion, sung by a vocalist with a solid track record both on X Factor and then in Musical Theatre. A lot of those lyrics will connect with people. “You’re not defeated, you’re in repair.”

        Every Autumn we talk about XF contestants “having a moment”. Lucie’s, for me incidentally, was My Funny Valentine. If she can create a moment on stage, we could defy all expectations at a time when public votes have certainly done just that.

        Dan – Lucie (And Jewdard’s!) time on XF predates this site by a year. Is it worth revisiting her journey in 2009?

  • Is there anyone here who bets on Eurovision but is not a Eurovision fan?

    • Boki

      I was 100% non-fan and not-watching when I began betting 10 years ago. During the years I’ve become a bit of a fan of course, even love it a little but just a little 🙂

      • Interesting. I think it is impossible to bet on Eurovision year after year and not to become a fan. Anyway I asked this question because I wanted to know how many of us here were fans of Eurovision who started betting at some time and how many of us started betting and then become Eurovision fans later 🙂 Personally I become a fan first since I really fell in love with Lena and Satellite in 2010. Year later I started betting and since then I’m even a bigger fan of the contest. Actually recently the same thing has happened with X Factor. Share your experience, guys. 🙂

  • Paddington

    Everyone seems to be expecting so much from Bulgaria and I think there’s a lot of disappointment ahead. The song is distinctly average imo and I can’t see how they can elevate it into a top 5 position.

  • Boki

    I don’t buy it EV, sorry. Two years ago Mans was a “mandroid” who can never win and now became a “superpowered masculine folk hero with admirable qualities of messianic leadership”. I wonder what will be the explanation for Francesco next year if he occidentally wins.

    • We’re all wiser in hindsight – it’s OK that you don’t buy it (none of it? You don’t think staging that narrativises triumph over adversity, birth/rebirth/transition or powers over nature or technology is helpful?). Mans’s entry was the first projection entry of its kind, so I didn’t have the same framework to look at it through given that much of this article focuses on Jamala, Sergey and Dami’s entries as well as Greta’s and Zoe’s, and indeed only came 3rd in the televote; the aspects of him commanding nature (he makes it rain, which I forgot to mention), summoning disciples and having a sacred heart moment while almost in a crucifixion pose didn’t occur to me until I started writing this article. And he is a manbot ;). If Francesco wins the explanation will be the sock he shoves down the front of his trousers…

      • Boki

        Maybe I sounded too harsh but I don’t feel that “let’s create a theory/model to explain the past so we can predict the future” works in esc. Your writing talent is undeniable though and I hope you get a fat check from Daniel for this 🙂

  • Guildo Horn Forever

    A magnificent article, as ever, Eurovicious. Each line of your article is either illuminating, witty or embodies both of these qualities. I know enough to understand your message and points, but I don’t know enough to have been able to compose a similar standard piece. I think I may envy your skill. I think I may just flat envy the way in which you perceive and think, to be honest.

    Still, while your case is very influential (indeed, my estimations of various contender’s chances are in flux as I process and absorb your way of seeing) I don’t agree with all of your emphases or conclusions.

    I am thinking to myself…maybe so, perhaps probably so, but not necessarily this year …or…maybe so, but not necessarily your suggestions for potential criteria-fitters…or…maybe so, but this is not necessarily the whole picture.

    It’s not a flawless viewpoint or argument, and I feel you’ve perhaps done a bit of glossing over with certain of your explanations.

    For example, I should point out that in times of strife and crisis sometimes people value light relief, they enjoy a bit of escapism. That’s a tenet that can also be applied inside of a text. Shakespeare often made use of that structure.

    Or: How a bettor could have envisaged the theme and power of the staging provided for Dami Im’s Sound of Silence based on a study of the lyrics of her song is another morsel of food for thought.

    Or: There is an answer to the question you pose about what are you saying [about yourself] by voting for Fransesco.

    Anyway, these are probably just nitpicks.

    Again, fabulous article, Eurovicious.

    • Thanks very much. Yeah, it’s not intended to be a flawless viewpoint, just an analytical tool or a prism (one among many possible) to look at the entries through. And you’re right to read it critically and counter, expand on or nitpick various aspects – high-quality writing doesn’t mean I’m correct, so take the parts you agree and disagree with and amend, augment and discard as you see fit; my aim is to present theoretical food for thought in an entertaining and erudite way.

      I agree on the light relief bit, and certainly as far as my taste in TV sci-fi goes (for instance), I prefer series that have a good balance of serious and light to those that try and be dark and gritty all the time. You only have to look at the boom in Heimatfilme in 1950s Germany (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heimatfilm) to understand the power and importance of escapism. Hell, you only have to look at what Eurovision means to gay fans, whether watching it on TV as a kid or attending as an adult, to understand the power and importance of escapism. Actually based on friends’ reactions (and my own) I thought Jamala’s entry would be too gruelling and discordant to win last year.

      When it comes to people voting for either zeitgeisty entries that touch a nerve or voting for escapist entries as a balm, I think we can overestimate both too – most people are quite parochial (not necessarily in a bad way) and focused on their own lives, and I’m not sure how much the average person on the street honestly cares about global anxieties. But at the same time, the majority of people who watch Eurovision don’t televote at all, it’s those that do that matter.

      • Guildo Horn Forever

        Ha! I think you’ve preemptively covered and answered most of my budding thoughts and counters!

        I was indeed concerned that the brilliance of your writing may be casting a dazzle that could cloud out the points of view that other paradigms could provide. But as you acknowledge, you are adding to the canon; other paradigms are available, supplemental and competing, I would imagine.

        I agree with you that fun doesn’t seem to be enough. In a time when identity politics are to the fore, where every action, every preference carries a black-hole weight and density for the self-concept and will ripple with social currency, something being fun is by implication not that important.

        More often of late a conversation about the merits of a particular media product will include discussion of the product’s deeper meanings, reference will be made or attempt to be made to its contribution to societal or socio-historical issues and so on and on. Something that is “simply” fun, or satisfyingly entertaining, is downgraded as unimportant; some of the problem underlying assumptions here being that producing a satisfying and fun piece of entertainment is easy, and being that anything that is perceived as lacking obvious depth is therefore something that is trivial or shallow.

        There’s an added-value consumerism at work wherein importance is an addition whereas fun is a non-addition. Fun as a freedom from responsibility enjoyed by a child; in contrast to the weight of responsibility that come from being an adult political agent wrestling with issues. Everyone’s a wine snob, an art critic, crafting their persona, their presence, their brand. Being the right, or right-on, kind of important is important in that it reaches a constituency that merely fun or merely entertaining cannot reach.

        To swing this round to impinging on the prospects of ESC entries, I return to thinking that Sweden’s concept, for reasons that I’ve outlined elsewhere, is a striking but ultimately limited one, in that it, I feel, places a ceiling on the entry’s appeal. I did indeed lay it re finishing in the outright Top 3.

        I recall last year saying that the continued success of misery lit was an indication that Jamala’s 1944 was a very possible ESC winner. With reference again to the questions as to what you are saying [about yourself] by voting this year for Francesco, and especially as to what the jury members would be saying [about themselves] by voting for Francesco, I think voters would be advertising that they are smart. A smartness that allows them to be aware of the subtext of Occidental Karma. Smarter than the average bear / gorilla / viewer – who enjoys the dancing gorilla element solely in terms of the fun factor. It was obvious to me on first viewing, and with no forewarning, that there was a subtext to OK. What that subtext was I didn’t know. Within a couple of minutes of search engine research, I could have discovered the detail of that subtext. There is perhaps unprecedented hype and visibility re this song and I am certain that virtually every jury member worth his or her salt will be fully aware of OK’s subtext / message / meaning. Back in the day when The Simpsons TV show was of a uniformly excellent standard nearly any critique would include the comment that although ostensibly the show was a children’s cartoon series in actual fact this show was a hyper-smart show that could be enjoyed on many levels, including a sophisticated adult one. It will be the same with Francesco’s OK, for jury members, for presenters, for commentators and for the viewing public too I imagine. The majority of people will have discovered the subtextual, deeper, socio-etc meaning via a quick search engine whirl, though that doesn’t prevent people from claiming they figured it out. Some people may even pretend they understand a smattering of Italian! The Easter egg will be in plain sight.

        • “I may just flat envy the way in which you perceive and think” – thanks, that’s appreciated and nice of you to say, but be aware that it comes with downsides too, especially over-rumination (which isn’t good for mental health), and honestly, just out of an understandable but slightly naive desire for a simple happy life, half the time I’d genuinely rather live life as some Default Bloke who likes beef, boobs, beer, ball games and Brexit as opposed to beards, Baudrillard, bean burgers, Balkan bangers and Babylon 5, but we’re all prone to grass-is-greener thinking…

          • Chris Bellis

            EV – great alliteration there. Myself I’ve never been keen on big boobs, but I love beer and Balkan bangers. That’s why I’m mixed up, but then when you get to know people, everybody else is mixed up too. In due course, if the world doesn’t end up in a nuclear holocaust, we may understand things. But probably not.

        • Guildo Horn Forever

          I mean every word, Eurovicious.

          I spend a lot of my daily time in the company of people who are a bit staid. Because I can be a bit quirky I’m well liked by those same people. But staidness is a central feature in my make-up, too. Yep.

          I also spend a good chunk of time with free-thinking creatives. I have certain abilities that mean I fit in there in that world, too, but I often find myself silently staring in wonder, for example, at the in-the-moment devising speed of creative people.

          Generally, I think people who are extraordinary are fab. I also think of you as a witty, analytical romantic (and I do bear that in mind – specifically when you’re mentioning your betting selections) and a terrific writer. You’ll never be simple, Eurovicous. Trust me on this – simple is overrated!

          I was delighted with your opening statement, where you assert that fake news isn’t exactly the new phenomenon that it’s heralded to be. I would add that the portentous use of that cracker of a concept “post-truth” still makes me chuckle.

