Eurovision Top Tip Update: What Do The National Juries Vote For?

In the run up to last year’s Eurovision Song Contest, the first one covered here on Sofabet, I posted a series of ten top tips for predicting the outcome. One aspect of predicting Eurovision which we can now say much more about is the impact of the return of the juries.

These panels of five music ‘professionals’, chosen by each national broadcaster, have a 50% say in the overall points handed out by each country. The system returned in the 2009 final, and was used in the 2010 semis and final. That means we have a lot more information on juries’ preferences than we did this time last year.

My guesswork about which of the 2011 Eurovision songs juries are likely to favour – or not – is based on this data. There’s still not a huge amount of it, but we can now attempt an analysis based on the entries which did disproportionately well and badly with the national juries compared to the televote in 2010 and 2009.

Let’s start with Tom Dice for Belgium in the 2010 final, because that song received the biggest boost from the jury vote compared to its televote score. It was almost the favourite song of national juries, coming second with 185 points, two points behind Germany. With televoters it came 14th with 76 points.

Why the difference? Its appeal to juries is obvious: a good, modern ballad, performed simply and well. For televoters, an early draw next to a Cypriot entry also involving a boy with his guitar did not help to overcome Belgium’s perennial lack of allies.

The second biggest beneficiary from national juries in the 2010 final was Israel. Fifth with 134 points among that constituency, Harel Skaat only managed 19th with 27 points with televoters.

Here we had another boy stand on stage and sing his ballad (rather less modern than Tom Dice’s), with no frills attached. But one reason for the difference in opinion may be the lesser-known fact that national juries vote on the dress rehearsal the night before, when Skaat was vocally stronger. On the night itself, under more pressure, he rather went to pieces.

That wasn’t the whole explanation, as Israel had also been given a greater set of points (+42) by the jury compared to the televoters in the semi-final two days before. They were closely followed by Ireland (+41), with a traditional Eurovision ballad by former contest-winner Niamh Kavanagh.

Temporarily interrupting the ballad trend, in the first semi of 2010 it was Bosnia’s well-performed if dull mid-tempo rock song which received the biggest jury boost (+59). But next came Portugal (+49), with – again – a rather traditional Eurovision ballad.

The results of the 2009 final saw the greatest positive difference between jury scores and televoter points for the United Kingdom (+118), France (+110), Israel (+92) and Iceland (+87). Interestingly, the first three of those featured big names in the music industry (Andrew Lloyd Webber, Patricia Kaas and Noa).

With the exception of Israel’s worthy and dull mid-tempo number, the rest were all ballads.

Spot the pattern that seems to be emerging? It is backed up by looking at the songs that the juries trashed the most in comparison to their televoting counterparts. In the 2010 final that was France (-117) and Serbia (-73). Both were upbeat songs with a busy and in parts raunchy presentation.

This is not to say, of course, that every ballad is automatically going to be rewarded by juries, and every upbeat song punished: Romania’s catchy pop song came a close third with the juries in the 2010 final; Belarus’s horribly saccharine ballad came second last.

It’s also worth noting how hard the juries came down on Lithuania, whose ‘Eastern European Funk’ did not qualify from its 2010 semi-final but would have done so comfortably just on the televotes. This suggests that jokey, gimmicky songs are also likely to struggle with the juries.

Beyond the types of song juries prefer, evidence is also emerging that the juries are living up to one of the main reasons for their introduction – reducing the power of diaspora voting in the public televote.

To take the most obvious examples, in the last two finals we have seen this for Turkey (-58 in 2010, -89 in 2009), Armenia (-50, -40), Russia (-44, -51), Azerbaijan (-45, -131) and Greece (-42, -58).

Azerbaijan’s poor relative performance with juries in 2009 is perhaps an example of a perfect storm of jury underperformance – a country with a strong diaspora vote, and an insubstantial but catchy ethnopop song with lots of choreography. Exactly the same could be said of the aforementioned Serbian entry in 2010.

On the subject of lots of choreography, the only other nation in 2009 to do as badly as the five listed was Albania, with a -55 figure. This upbeat entry featured acrobatics and various gyrations from two dwarf-sized backing dancers and a man in a turquoise gimp suit. It made for memorable TV of a sort, but was another example of juries failing to be impressed by gimmicky, busy staging.

It’s worth emphasising again that this is still early days for the return of the national juries and it’s questionable how reliable it is to extrapolate from trends so far.

But next time you hear me speculating on the opinions of national juries – as when I’ve written in my posts so far that I suspect juries will dislike Jedward’s ‘Lipstick’ and Stella Mwangi’s ‘Haba Haba’ but like Lena’s ‘Taken By A Stranger’ – this is where I’m coming from.

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7 comments to Eurovision Top Tip Update: What Do The National Juries Vote For?