          The Labour party. It has many problems, problems which are irresolvable while Jeremy Corbyn remains clinging to power at the head. I’m friends with a few JC (Jeremy Corbyn / socialist Jesus Christ) diehards who shove all of Labour’s problems at the door of Tony Blair, leadership challenges and to the general “traitorous” behaviour of the PLP; which contradicts the message on the doorsteps of voters, ex Labour voters, who often attribute Labour’s main problem as being that JC is Labour’s “leader”.

          You’re spot on, Eurovicious, about Labour’s current lack of a coherent message or identity. Traditional Labour voters uneasy with the effects of mass immigration on their communities switched to voting UKIP, rather than staying to support a party where expressing such concerns about immigration reduced that person’s stock to the persona non grata equivalent of bigot and racist.

          And Labour voters who are pro Remain (the majority) are switching to an avowedly and consistently pro Remain party, the Lib Dems. I agree with the view that JC’s true position on membership of the EU is a milder variation of that which was espoused by the late, great Tony Benn. The internet-ubiquitous Obi Wan Kenobi – Jeremy Corbyn visual-and-thus-symbolic comparisons seem a cute and erroneous thing of the past, now.

          In terms of Eurovision betting, I would home in on my Corbynista friends’s key delusional argument that runs that Jeremy Corbyn must be popular because he keeps on winning elections. The desperation and silliness of maintaining that JC must be popular with the wider voting public (despite all the mountain of evidence to the contrary) because he has won a couple of internal leadership contests is beyond their understanding. A) The number of people casting their votes in these leadership contests is minuscule compared to the wider electorate; B) Many of the Labour Party members voting for JC in these internal contests are far, far away from being representative of the wider voting public. I read some of the Eurovision polls and often wonder how instructive they are of the wider (potentially) voting ESC Grand Final watching-at-home viewership.

          When I talk about Italy as the potential winner because it is feel good while real-world climates seem markedly troubled and traumatic (OK makes everything OK!), and also because it will advertise a person’s smartness and knowingness to be voting for OK, my latter point feels particularly relevant in the British political climate because the same Corbynistas I know, are also fiercely pro Remain, and seem wont to stereotype the average Brexit voter as sub-human. They are given to say, with deadly earnestness, that they have never met an intelligent Brexit voter. In my experience, the typical Remainer openly considers the average Brexiteer as a sort of moron. The language, terms and monikers used can become extreme, very quickly. That prevalent attitude of the life-or-death importance of being intelligent and knowing will be working in OK’s favour.

          I should add here that I think the juries will consciously or subconsciously seek to kill the UK’s ESC bid. This has to be a factor to account for in the betting odds re the UK? The UK has voted to divorce the EU. The EU has just been rejected. The decree nisi has been delivered. EU leaders are openly talking of the need to punish the UK. Well, European jury members will soon be asked to vote on a contest where the UK has an entry. Are jury members likely to look upon the UK’s entry with a warm fuzzy feeling in their hearts? Will any European jury members be aware that the BBC is a stridently left-wing pro Remain organisation? No and no.

          • Guildo Horn Forever

            Anybody with eyes seems to share a similar view about a Corbyn-led Labour Party. Theresa May earlier today announced she shares that view and couldn’t hold off any longer from capitalising on that weakness, before the mandate opportunity his position has long been providing was removed from her grasp.

            I suppose I reluctantly agree, Eurovicious, with your explanation for Dami’s 2nd place finish. I found the staging good, maybe really good, but not phenomenally involving or moving. She looked amazing, looked striking, but it was her vocal pyrotechnics to which I had been giving the major credit. I’ve long felt I was missing a cognition of a major element for its impact, and your theory does seem to fit the bill. You must be right.

            For Poli’s impact I think the combination of a fabulously catchy, upbeat song and her star power performance was what slayed.

            Some people trotting on at the end was necessary and to be expected given the song lyrics. A regular (and cheesy) formality.

            It was her super-likeable, mega-watt smiling, mega-charisma performance that sold the whole show, that overcame (and carried along with her) the crazy yet memorable styling and bonkers but memorable dance moves.

            Love all of your discussion, theories and points about Jamala, Conchita, Zoe and Greta.

            Wonderfully enlightening.

          • I think the main reason Australia didn’t win last year was that it will always struggle to win a European televote. And I view Corbyn as a symptom of Labour’s decline, like an opportunistic bug that takes hold when you’re immunocompromised; he’s totally ineffectual but not the root sickness, just an (ultimately trivial) random effect thrown up by it. I think the cause of the malaise is that the party was completely ideologically hollowed out during its years in power to the point it no longer understands its core voter base or they it, and that the right has been allowed to set the entire terms of debate for the past decade or so (Labour can’t win while trying to operate on the Tories’ or UKIP’s playing field, as absurd artefacts like the Controls On Immigration mug testify; no-one is going to vote for Tory-lite or UKIP-lite when the original is far more credible and authentic). Agree totally on Poli. I see UKIP through the lens of Zizek’s “vanishing mediator” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vanishing_mediator), which is something that disappears in form once its content has become the new normal. Having facilitated the cultural shift required for Brexit, they’ve essentially disappeared/been rendered irrelevant in form because their content has been absorbed into the political mainstream – the Tories have become UKIP. Over and above the rabid anti-EU-ness (which, as well as UKIP, Cameron also helped lay the preconditions for in taking his party out of the EPP and calling the referendum), a Conservative party totally disinterested in the City of London and wilfully acting in ways that will massively harm it without a second thought would have been unthinkable a couple of years ago.

          • Guildo Horn Forever

            Am loving that “vanishing mediator” term. UKIP’s seeming obsolescence reminds me of a booster rocket that served its purpose in furthering the pioneering vehicle’s flight before dropping off to fall back to earth with a quiet thud in a scrap yard somewhere. Maybe, they can be reconstructed via a scrapheap challenge into an outside-the-decision-maker’s-circle pressure group seeking to safeguard the firmest Brexit deliverance, but that reduced role is also a tacit admission of but a temporary stay before the inevitable deterioration into BNP-lite.

            I see Corbyn as the embodiment and culmination of a personality and / or persona that lives and trades on specialising on rebelling in lost causes. He doesn’t expect to make a difference; he needs to be seen to be trying to make a difference, preferably in a dignified, unfashionable way. Holding ultimate authority is outside of his comfort zone; hence he self-sabotages (and by extension his party’s standing) with a never-ending litany of astoundingly bad, limp, ineffectual presentations.

            An anti-austerity party could succeed, if headed by a charismatic leader comfortable with succeeding, comfortable with people, and ultimately comfortable with the responsibility of power (of bearing the scrutiny that comes with being the overdog; rather than preferring the easier ride that goes with being the underdog). In a country were Socialism seems to be equated with Reds-under-the-beds Communism, Bernie Sanders showed that that label need not be a hindrance. Indeed, if the DNC hadn’t been set (among other factors) on screwing over Bernie then Mr. Sanders could have been POTUS. The Donald would have felt the Bern (well, he’s felt everything else – allegedly). Over in France, the French-Communist party backed Mélenchon is enjoying a shock late surge in the polls. He isn’t scared to embrace new technology, with his virtual rallies, and he, too, emits an energy that Corbyn just doesn’t have. Trump cruelly (and erroneously) tagged and finished off Jeb Bush with the “low-energy guy” label, but this perception is part of what’s doing for Corbyn, too. The Labour party has shown its members can vote in a left-wing leader – they just need to be provided with the right left-wing leader and then vote in that right left-wing leader.

            Unfortunately (for me), I agree with you on the reason Australia will struggle to win the ESC. But hey ho, my EW outright bets are down and I will just have to hope for the best (4th!). I note it’s just turned April 20th, which is 19 days before the ESC’s 1st Semi, and the vast majority of bookmakers / major traders are yet still to offer any other markets save for on the Grand Final Outright. Is this notable-by-its-absence dearth an annual non-event or is this year’s no-show(s) an extension of a growing, disappointing trend? Have bookies taken a hammering on sub-markets in recent years? Is that the reason for this seeming wariness?

  • wef

    One thing I’ve noticed is that when you think you’ve spotted a pattern the paradigm shifts…. Lena, Loreen EDF, Mollie. Spot the odd one out,

    • Absolutely. After Running Scared, I thought Georgia 2013 had a great chance. In 2014 I thought the UK had an excellent chance. Last year I thought Latvia’s young, relevant and contemporary entry had a good chance…

      And another example from the 2000s – three female ethno-dance-pop winners (Sertab, Ruslana, Helena) followed by Lordi…

      • Truly exceptional article EV, well done. My contribution will be simpler, because our minds work in different ways. My mind works in a ‘simple analytical’ way. Your mind works in a ‘deeply analytical’ way, as you are excellent in marrying extensive deep theorizing with basic notions like ”what will people like and vote for”. However, the danger in this is falling in the trap of over-analysis and I think this is why, as wef says, ”when you think you’ve spotted a pattern, the paradigm shifts”. We can produce a million theories to support the fact that a sad song cannot win, and then Jamala wins because of a combination of reasons other than the sad element. Trying to over-formulate something many times blurs the waters of simple logic and can result in things like thinking Georgia 2013/UK 2014 have a chance, as you yourself noted. At the end of the day, those songs were not good enough. At all. And deep inside we all knew that. In the end, the winner will be one of the 5-6 BEST songs. This could very well be Italy. Or, of course, it could be Bulgaria, Australia, etc etc. Francesco could do a Lena: ”I have no journey or story, no manifestation or cinematography, I am just sexy and cheeky with a great upbeat song, vote for me, thank you, goodnight.”

  • Hippo

    Interesting. The problem always comes round to the fact that the vast majority of the songs entered every year have, or at least claim to have a message and a potential for some form of staging to go with it. Take that light and darkness theme, you can arguably add half the field to that list if you wanted to.
    The standard of performers and songs is high enough to give any entry staged effectively a chance, yet close enough to cancel anything else out.
    The main thing is to appear genuine in whatever you’re trying to do and that becomes a fairly subjective judgement. Whether you’re weak and need help from voters, strong and offering it or just having fun dancing with a Gorilla, it just depends how well you do your thing in comparison to the rest. If it is still that close once all other factors are took into account (running order, diaspora, bloc, technicalities from a jury perspective etc) -which so far I believe it might be- that’s when the song with the greater empathy, better cause will win out.

  • One budding theory of mine is that the change in voting system in 2016 once again opens the door to a certain amount of national flavour re-entering the circle of what can win. Note I said national flavour, not ethno, there’s a difference. We’re only on this voting system’s second year though so there’s no pattern to analyse yet. It’s just one way I think the paradigm might have recently shifted.

    On an entirely separate note, I see what EV is getting at with regards to what a winner needs to present. It kind of just takes my sense of the Everest Test and uses it as a component in something bigger. Problem is that EV’s frame of analysis mostly only works in retrospect unless we pretty much know exactly what we’re getting before the rehearsals, like with Sweden and Italy this year.

    We know there’s a clever message and a story of sorts to the Italian entry, so to try and suggest the gorilla is just “lol gorilla” and there’s no semiotics to it is a contradiction unto itself. So the question is, can they present it at Eurovision in a way that the audience can identify with it? One thing we already know is that a lot of people really enjoy the package as it is, they just don’t all get it, but that’s not necessarily an obstacle to their enjoyment either.

    Until the gorilla comes on, you don’t (or at least I didn’t) fully relate to his act or know what’s going on, but you sort of like the look and feel of it anyway. Francesco’s charisma helps. So when the gorilla does come on, it’s a point where the package develops and starts to win you over if it hasn’t already. My own Mum enjoyed the act without the gorilla so this isn’t a blanket statement by any means.

    I can’t paint a whole picture here but I suppose Francesco being joined by a gorilla at the 2nd refrain could be a sense of validation for this weirdness he’s acting out. Specifically, dancing the same moves with the gorilla, within the wider context of the song’s message could represent a reconnecting with our primal roots, an escape from the cycle of vanity, commercialism and fashionable spirituality and self-validation. A hot button issue it may not be, but something we can identify with? Sure.

    Stage graphics can hopefully paint the rest of the picture in Kyiv. A Hanna-Barbera cartoon style silhouette of a hot French chick in stilettos with her handbag taking a selfie before morphing into the cross-legged meditating man, chakra jewels flying overhead before they turn into teardrop shapes and splash over an illustration of a profile picture creating a pride flag overlay, I won’t go on with this verbal storyboarding. My point is, it’s all very doable.

  • John

    I like that this article flows towards a somewhat predictive idea. Lets throw bones and see if we can read an outcome from the lessons of the past.

    Fallacies out of the way first. A non English entry is hampered, debunked by Jamala and Marija. A gloomy entry can’t win, again Jamala. Consecutive winners can’t be similar, Sertab, Ruslana and Helena.

    Add a sprinkle of facts – the televote/diaspora vote is back in force, unmitigated by the jury vote, giving certain countries an advantage. Staging can elevate a low key, Common, almost forgettable country and western efforts to a runner up for the ages. Every year has room in the top 10 for a hipster/ indie entry that only comes alive on the big screen. As EV points out, Latvias yo yo fortunes show that trying to be quirky two years in a row can have diminishing returns.

    Anyway throw all that together and it tells us that Italy have a complete package, and a not indiscinerable message, although a slightly highbrow one about feckless hypocrites on their phones and faddy sjws. But they mean well, and are looking for a message to get behind, so should UK, Bulgaria, Armenia or even Croatia find a way to channel their message to the heart of he viewer (via staging) then we could be on to a new favourite.

    Last year the message of the rehearsals that me and even the markets ignored was that Jamalas tree moment was The connecting moment of the year. Awaiting the rehearsals with much excitement!

  • Great article Eurovicious. What about a heartfelt message to all those young teenagers facing financial shit situations? And what about a message of strengthening and supporting those people in Europe who are suffering from serious illnesses or whose families are going through very rough times because of it? Or what about a message like ‘Fifty Shades Of Grey’? By the way, I do think that in a time full of so much political shit, most people could look for a message of heartfelt happiness, even if the story isn’t that clear. Televoters don’t look just for the best story….they need to be emotionally touched. A good story is part of the winning package. So we’ll just have to wait and see. I say to all 42 participating nations: Promotion is nice, but in the end during the rehearsals you’ll find out that most of that was a waste of energy :-).

  • James Martin

    That was a deep article. Great read though.

  • “Compare that to both Bulgaria and Belgium who could very easily reflect the emotions that a lot of people in my generation are feeling in this current world climate right now.”

    But both countries have sent kids that nobody can relate to surely? Bulgaria looks 13 and Belgium is a frightened fawn.

    • Chris Bellis

      Henry You’re probably right about Belgium, unless she gains confidence during rehearsals. Not so sure about KK though. He does look like a cross between Gareth Gates and a K-Pop star, but that has its own appeal.

  • Thank for this EV. Made for an interesting Easter Sunday morning read.

    This year feels like one of the most unpredictable years of recent memory. Italy kind of has a bit of a “false favourite” vibe similar to that with Sergey last year. I’m not saying he won’t win, but I don’t think it’s guaranteed either.

    A couple of things I recall from last year is people saying, “Jamala won’t win, because sad songs don’t win Eurovision”, and nobody calling Australia as a potential winner until seeing her live performance at the semifinal. So I suppose the take-homes from those are 1) don’t put too much faith in conventional wisdom and what does and doesn’t win (which bodes well for Francisco overcoming “non-English songs don’t win”) and 2) don’t rule out something that hadn’t been rated as a winner being elevated by staging.

    Part of me is idly imagining a few outside scenarios – for example, Romania smashing the televote, and then the juries turning out to be not as averse to novelty songs as we assume (juries are weird sometimes).

    Basically what I’m saying is that I haven’t got a scooby who’s going to win. Ah, screw it. Let’s all book flights for Podgorica 2018.

    • Chris Bellis

      Podgorica has a great music scene. I was there last year. I stayed at the Hotel Hemera, popular with local and Serbian turbo folk stars. I can think of far worse places to spend a few days. Cheap to get to and a great start off place for Albania, Macedonia and Kosovo as trains and buses run there. Let’s hope Slavko can deliver the goods.

  • Chris Bellis

    As everybody has said, great article, EV. Took me back to philosophy and sociology seminars, but a lot more entertaining. Something you quoted from the Bulgarian press release struck a chord with me: “Our project this year is dedicated to all young people living in the midst of [an] insecure and confused world. We are urging them to define themselves and fight for the values they believe in”. It struck a chord because last year I stayed in Sofia for a night before heading off to see my friend who lives in an old gypsy village some 40 miles away (and about 40 years in the past in other ways). I don’t really know Sofia that well and got lost at night after a few vodkas. I asked a young man aged about 20 (youngsters all speak English, so that’s always who to ask for directions) and he put me on the right road, even accompanying me until we could see the hotel. He told me a bit of his life in today’s BG. Living with his parents in a Soviet era flat with shared kitchen and very over-crowded. Very little money, nowhere to go with his girlfriend, studying hard but with little prospect of a proper job. Any move or change he might want to make had to be agreed with the local mafia, or he’d be cast out or beaten up. That’s why I think KK’s song might chime with youngsters – many lead similar lives.

  • Mark

    Joining in the praise for superb piece EV. The frequent references to religious themes provokes me to mention a word or two on “religion.” I did a soccer doc for channel four some years back asking it footy had become “a modern day religion.” We titled the programme..”hallowed be thy game.” And of course we had to look at some definitions. Discovered that religion comes from latin verb..” religare”..to Reconnect. The “re” bit is key as it implies we were once connected and need to be brought back together. What Cicero and Roman writers could not decide on was whether this separation was between humans and humans or humans and gods. If it’s the latter, you can see how religion is all about temples, priests, sacred rituals. But if its inter human, then anything that reconnects is religious and is about core personal identity. Take the following :”every day Conchita would trim her beard religiously. ” Not praying or going to the mosque but engaging in habitual ritual. Just like bingo, soccer or belonging to stamp collectors clubs, in this sense Eurovision is truly “religious” as evidenced by the contributions of many on here who have their lives totally caught up in it. Think of those rituals at Eurovision parties and inculcated habits and that drive in us to respond to and yearn for connection with a plane of existence beyond the atomised self. Dare we call Daniel Gould our own “high priest” I wonder ?

    • I’m sure the odd eurofan has kneeled before his sceptre…

      Thanks for the tremendously incisive comments Mark. When I step into the Eurovision arena, especially if there’s an audience there, it does feel like a sacred place – I’m sure football fans feel the same about stadiums, and probably bingo players about bingo halls! These things are spiritual rituals that bring us together; a church can take many forms. I feel this wonderful poem by Rufus Hound, about finding meaning in a secular world, is relevant here:

  • johnkef

    Like always your article EV is fun and enlightening. I agree with you about the final product that has to have a narrative and a strong message and that message has to be in accordance with the visual product.

    But there are some points of your reasoning that i disagree with. It is easy or simple most of the times to give an explanation about an event after that event has happened. So in retrospective is very simple to explain why Conchita or Mans or Jamaala won but it was not that visible beforehands.

    It is like a football or a basketball game. Before it starts you have some facts, You know team A is stronger because its offence is world class and its defence is hard to beat. On the other hand team B is mediocre in offence and it only knows how to defend. So the estimation for the game is that team A will find a way to beat the defence and win the game. But when the game starts we have a different reality. Team A never finds rhythm and good communication and Team B finds an opportunity, scores and steals the game. The reporters after the match will comment that the bad day of the attackers of Team A were the reason that their team lost and they will be right. But the facts before the game were telling a different story.