  • fiveleaves

    Hi Daniel,
    Some great stats.
    What strikes me this year is the lack ballads. So far anywhere.
    Albania is about the only one that springs to mind.
    Taken By a Stranger is a ballad of sorts, but not a conventional one.

    The one thing that you may have missed in this article is commercial success.
    Won’t this have a major effect on the jury vote?
    I don’t believe Satellite would have been backed by the juries without that success.
    She’s not a conventionally good singer and the whole presentation could be described as amateurish.
    I loved it partly because of that, as I dislike overly polished, soulless music lacking in personality. The juries however are there to judge technical quality.
    Lena was lacking on that front.

    The early signs this year are that Norway could be the biggest commercial success.
    It continues to fight off all comers in the Norwegian charts
    Whereas Taken by a Stranger is already slipping.
    Down again today in both Switzerland and Austria and more worryingly, knocked off the top spot by Bruno Mars on German itunes.

    • Daniel

      Hi, fiveleaves, it is always assumed that juries have been asked to judge based on the commercial potential of the song. However, when Sofabet asked EBU this week for clarification, we were told that, ‘they have been asked to judge the vocals, the quality and originality of the songs, the acts and the overall impression of the performance’.

      So, no mention at all of commercial viability, and an indication that juries should be looking at the staging as well as other more obvious criteria. This is the official advice, though your point about it being harder to ignore something that is already a commercial hit still has some validity, even if ultimately they make up their own minds.

  • fiveleaves

    Hi Daniel.
    I’ve just been arguing this point on betfair.
    On the official criteria Lena should have done poorly.
    Technically her vocal is average, though personally I love her vocal style and the presentation was amateurish.
    Just a girl not dancing very well with some blue flashing lights.

    I suspect the juries were hugely influenced by the commercial success of the song beforehand and half the auditorium singing along to it.

    I can see the same thing happening this year with Haba haba.
    EMI are obviously confident in her commercial appeal, as they’ve just signed her.

  • Martin F.

    Despite what Norton said on the BBC broadcast, it’s worth noting that “Satellite” really wasn’t an *international* hit in any sense of the word when ESC 2010 took place. Excluding Germany who couldn’t vote for it and Austria who weren’t participating, the only country where it had enjoyed any chart success was Switzerland, and a guaranteed 12 points doesn’t get you far in anyone’s book. Just ask Andorra!

    On the other hand, it *had* been a huge national success. This is by no means unprecedented in recent German ESC history – Max (2004) and Texas Lightning (2006) were similarly successful chart-wise (the former in particular in CH/AUT too, thanks to the Raab effect), but their entries pre-dated the return of the juries.

    Would that have played a role in those years too? Maybe – even if “Satellite” wasn’t an international hit at the time of the contest, it *was* a hit in (western) Europe’s largest music market by head of population, and that’s not to be sniffed at.

    And the “hits on YouTube” factor is a variable we’re only just beginning to understand the relevance of in a wider Eurovision sense.

    My concern with applying the same logic to “Haba Haba” is simply because Norway is so much smaller a music market than Germany. That’s not to say it won’t do very well, but I’m not convinced any kind of “chart crossover appeal” will be at the heart of its success if it does.

    That said, I might start buying into the theory if I hear it played several times on Stockholm dancefloors during Melodifestivalen weekend, as “Fairytale” was two years ago. Watch this space, I suppose!

    • Daniel

      It wasn’t just Graham Norton who decided to plug the ‘commercial success’ of ‘Satellite’ during the show. I was interviewed by BBC Radio Five Live whilst the final was being broadcast, and a large percentage of that chat was taken up with me being asked whether British voters would be taken with this European ‘smash hit’. I was sceptical. A leak of the UK televote result showed that Lena got an impressive 7 points up against some of the usual suspects (Greece etc), I seem to remember. The public were more impressed than the UK jury. I wonder if the BBC’s words signposting its commercial success helped in any way.

  • fiveleaves

    Yes, I agree it wasn’t a hit all over Europe as Norton implied.
    It had however been getting airplay on many European pop radio stations.
    It was being heavily played in Turkey, along sides the likes of Rihanna, Lady Gaga, etc and topped a poll on one Turkish radio site.
    It was also being played in the baltic states reaching no.2 on a radio airplay chart that broadcast to the baltic countries.
    It also made airplay lists in the Balkans and Scandinavia.

    As you say though it wasn’t released and it didn’t top the charts in these countries until after it won.

    It will be interesting to see if Haba haba is also picked up by some of these European pop radio stations.
    I believe it’s a good enough pop/radio friendly song for that to happen.
    Only time will tell if that’s the case.

    600K youtube hits from a country with a population of 4.7M suggests I’m not the only one who finds it an incredibly catchy pop song.

  • Martin F.

    Good call, I wasn’t aware of the radio play factor. Eyes open for similar developments then!

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