    And immagine that n Eurovision we have more than two teams and more than two messages to spread. And what happens in case we have two or more strong messages in the day of the final? Did Conchita won because she had the strongest message? And what about Common Linnets? Wasn’t their message strong enough? And what would be the explanation in case Common Linnets won and Conchita came second? That people preferred the romantic ballad about a separation that is a common thing in everybody’s life being straight or gay than the message of solidarity to the oppressed gay people that only affects the lives of certain demografics?

    And what about the other factors? Can someone actually quantify and qualify them? What about the sentimental state of the viewers that they are watching the competition? Do they watch the contest to have fun or to get away from their every day problems? Did they fell in love that day or did they break up? Did something good or bad happened that day that changed their mood? Do they need to see something happy to assure them that everything is perfect in their lives or something sad, a sign that someone empathises with them?

    And what about the songs? We have plenty of songs that do have a strong message to send across the viewers. Italy, Bulgaria, Armenia, Belgium, Portugal, Australia, France, Hungary, Netherlands etc. Who can say now or even the night of the final that Italy’s message is 80% strong while Hungary’s is only 45% strong. Can someone get the right order before the voting starts? Afterwards is very easy to see why Bulgaria came 4th, and Lithuania came 9th, or Poland 8th because of the huge diaspora voting, but beforehands?

    Add also the juries. Will they also vote about friends and allies or will only vote for the best songs? Will they try to mute the diaspora votes by not voting for these countries at all? Will they vote for best artistic song or the one that they think that it will be a hit? Do they want to align with the public’s vote or that will show that they are weak and have no personal opinion and taste?

    What about the viewers? Will they vote for the best song or will prefer to vote for their nation in case they live in a different country? Will they vote for the song that touched them the most or will they vote for the dark horse that they bet on?

  • Chris Bellis

    Great reply John. This site can’t be criticized for being boring. You’ve summarised all the known knowns and known unknowns pretty well. In any contest like this, you have to remember that people don’t always vote rationally, even quite clever people. . Last year in Eurovision people went with the anti-Russian message and a dirge of a song, inspiringly presented. This year that’s not an option, so I think they’ll go with a friendly looking Italian who sings well, has a catchy song, has half a brain, and most importantly, a gorilla.

  • wef

    What Chris said… I can’t see anything but a comfortable Italian win. All round it’s the best package/ song, etc.

    Feels Rybakesque to me (against the field it’s facing).

    • Chris Bellis

      wef – Every time I hear it I feel cheered up. Given the world news I’m grateful for that. It’s Rybak with a message.

    • meridian_child

      The difference is, Rybak’s victory in the norwegian superfinal was extremely impressive. He had more than 7 times more votes than the runner-up.

      Of course San Remo has a higher standard, but why should someone with quite “low” voting stats in his national final suddenly dominate(!) Eurovision?
      Gabbani has become such a big hype in Italy, but why did the Italians need 3 listens to get it?
      I’m not only speaking about the stats of the acts that had more votes in the beginning than him. Just look at night 4 (his second appearance): His lead to half of the songs of this night is rather low.

      Those youtube views are indeed very impressive, but how many viewers will listen to him the first time like people did in SanRemo?
      Let’s say SanRemo 2017 was repeated tomorrow and all Italians had the knowledge of today, don’t you think Gabbani would have like at least 30-50% of the votes each evening, maybe even more?
      Will more of the average Eurovision viewers instantly fall in love with Gabbani than people did in Italy? If you think so, tell me why.

      • Chris Bellis

        You make a good case. A similar case was made here about Mans a couple of years ago, and also about Conchita. I know that, given the right running order, people will vote for Francesco. Yes, it takes a couple of listens/views to get it, although I personally got it on first hearing, but if you don’t get it, you don’t get it. Other people will.

        • meridian_child

          I don’t get the comparison with Mans and Conchita, sorry :/
          Mans was dominating MF and Conchita was selected internally – so which case was made about them?

          Personally I really do enjoy OK, but I also think it is a song that gets better with each listen. That is how I feel and my observation with how many others feel about the song.

          • Chris Bellis

            “I don’t get the comparison with Mans and Conchita, sorry :/”
            Nothing complex about my comparison – I simply meant that there were people posting on here who didn’t get the performances, and therefore why they would be successful. I wasn’t meaning to compare the detailed results in MF etc. As you yourself imply, given the radically different methods in each country for the selection of Eurovision entrants, there is no way to compare them. As for using pre-selection competitions as a guide to ultimate success, I would point to Spain this year. They chose the entry almost guaranteed to be in the bottom five, against some far superior opposition.

      • Milton

        He is probably going into the final as the red hot favourite and as the first ESC act to ever achieve 100m youtube views. The national commentators in each country are bound to highlight this so the audience will sit up and take notice. He went into San Remo as an underdog with low expectations, he will be going into the final riding high on a wave of confidence which will shine through in his performance. Everyone in Kyiv will know his song, will sing along to the ‘allez’ and do the little dance. He will take the arena by storm which will be clear to the audience at home. Also, I think I have read that this isn’t the sort of song that normally does well at San Remo, and he was up against far more established stars, so it was a surprise he managed to win at all.

        • Chris Bellis

          I wish I’d said it like that Milton. Very succinctly put. You shouldn’t have to say it given the massive audience for OK, but there you are. There were people here who didn’t get Mans or Conchita (including me for Conchita). You get it with hindsight I suppose.

          • Milton

            Cheers Chris. Either you get it or you don’t. Anyone who doesn’t get it, good luck if you choose to oppose it for that reason, but be under no illusion – those that do get it probably love it more than you understand.

        • I don’t know what people look for in San Remo so I’ll accept what Milton says that it isn’t normally O. Karma. However the judges voted it top first round iirc. It just took ages to take off with the public. And Italy just has one round (ie the Final) at ESC.

          • wef

            True, Henry but for many millions of people they have already heard it on youtube and will vote for it. 100 million views in incredible.

          • Remember though, Italy is a country of 60 million people… and Frans (from a country of 8 million) got 30 million Spotify streams before the contest last year – and came 5th…

  • Milton

    Tremendous piece of writing EV, even if at time it felt most unworthy on an intellectual level trying to keep up!

    You have highlighted 4 top 3 songs from the past 3 years that match your criteria, which leaves 5 that I guess don’t? Looking at 2013 I’m not sure any would either.

    I think you have identified some very useful boxes for ESC entries to tick, but am sure you wouldn’t argue that the lack of such characteristics would prevent a song from winning. This is obviously very much the case if there are no other countries with credible packages along the lines you describe. Do you see anyone who could bring the above to ESC 2017? You have mentioned Bulgaria, anyone else?

    Some time ago you said that Belgium were your most likely winners. Has that changed? Obviously no shame with changing your mind as you fully take on board a song over a period of time and its place in the contest.

    • Thanks Milton. I’d still say Belgium. Because I keep hearing from people that they showed the Italian entry to their friends/partner/family, who didn’t think it was that special or were surprised it was the favorite. Because of what Emre says below about its chances with the jury. And because for all Kristian Kostov’s NTBness, vocal ability, Bulgaria’s ambitious staging plans, and Beautiful Mess’s contemporary vibe and production, the song is still pretty shoegaze and low on hook/hard to remember. Everyone seems to love Belgium – not just fans, but Ordinary People – and it also has the jury factor (it’s doing very well in Eurojury) and the iTunes factor. All that people seem to be holding against Belgium is the charisma factor (the fear that she might “do a Molly”) but I think this probably won’t be an issue in terms of how the song is staged – indeed, if she looks disaffected, apathetic, even despondent, it’s a relatable emotion that matches the song’s tone, potentially echoes viewers’ own feelings in a cathartic way, and encourages them to reach out to her.

      In terms of my own personal favourites, I guess it goes something like 1. Finland 2. Portugal 3. Latvia 4. Azerbaijan 5. Hungary 6. Albania. Italy and Estonia were in my top 5 before the cut-down/revamped Eurovision versions (Estonia was my top!); I think Italy has structural problems and has been gutted into a ditty, while Estonia’s tinny, all-treble-no-bass revamp kept the structure intact but stripped out the mystery and romance in the production. (Unlike Italy’s I never rated its chances in the first place though.)

      In terms of the entries I look at in this piece, I’m looking at the era of OTT projection staging/entries conceived cinematically, and for sure there’s something to be said in this context about Common Linnets (which almost no-one saw as a contender until the staging happened) and Polina’s globe and Frozen vibe…

      • Milton

        Thanks for the reply EV.

        “indeed, if she looks disaffected, apathetic, even despondent, it’s a relatable emotion that matches the song’s tone, potentially echoes viewers’ own feelings in a cathartic way, and encourages them to reach out to her.”

        I agree with this and if she can carry that off and nail the vocals I think the song is good enough to be up there, but I guess you posted this reply before the Voice clip last night. Shifting sands as always, but a Belgium challenge looks less likely than ever to me after that.

        Has showing a dozen or so(?) of your friends a clip of a ESC song been a good help in the past? From a sampling point of view it feels pretty dodgy, unless we are talking much bigger numbers.

        Any reason why you’ve only mentioned Bulgaria in the above, is that now your shortlist? What about Portugal, Sweden etc?

        • Hi Milton – yeah, I think our feelings are the same on Belgium, I did post that before the Voice performance. It’s still feasible but it’s starting to look a reach.

          As to Sweden, last year we had an appealing NTB with a warm, emotive, accessible song that convincingly won the MF televote, garnered 30 million Spotify streams in the run-up to the contest, and still “only” came 5th. This year we have a guy who has a neat gimmick and catchy song but is outshined by his backing dancers and doesn’t really come over as likeable, who not only didn’t win the domestic national final televote but didn’t even come 2nd in it (unlike his 2013 namesake, who did have likeability and strong vocals) and has 11 million streams. Add to that the fact that the market stats from the past 10 years show that Sweden is consistently too short in the odds in the pre-rehearsal period, even in years when it does well, and I think Sweden is the most likely of the current top 5 favourites to miss out on the top 5. (Accompanied by Belgium if she ballses it up, which is regrettable but looks increasingly likely. As I understand it, RTBF selected the package for Eurovision when her record label submitted it – I don’t think they got her to actually perform it to them first.)

          • Milton

            Nice summary of Sweden EV – cheers 🙂

            Interesting aside about the Belgium selection process as well. I think I read that she only got through to the 2nd round of the Belgian Voice, having just scraped through the first round.

  • Black n Blue

    “I think Eurovision performances need to have a sacral quality – in the combined effect of staging, performer and song – to hit the very highest reaches of the scoreboard by giving viewers something approximating a religious experience and meaningful sense of communion. ”

    This is exactly the thought that’s being floating about in my mind for a few years now, only I couldn’t quite express it. Great piece EV. The religious quality you’ve talked about, is sort of what I would have referred to previously as an “ethereal quality” where the performance transcends the viewer into this whole other world. 1944 is case in point, with Jamala entering from the vortex of a water tunnel into this mysterious setting of flowing lava, and falling rocks. This is to me anyway, why standard commercial entries (Frans, Guy Sebastian, Aram MP3) which musically had the potential to win in their respective years, fell short, because rather than elevating the viewing experience almost hagiographically, they simply reflected what viewers were already comfortable with: The world of Justin Bieber, Bruno Mars, and whatever else people listen to these days. By your logic, they were defeated by the demigods of Jamala, Mans, and Conchita, who all presented some form of enlightenment, packaged into 3 minutes, that took people out of their comfort zones.

    The question this year, I don’t think is who possesses the “sacral quality” which does seem to be found in winners, but more which act features the best, most accessible “sacral quality” because there’s several of this year’s bunch that do in some form. Occidentalis Karma, is thematically buddhist with the meditation stance, and the far eastern references featured throughout. To chime in with what’s been said above, the song ironically, if it wants to win, has to appeal to the very people it mocks; the internetolgists and the selfie-addicts. However the Italian entry is very cleverly constructed in the sense that you don’t have to understand the subtext to further your engagement with the whole package, something which was key to the appeal of 1944. The melody, the energy of the performance and the gorilla should be enough to sell the entry. People will be too distracted having fun watching it to notice they might be the one’s being made fun of 😉

  • fused

    That was very interesting, eurovicious! It talks about so much more than just Eurovision itself, and I think sometimes its a good idea to remember that everything is part of a bigger picture, and everything is connected. Songs do tell some kind of a story, and they are all trying to invoke some kind of feeling to the listener. I also think that something like Eurovision it is, well, visual as well. The performance and the staging are going to be important, and I think often its a case of it all coming together, like it did with ‘Rise Like A Pheonix’, the song, the perfomer and the staging all fitted beautifully. Or like ‘Heroes’, that staging could have been very distacting, but it all flowed very smoothly, it enhanced the song rather than distracted from it. There’s also the fact that entries have to find a balance between what televoters respond to and what jury voters respond to. I suppose it is tricky to get right.

  • Sawyer Emre

    Guys, I’m confident about ITALY win this year. Expecting ITALY to win with GORILLA difference!

    In Eurovision, it’s very important to stay in the mind of the spectators after the end of the show. Most people don’t remember name of “Rybak” but if you say “boy with violin”, they always remember. Same goes for Lordi, say “band with monster masks”, Oh yes! I remember, they were lookin’ scary but they rocked hard! This year, I’m expecting winner to be man with gorilla!

    The only thing makes me anxious about Italy is, it’s not a song that Francesco can show his vocal skills, unlike Australia-Sound of Silence for example. It’s not a song where you can hear high notes. His voice is okay but in this song, you don’t listen a super impressive vocal. Take Jamaala, Mans, Rybak for example and you will understand what I mean. I don’t thinlk it will get high vote from jury. But sometimes Jury surprises us too. Remember Il Volo won televoting vote but failed on Jury vote? That song was looking very jury-friendly. That year, my money was on Mans and I was expecting Sweden to win televoting by a huge margin but no, Italy was the televote winner. Sweden won with the support of jury points!

    Still, I don’t think Occidentali’s karma will get high point from jury. It’s a nice, funny song with positive emotions. However, I’m expecting Francesco to SLAY in televoting. In part, where everybody shout “Allezzz!” you will feel The Winner!

    Let’s look to potential opponents of Italy.

    Bulgaria: This song is so boring. People say Kostov has impressive vocal blah blah. This song is sooo slow and boring. How so much people will like this? I can’t understand but it may get good points from jury since Kostov has a impressive voice and it’s a song that he can show his vocal skills.

    Sweden: I like this song so much but it sounds little bit “cheap”. It’s a nice and catchy song but I feel like it doesn’t have what it takes to be winner. I think it will end up like Eric Saade/Popular. Saade had finished 2nd that year, expecting Bengtsson to finish 3rd or 2rd. I don’t think Sweden will win again this year, they had just won 2 years ago.

    Portugal: Again, very slow song. Portugal doesn’t have impressive televoting power also. Good points from jury but will fail in televoting. Not a song you can remember, and it doesn’t create feeling of to want to listen again. Only Sweden and Italy creates that effect. When the song is over, you want to listen again. This? No.

    Allright fellas, my money is on Italy. Good luck all!

    • Guildo Horn Forever

      I’m a big fan of OK, too, but I haven’t touched it at the prices (that I’ve seen).

      I think the Bulgarian song is gorgeous and the Portuguese song is spellbinding beautiful.

      I think you generally don’t like slow songs?

  • peterrehberg

    Brilliant, again. Many thanks for this.

  • Interesting post above:

    meridian_child
    April 17, 2017 at 6:51 pm

    Stating O. Karma was far from an instant hit at San Remo. The problem hasn’t really been resolved. I can see O.K. is a fun, dynamic song in a field of dross and should do well, but why should the ESC audience be different from San Remo audience?

    Any evidence of first time listeners reactions? I haven’t had a great response showing it to people (and I don’t think the ESCBubble crowd were first time listeners for this song).

  • Hippo

    The San Remo results are a warning with Italy, not necessarily that it won’t do well in the televote, but that it isn’t going to “do a Rybak” or anything like that. I’ve been working under the assumption Italy is going to get around 250 points with the public and 150 tops with the juries. I think its a certain top 5, but there are a good few countries that can beat it’s total.

    • I think this is only slightly less useless than the OGAE polls – it’s a Facebook poll of Eurovision fans who follow ESC Today, and it has Israel in 3rd, Australia 21st and Armenia 23rd…

  • Here’s Dihaj singing at Baku Jazz Center (who knew that existed?) 5 years ago:

  • Milton

    What’s wrong with Australia being 21st? I don’t see why it deserves to be above half way and I’m not sure it will be with the televote at least. I respect the fact that you have it in your top 5, but I would be surprised to see it so high.

    Its 23rd in OGAE which is erratic I grant you, but over the past three years only one top 10 song a year has slipped through the net and not made the top 20 on OGAE. Perhaps they will get a load of votes from the remaining countries which will push them up the rankings, or perhaps they will be the country this year to survive a sub top 20 OGAE ranking and still make the top 10, but surely it has to be a concern?

    Its not only these measures – on escunited only Slovenia and Germany have less 12s than Australia. Last year Australia was doing incredibly well on all these polls. Sure they have to be taken with a huge pinch of salt, but I can’t dismiss them out of hand.

    • meridian_child

      Last year Iveta had 13 points in OGAE-Voting, Donny Montell had 6 and Laura Tesoro had 3 points. So there were 3 acts, that made Top 10, but were not even in Top 20 in OGAE-Voting?

  • Milton

    Apologies I overlooked Laura who was 27th in OGAE and 10th on the leader board. Ivetta was 19th on OGAE, so not quite outside of the top 20.

    These three in a way vindicate OGAE, as they all brought something extra to the ESC stage that wasn’t necessarily apparent in the studio or national final versions, so its only natural that they should outperform a poll based on the earlier versions. Whilst they did make the top 10, they didn’t exactly set it on fire.

    In the last three years only one act outside the top 20 on OGAE made the top 5, Netherlands 2014. No-one saw the transformative staging coming, so its no wonder they outperformed the poll so strongly. Is that backers are expecting from Australia this year?

    • meridian_child

      Maybe we got different stats, in my excel sheet Iveta is place 21 – but it does not matter.

      One question about Donny. From his 6 points in the OGAE Voting, 4 came from Estonia and 2 from Latvia.
      What extra did he bring with himself to get such a good result later in the contest? A trampoline? Is a trampoline enough to get a 9th place? Even on the day of semi-final 2 Top 10 was avaiable @18 on betfair. So despite seeing the rehearsals, people did not see this coming?

      • Milton

        Haha – believe it or not I never knew about the trampoline, I just thought he was a good jumper! Perhaps I’m guilty of a little reverse engineering here, I thought the performance was better than expected.

        Maybe the market was influenced by the polls and his previous placing. Of course OGAE can also underplay the diaspora which probably happened in this instance (and Ivetta). It won’t be happening with Australia.

        The fact remains that Australia backers are looking for it to be very much an exception to the rule, especially those crazy enough (imo) to be backing it to actually win. Is there any particular reason to believe that this is going to apply to them?

  • Chris Bellis

    I don’t think Laura Tesoro performed that much better at the Eurovision final. She did very well to come 10th from the death slot of first on. She was always professional from when I first saw her perform WTP, but I think the song was whatever the opposite of fanwank is. Too much like an advertisement jingle. It stood for so much of the type of song fans dislike, but went down well with all my non-fan friends and family. Those are the songs we should be watching for – the ones that are being dismissed out of hand by fans immersed in Eurovision. A yodel and rap combo perhaps?

  • During postcard video Eurovision commentator mentions that you are about to see the hot favorite of the contenst. What influence does that have on the viewer? Doesn’t it raise people’s expectations and they automatically expect something very special? On one hand it makes viewers to pay attention to the song. Who would want to miss the favorite? But on the other hand the viewer may expect too much and could be dissapointed because he expected more. So what do you think? Will Italy benefit this year when the TV commentators say to people that you’re about so see the hot favorite?

  • annie

    My concern is that I didn´t get Occidentali´s Karma on first view/listen.
    I saw it being mentioned here as something to look out for, but I didn´t pay attention why, but i youtubed it, and I have to say I was wondering why it was considered a favorite, I thought the monkey dance was a cheap gimmick and I found the tune mildly catchy and francesco only so-so. This was the san remo performance.
    Then the song came up in auto-play (whilst listening to other songs) and now I am almost obsessed and am rooting for a win.
    But the fact that it wasn´t instant for me, despite understanding most of the italian has me a bit worried….

    • Chris Bellis

      You make a good point there Annie. I pretty much got it at first hearing, but then I love that type of Italian pop music. Since then I’ve played it at home from time to time and family members/friends have moaned at me – “not that thing again”. Dramatically, this changed a few days ago and they moaned when I cut the video short, thinking to pre-empt their moans. How this translates to votes on the night, with people who are only half listening, are half-cut, and have no more than half a brain where music’s concerned, I don’t know. I’m hoping it’s got enough traction to ride through that initial reaction. But you’re right to raise this as an issue even if only to query the ridiculously short price.

  • Lindita acoustic cover of Lidia Isac’s Falling Stars:

  • Ron

    I keep thinking that if “Occidentali’s karma” gets a first-half position and if there’s at least a couple of stand-out performances that follow at any point after, it’s going to lose impact and won’t do as well as it could.

  • Anna

    Hey, long time reader of sofabet but first time commenter here.

    Having had trust in Bulgaria following their success last year, I managed to back them this year at 36/1 shortly following their song release. Obviously this seems like a major score at the moment as their odds are now down to around 6/1, but I am interested in how you guys, as more seasoned professionals at this game, really rate Bulgaria’s chances this year.
    I myself am a big fan of Beautiful Mess personally and can’t see this placing out of the top 5, though I am aware that personal bias may play a big part in this.

    • Hi Anna, thanks for commenting! I think the concerns about the song’s low-key nature and lack of a strong hook are valid, but Kristian is a competent and very appealing performer and the staging plans sound ambitious. We’ll be able to assess its chances better once rehearsals begin and we can see what they have in store.

      • Paddington

        What ‘ambitious staging plans’ are you referring to?

        A stylish, simple and polished performance without gimmicks and with some TV magic. That’s what you can expect from @KristianKostov_ 🙂

        Is the latest update from their twitter. I don’t get much of an ambitious vibe from that

          • Paddington

            I see nothing in that link that leads in me into thinking they are attempting something ambitious?

          • Fifth paragraph in this article. “Over the past few years, Eurovision entries have been gradually shifting towards a more cinematic approach, focused on story-telling rather than just presenting a musical piece. So when we refer to ‘Beautiful Mess’, we want to call it a story and not just a song. The story here is quite simple – it’s about love. But we don’t mean love in the sense of feelings between two persons, but rather love for humanity and friendship, as both are an integral part of the core values of the Eurovision Song Contest. The main character is a youngster who is facing a world full of darkness that he is living in and is searching for an oasis of light for him and the people he is willing to fight for. ‘Beautiful Mess’ is a story of contrasting pictures and characters – both on the dark and bright side, all combined into one eclectic mixture. Our project this year is dedicated to all young people living in the midst of [an] insecure and confused world. We are urging them to define themselves and fight for the values they believe in.”

  • Milton

    Just catching up on the highly anticipated Eurojury jury results from last night.

    1. Sweden 216
    2. Australia 199
    3. Italy 175
    4. Belgium 130
    5. Austria 103
    6. Netherlands 103
    7. Portugal 100
    8. France 81
    9. Denmark 71
    10. Bulgaria 70

    So it looks like we have to either dismiss this poll, or dismiss Bulgaria’s chances? Good result from Australia but not good enough as all indicators suggest their televote will be poor. Italy in a very secure and solid 3rd place is much better than many people were expecting. Impressive results for Sweden, Austria and Netherlands.

    • Dismiss both. The poll is just another fanboy poll with a single ex national final singer or single fan for most “juries”. All in the bubble.

      • meridian_child

        You can say this about the online vote, but he was posting the jury results.
        I did not know that people like Aminata, Eduard Romanyuta, Axel Hirsoux, Severine Ferrer, Kalomira, Nika Kocharov, Jessy Matador, Deen, Lys Assia, Marko Kon etc are all in the fan bubble. How do you get to this conclusion??

        • They’re not paid like the real juries. They won’t sing again at ESC (the majority). They grade songs for an obscure website because they’re fans, maybe reliving the dream. And as fans they’ve probably heard the songs several times and know what the bubble is hyping.

          My personal views on most of the songs is very different after hearing them several times than on first listen.

          From what I could see most of the juries were one person, weren’t even former ESC singers, and many weren’t even national final singers but just fans.

          • meridian_child

            As I see it every single one of them was either a former contestant, a former Junior Eurovision Contestant or someone who competed in a national final.
            Of course such polls cannot be 100% accurate, even the betting odds are quite often far off.
            I do not disagree about some points you make, but in the last years they did deliver some very useful information. Maybe coincidence 🙂

          • It depends how you look at the EuroJury. I personally think this exceeds everything on how both typical fan polls (escstats or escnation) and preview shows (from national broadcasters, like Iceland or Germany) are executed. First of all, I think the organizer of EuroJury needs to receive a bit more credit than the constant knocking down I hear here. Well done Anthony Granger!

            Just think of it for a while. A guy and his team manage to get 78 people (!!) onboard for a fierce judgement of all 42 songs. 78 people divided over 37 nations. That’s almost half of all jurors in the official 2014 contest (also 37 participating nations = 185 jurors). So writing off ex-festival singers (both Eurovision and national finals) as ‘fans’ is both rude and entirely subjective/incorrect. I haven’t been working or participating in the professional music industry, nor have I been a participant in a song contest. But THEY have!

            Regarding the accuracy of the EuroJury: No poll, no preview show and even not EuroJury, can be 100% accurate. Because we haven’t arrived in Kiev yet. We don’t even know how many of the stage packages in Kiev will look like.

            What I do know however, is the fact that trendlines in the EuroJury to me seem a bit more accurate/reliable than those fanpolls (escstats, escnation). And the reason for that is the mere fact that not 3 or 4 people per preview show are judging all 42 countries, or hundreds of horny Eurovision fans start pressing ‘vote’ buttons as early as January. Instead 78 people who at least know how the music industry works are participating in this ‘poll’.

            I remember very well that Netherlands in 2014 got a way higher vote in the EuroJury than other polls. Same last year with Douwe Bob. Obviously there are some outliers, and those I always mark green (underestimated) or red (overestimated). But overall I don’t mind to use EuroJury as a means of discovering more reliable trendlines that I obviously won’t find on the escstats poll.

            So should we dismiss this ‘poll’? No way. We just need to learn how to read the EuroVoix EuroJury panel. And then you can draw some conclusions from which one could learn:

            2014:
            http://i.imgur.com/L0zKdTo.png
            Some key findings:
            –> The Common Linnets receive lots of jury love from those countries who eventually give them at Eurovision even more points.

            2015:
            http://i.imgur.com/sxR3wX4.png
            Some key findings:
            –> Estonia in EuroJury 2015 was suffering a bit in the final tally, but they continued to ‘suffer’ with the juries at Eurovision

            2016:
            http://i.imgur.com/JTN5hxN.png
            Some key findings:
            –> Finally a jury ‘poll’ who more or less objectively rated the chances of Belgium, which OGAE or other fan polls completely dismissed.

            2017:
            http://i.imgur.com/WnJdhEK.png
            Some key findings:
            –> Couldn’t it just be that Bulgaria simply isn’t that ‘instant’ enough for juries as this years Belgium, Australia and Portugal?

          • “First of all, I think the organizer of EuroJury needs to receive a bit more credit than the constant knocking down I hear here. Well done Anthony Granger!”

            I agree, I was just criticising its predictive value and, as you’ve exampled, it does have some of that too.

    • While I basically agree with Songfestivalwerk, I think there is room for Henry VIII’s argument too – Say Yay came 3rd(!!!!!) in the Eurojury last year. (Ahead of Jamala, Sergey, Poli etc.) I’d also watch out for Western bias in these things. Last year’s was pretty representative – the Eurojury top 10 included 4 eastern European countries, and there were indeed 4 in the actual jury top 10 on the night, 3 of which were the same. But this year’s Eurojury top 10 only contains one eastern European country (Bulgaria), I’d be extremely surprised if this is the case in the actual jury top 10 on the night. For instance, Armenia last year came 19th in Eurojury but 10th with juries on the night. Eurojury last year also greatly overestimated Sweden’s chances (juries on the night had it 9th).

  • Paddington

    I had dismissed Bulgarias’s chances long before this

  • James Martin

    The more I listen to Sweden the more I love it. The other song I’m listening to loads is Moldova.

    We’ve not had a song that’s had a life outside the contest since Euphoria. I think both I Can’t Go On and Hey Mamma could do that.

  • Guildo Horn Forever

    Parts of this I’ve been crying tears of laughter at:

  • Ben Cook

    An interesting series of editorials by Steef van Gorkum on ESC Daily regarding ballads at the contest.

    http://www.escdaily.com/category/editorials/

    Most notably he points out that since 2009, there have always been 3-5 ballads qualifying from each semi-final. If this is to continue, then people might want to check their SF2 qualifiers.

    There are only 6 songs in SF2 this year that can fit into the broadest definition of “ballad”, and it seems that the only one that everyone agrees is definitely qualifying is Bulgaria. The others are Ireland, Malta, Netherlands, Croatia and Denmark – rule out these at your peril!

  • Bit of a random question, but was anyone trading the Top 10 market during last year’s jury voting? I was too focused on the outright myself, which was very active. I’m just wondering if there was much/any liquidity in the Top 10 market as well?

    • Nice, but I’m still not sure if televoters will ‘get’ an understated performance by Blanche. Obviously, her lower vocal registers, her slightly depressive demeanour and the overall sadness suits the song. But one could also reason that perhaps therefore ‘Citylights’ isn’t a very televoting-friendly song. At this stage, from what I’ve seen from The Voice, I still think Belgium will qualify. But mostly because of the kind grace of juries.

      Netherlands is completely the opposite this year. A stunning, harmonized, vocally unique performance of a relatively mediocre to OK-song, gives me more goosebumps:

  • Some brand new Serbian nu-disco fun for Tuesday morning… the vocalist is Knez’s daughter.

  • Mr Wolf

    Really great and admirable article. One of the rare cases when you feel envy you haven’t written this byself.
    One thing I would argue is that “Occidentali’s Karma” (and “Hard Rock Hallelujah”) aren’t mainly about fun.
    Yes, surely on surface they are fun and the “fun factor” gives them a boost in the sense of attractivity. But when we analyze melody and the song’s perceived emotive impact, then there’s a lot more going on. The “fun part” is always mixed in successful (Eurovision) songs with some deeper and more impactful emotions.
    Ofc among crucial factors for Eurovision success are media narrative, the message of the song and the factor how much people can identify with it and so on. But from emotive perspective the most crucial nuance is the “awe” emotion.
    It’s everywhere in arts, but in Eurovision especially, since there’s competiton among acts for an “alpha act” (the one who seems the greatest) title (who wins the trophy).
    As you said very pointedly people are expecting religious experience and we have increasingly cinematic perception.
    If we analyze past winners (and other TOP acts) in near past then we see mostly see acts who arouse the greatest “awe” emotion, deal with our existential identity and have the “larger than life” impression.
    “Heroes” and “Sound of Silence” were both songs that touched in large part ideas about our identities on this time moment we’re living in and used much of “awe” emotion to communicate these ideas.
    “1944” and “Grande Amore” were more sentimental, but also connected in large part with awe emotion + mixing it with other most crucial emotions to deliver it with higher impact.
    In first case with pain, unfairness, revange, emphaty and hope that we can create better universe. In latter case with love, greatness and passion.
    “A Million Voices” highlighted a hope and belief for a better universe and mixed it with awe emotion.
    So was “Rise Like a Phoenix” the most awe-evoking song of the year with a message of overcoming darkness/adversity.
    Even “Running Scared” was the most awe-evoking song of the year. 2011 was very weak year and it won mostly because there really weren’t any other awe-evoking songs. It evoked awe emotion about our sincere love feelings which are trully beautiful and it’s an amazing part of human life in this universe (which generetes the awe emotion about our existence).
    But overall the basic human love towards object/person isn’t the most awe-evoking emotion.
    In Eurovision as in cinema, only love-based themes aren’t usually the most succesfull ones to generate the “largen-than-life”, “awe” and “greatness” feelings.
    Conchita beated Common Linnets, Jamala and Dami Im beated Sergey, Mans and Polina beated Il Volo (although not so good example since Il Volo deserved and would have been 2nd with new voting system).
    Yes ofc, we can’t take any theory as a pure truth, there were many other nuances shaping the results. Il Volo and Sergey won the televoting etc.
    But the role of the theories is to inspire thinking not to instruct literally.
    There are very many aspects to count in analyzing the potential outcomes.
    But overall there’s a straight pattern for awe-evoking acts to succeed in Eurovision and anywhere else.
    What about this year and “Occidentali’s Karma”?
    I think it probably wins and only partly because “the fun factor”.
    The charisma, performance and gimmick helps a lot, but without the more nuanced melody it would nice fun decent televoting act which gets low jury support and finishes in TOP10.
    But the melody has really strong emotive side which evokes strong emotions about our existence in this universe (plus the message actually supports that). It has really strong “elevation” emotion (I mean in more spiritual than just superficial fun sense).
    It mixes so many crucial and deep human emotions about joy, hope and many others which are very deeply inside of us, but we maybe even don’t have a exact name for them.
    The overall package is just fucking brilliant.
    I don’t think it can fail with juries as Sergey or Il Volo did. If it doesn’t win, it should rather be because his televote wouldn’t be as strong as expected.
    I mean, actullay Sergey and Il Volo didn’t even fail the juries. They also lost party because in 2015 and 2016 were one very strong act which won the juries landslide.
    But I don’t see it this year happening.
    I think the TOP4 with juries and overall will be Italy, Bulgaria, Australia and Sweden.
    I’m expecting a lot of Australian team and hope they will elevate the song for live performance as last year and give us an amazing staging. But even if they do it, we have seen from every pre-jury and rank that “Don’t Come Easy” is weaker than “Sound of Silence”. And it has weaker message as well and it’s less relevant.
    I expect Isaiah blowing us away and having the strongest (vocal / larger-than-life) performance of the night, but I don’t think it’s enough to win landslide with juries.
    We live in a “style beats substence” society.
    The idea of the song isn’t that well-percieved to get that strong result as Dami had.
    So who else could threaten Italy?
    Sweden has a stronger entry than last year and is a solid TOP4 finisher.
    But I rather don’t think it would win jury landslide. I mean Australia and Bulgaria have a space to elevate their act to new levels, but Sweden already has a strong polished act and the idea of the act probably isn’t that strong to win. It’s very professional and I would gave them a strong jury rating, but it doesn’t have enough substance to do Mans with juries.
    Bulgaria..it doesn’t have very strong pre-ranks..so it would have to do something really amazing on the stage to compete with Italy.
    But the pre-ranks (and also my early gut feeling) have showed that it doesn’t have that strong consensus to win juries landslide (I would compere it’s jury chances with Jamala’s last year).
    But it should have a strong tele. It has always had more potential with tele than with juries, but with really amazing performance and staging it could have a strong jury as well.
    The song has a strongest “awe” emotion this year, but Italy just has so so many positives to consider.
    And Australia has also a potential to evoke awe and larger-than-life feelings if they can elevate their act for live performance as last year.
    I don’t think there are more contenders for the win this year. I mean there may be surprises after rehearsals, but I don’t see any of having enough Eurovision substance to compete for the trophy.
    Contenders for the 5th to 8th places may be Portugal, Armenia, Belgium and Romania.
    I haven’t been a believer of any of these and doesn’t have a nickel of any of them yet (only Belgium “lay” bets which have been of my main bets since beginning; and also thinking about backing Romania in some markets).
    But they probably have enough substance to finish TOP10 (Armenia in the case of good staging)
    I’m most afraid of Portugal.
    It’s overrated in the context of Eurovision (in the context of song and overall package).
    But the thing I’m afraid of is media narrative. If it’s gets a really good narrative, then it may do better than I expect.
    As we live in the “style beats substance” society, I would expect Belgium to do kind of Amir.
    I mean, like expected, we’re probably very disappointed of the live version of it, but since the idea of the song from critical point of view is strong, I would still expect it to get a decent jury result. Ofc if the live performance isn’t a total crap, but just a disappointment.
    Romania may do Spzak this year. Although I expect it to get slightly better jury results than pre-panels have suggested. Like Russian grannies maybe. Fun act fitting very well in the context of the format and is getting some extra points thanks to that.
    I have also seen value in Austria, Israel and Moldova in TOP10 and Semi markets.
    Not completely sure what to expect from Netherlands.
    Aze would also be rather strong with great staging AND live performance.

    • Milton

      Another fascinating post in a great thread – thanks Wolf. Can I just ask one question of you or any other Australia advocates. What do you think ‘It don’t come easy’ offers that ‘Made of Stars’ didn’t? You’re expecting exceptional staging and vocals, but didn’t we get that from Israel last year? That aside I feel that MoS is a more rousing, elevating (awe inspiring perhaps?) song than IDCE, which to me is miserable, self pitying and self indulgent. Yet lots of credible observers and the market rate it very highly. Would be very interested to hear your thoughts.

      • Jack

        Personally I think that Made of Stars bombed in the televote because of the singer. It was so in your face. People don’t vote for gay guys. They vote for sexy boy next door guys. Juries clearly didn’t mind when they voted for Israel in 2016 (or even Malta in 2011). But televoters vote for manic pixie dream girls and sexy boy next door guys. I think that’s why Australia has a better chance of getting a much higher televote score. Even if Israel’s staging turns out to have been better in 2016. I also think other factors will come to play. Australia is a ‘neutral nation’. It does not come as a surprise to me that Australia is rated very highly this year. Even when MoS is more awe inspiring, the singer made it have less of an impact. Australia’s song is a young bloke who shows a vulnerable side of himself which makes him voteable.

        • Milton

          Hi Jack, thanks for replying. Is it widely accepted that people don’t vote for gay guys? Surely anyone tuning into ESC is open minded enough to get past that, Conchita certainly suggests so. Are there any examples of great acts who under performed because they were overtly gay?

          As for Isaiah, is he really vulnerable and voteable? The message of the song is “I’m happy to screw you for now, but don’t expect anything else”. As a girlfriend it’s the last thing you want to hear. “But can we be much more beyond these sheets?” is an awful thing to say to the person you’re lying beside in bed. Surely its the age old tale of guy wanting to have his cake and eat it? He wants to get laid but he resists commitment.

          Its a really gloomy angsty song. There’s no sense of hope, or optimism, the song finishes on the same note of negativity that has been prevalent throughout. Jamala finished with a message of rebirth and hope, she gave the audience something to cling on to, a release but this song offers nothing.

          From a televote perspective, the subliminals in this song couldn’t be worse. The word ‘don’t’ features 19 times! Imagine if Simon Cowell had asked a contestant to sing a song closing with the line ‘no not with me’ Daniel and the masters of the X Factor dark arts would have a field day!

        • I’m inclined to go with Jack here… audiences generally, including gay men, go for the attractive/heart-on-sleeve non-threatening boy next door over the threateningly camp gay guy. It wouldn’t have occurred to me to compare this year’s Australian entry with Made Of Stars, they’re very different kettles of fish. I don’t find the Australian song that negative. “Australia’s song is a young bloke who shows a vulnerable side of himself which makes him voteable” says it all really, I guess it’s kinda this year’s Frans but with better vocals. And Australia’s neutrality and its perception as being part of the Anglo-American pop world help it among juries in particular and to a significant extent in the western European televote.

          • The biggest problem to me with Hovi was his uttermost arrogant, cocky look. Even Conchita Würst has more love in her butt/his balls. Moreover, during interviews he simply was….downward nasty to some other Eurovision entrants. If you then bring a song like that, you’ve lost my vote. By the way, his song was really quite mediocre.

  • Mr Wolf

    I don’t know, for me “Made of Stars” always sounded a few years dated pop song (like Denmark this year for example). Our maybe it wasn’t even that dated, but it seemed kind of out of context.
    Partly it may have been because the artist and his perceived personality wasn’t very marketable in context of Eurovision. At least in 2016. In some part the country also has an impact how we perceive the act. But it’s always about the overall impression and I don’t think we can make much reasonable comparisons between Israel 2016 and Australia 2017.
    “Made of Stars” didn’t have any high moment or it didn’t really have any strong message or emotion to identify with. Like maybe Swiss 2017 in the sense of latter. Good catchy song, but why should I care?
    I don’t think “Made of Stars” was very awe-evoking. The overall message may be comparable with “Heroes” and “Sound of Silence”, but there weren’t any strong crucial emotions in the song.
    It was just a weird boy singing about some bullsit about stars. Why should anyone care about it? It wasn’t anyhow relevant.
    About Isaiah..
    I haven’t actually been a strong advocate for Australia this year or wasn’t in the early stages last year.
    I realised “Sound of Silence” stage potential couple of days before her first rehearsal and started buying heavily. I was the one dragging her odds down then.
    So I actually started seeing “Don’t Come Easy” potential also couple of days ago, at first I didn’t see him as a strong contender to Italy, Bulgaria and Sweden.
    Yes, the studio version is a bit dull. But it has potential. It just needs some changes for the live version.
    We can make some comparisons between “Hold Me” (Aze 2013) and “Don’t Come Easy”. “Hold Me” first version was also quite boring and dull pitying song. But it came alive on the stage and some little changes really elevated the song.
    They both can evoke some stronger emotions about love. “Don’t Come Easy” can evoke emotions about reminiscences, sweet pain of love, “life wisdom” emotions etc. Isaiah really tells you a story with his song.
    When staged and performed powerfully it can really have a strong impact.
    Isaiah also looks kind of larger-than-life, like a guy from MTV or Hollywood. He has a star charisma and vocally he is really impressive. He’s like a guy from another planet for Europeans.
    And Australia and Sweden have always an edge with juries since they’re Australia and Sweden. And they probably deserve it. Their production really is on a higher level, you can even feel it in your bones lol.

    • Milton

      I referenced Made of Stars, because I felt that the climax and the golden shower perhaps came close to the awe that Mr Wolf was talking about in his post. Where is the awe going to come from in Don’t Come Easy, or is that one that will succeed despite the lack of awe?

      Australia have entered two really strong songs, and deservedly got good results. Is that enough of a track record to extrapolate the ESC super power status that many seem to feel is a given?

      EV’s Anglo-American pop angle is an interesting one and I can see that many jurors will perhaps over reward the song because of it. I’m not so convinced about the Western televote where so many points are already predetermined due to diaspora. The UK had Dami 5th, France 12th, Italy 11th, Germany 6th Ireland 5th etc. It was only the Scandics who gave her good marks (1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th). No-one expects Isaiah to do as well as Dami, and it won’t take much slippage on most of these scores to see him close to empty handed from Western televotes.

      • Mr Wolf

        I didn’t mean awe only in the literal sense. Awe is very broad emotion, love can also evoke much awe. Awe about the beautiful nature of being human in this universe and having those unexplainable strong feelings inside of you. Pretty amazing existance we have in this universe..
        And you need to have some other boxes ticking. If the artist isn’t votable and the song sounds really dated what’s the use of the “awe” emotion?
        It’s pretty complicated subject for a just brief discussion.
        Making a good Eurovision song is like cooking, you can’t just rely on one component to make good food.
        I don’t think Australia 2017 lacks awe emotion.
        Firstly, already Isaiah, his voice and the fact he is from Australia urge this emotion in some part.
        Also the song has actually pretty good theme and if he performs this powerfully and evokes strong feelings about love and other emotions (which I mentioned in last post) then it’s very awe-evoking.

    • Milton

      Thanks for explaining what you meant by awe inspiring Wolf, I might have misunderstood you before. Certainly the concept of love can inspire awe, but generally when its presented in a positive light. Not sure how a narrative of ‘I’m happy to sleep with you, but don’t expect any more from me, because some girls have let me down in the past’ will inspire awe in anyone.

      I am intrigued by the idea that Isaiah’s nationality could inspire awe. Any chance you could expand on that?

      Going back to your earlier post, I’ve just had a listen to Hold Me in studio form and the live version. I didn’t get any sense of self pity from it personally. To me its a decent love song with moments of drama, elevated by an exceptionally innovative and engaging stage show. Perhaps Oz will emulate this and pull something extraordinary out of the bag with the staging. We’ll find out tomorrow. Things chance all the time in this game and I’m quite happy to revise my opinions if need be.

      • Mr Wolf

        Yeah Oz is really dependant on staging and how they interpret the song in live performance. Australia isn’t a sure thing this year, but just it has some potential to grow and they have shown so far utter professionality.
        “Hold me” wasn’t maybe pitying, but it was cheap cliche whining love song and not anything really special and it certainly wasn’t quality song from critical point of view (jury material) if consider only the early studio version (on stage it was certainly in my TOP3 in 2013).
        Australia is far away from Europe, kind of dreamland for many people here with its climate and society. The land of “Home and Away” lol. I mean USA and Australia for example have some perceived higher meaning in our cultural space (America gets lots of negative perception as well). Our consciousness is also influenced by the Hollywood and TV myth (US has built their awe-inspiring imago through Hollywood).
        And imo people really mostly are with higher “extraterrestrial” energy there. At least in the States, I don’t have very much experience with Australia/Australians.
        Wasn’t the “myth of Australia” in huge part reason why people here were talking a lot about Australian potential win in 2015 when there was announced they participate?
        If we combine Isaiah looks, voice and quality production with the imago of Australia then doesn’t the fact it’s Australia boost the awe emotion?

        • Milton

          Interesting, yes, Australia for many is the promised land, I agree with that, but I don’t see how that results in people picking their phones up for them.

          The key point for me is that Dani did extremely well in the polls last year, but her televote fell a little short. This year Australia are doing much worse in the polls. With no diaspora are they really going to reverse this trend and actually outperform the polls? I haven’t seen anyone claiming to like Don’t Come Easy more than Sound of Silence. I’ve seen plenty of evidence that people agree with me and find it a bit of a dirge.

          To me the casual dismissal of the evidence in favour of ‘its Australia, they’ll put on a great show etc’ is surprising, which is why I’ve been interested to try and understand what is driving this confidence. Cheers for sharing your thoughts, I imagine we’ll have a much better idea by tomorrow lunch time.

          • Mr Wolf

            Yeah I think you made a pretty good remark about the content of the song. The actual message is really a bit too pity. And I may be wrong about Oz 2017, it’s more like 60 % probability for me they’re gonna be in TOP4, but considering the odds I’ve seen much value there on this week.
            In 2015 I saw value in Russia and Aze before rehearsal and invested much money on these countries. I was wrong with Aze then and we can make some comparisons with Aze 2015 and Australia 2017 as well. There’s a chance that Isaiah isn’t going to touch people with his song and message like Elnur didn’t in 2015. But people learn from their mistakes and I still think that Australia gets this year pretty decent result.
            It’s weaker than “Sound of Silence”, but the fact is that this year is rather weak as well.
            Who are the contenders to Isaiah for TOP4 spot?
            Armenia, who really don’t even have a song.
            Portugal which is clearly overrated considering the structure of the song.
            Belgium who just can’t bring their song alive on stage and whose song is actually overrated in the context of Eurovision as well..
            If we look trustable pre-ranks then Australia should solidly be in jury TOP3 and probably with 200+ points.
            Compared to Guy Sebastian his song has also more potential to grow on stage.
            He probably don’t even need more than 90 televoting points to be in TOP4.

          • Milton

            As things stand I’d be shocked if Oz get 90 televote points, it wouldn’t surprise me to see them in the bottom 5 with the public with less than 20 points, assuming of course they get through to the final 😉 Let’s see what tomorrow brings.

  • Yeah, Australia Isiah has vastly more prospect than Hovi had, from appeal of all – song, singer and country.

    • I’m with Mr Wolf, Henry VIII et al regarding Australia. It’s really appealing and I see it as a challenger. The focus on Bulgaria as second-favourite has perhaps distracted people from Australia’s not dissimilar potential, myself included.

  • Mr Wolf

    So I was wrong about Oz, the staging (really amateurish work from Sacha) is really bad and it probably flops.
    My overall prediction at this moment would be:
    Italy, Sweden, Portugal, Bulgaria, Aze, Austria, Armenia, The Netherlands, Romania, Belarus, Belgium, UK, Australia, Denmark, Moldova, France, Ukraine

  • Milton

    Hope you got out without too much damage Mr Wolf. Do you not feel that the revamped UK ticks the boxes you thought Oz might? They’re major contenders for me.

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