Eurovision 2015: Semi Allocation Draw and First Update

After today’s semi-final allocation draw, Eurovision season is properly underway. You can see which countries are in each semi-final here. 39 countries take part this year, which is two more than in 2014: Serbia, Cyprus and the Czech Republic return; Ukraine has withdrawn. That means 16 entrants in the first semi-final and 17 in the second semi-final, which should hopefully see a slight general improvement in qualifying odds.

Some early thoughts about the allocation draw are below, alongside an update of the entries chosen so far and what’s to come. This reflects a change to our traditional pre-rehearsal coverage. Instead of long-form pieces on the bookmakers’ contenders (which didn’t include initial outsiders Austria and the Netherlands last year), we will provide regular updates on all the most recently chosen entries and national finals of interest.

Back to that semi-final allocation draw, and there’s not too much to be gleaned at this stage. The first semi-final has fewer entrants but three of the four countries with a 100% qualifying record (Greece, Romania and Russia), plus other big hitters Serbia and Armenia.

The various blocs have split relatively evenly, as is the intention. If I had to name one delegation that will be pleased, it’s Armenia with Spain, France, Greece, Netherlands, Belgium, Belarus, Russia and Georgia (plus no Azerbaijan) voting in the first heat.

Moving on to the songs themselves, we’ve already heard selections from Georgia, Albania, Belarus, France, FYROM, Malta and the Netherlands. You can expect some of them to go through revisions: Albania’s FiK winner needs to be shortened, FYROM will reportedly be in English, and Belarus has in the past made big changes to arrangement or even song from their national final.

It’s not exactly an inspiring bunch of initial entries: I think the Dutch song is a disappointment after their excellent entries of the last two years; I find the French song dated; and in their current form, the numbers from Belarus, Georgia, FYROM and Malta elicit only a shrug of my shoulders. A revamped Albanian song, with powerhouse vocals guaranteed from a winner of Italy’s The Voice, holds most potential for denting the Vienna scoreboard.

Coming up, the Nordic national finals are often the most competitive, with bookmakers’ odds usually on offer. They begin this Saturday with the first Icelandic semi-final. You can listen to all the songs here – it’s an interesting selection. The same day witnesses the Swiss final, watch the six finalists here, with the Cypriot final (songs here) the following day.

The following Saturday, February 7, is the first big one for Eurovision punters. Denmark conducts its final – the songs and running order were officially announced this morning and you can find them here. It’s a typical Danish bunch of middle-of-the-road, radio-friendly pop, though nothing looks like repeating their 2013 success. A Betfair market has just opened on it.

Semi-finals also begin in Sweden and Estonia. The month-long Swedish contest, Melodifestivalen, is the biggest and most competitive of the lot, and the first heat sees the return of 2011 Eurovision bronze-medallist Eric Saade. The Estonian competition is usually more varied, and added interest comes from the most hyped song to be heard so far, ‘Goodbye to Yesterday‘ by Eliona Born and Stig Rasta. They are the reason Estonia tops the very early Betfair outright market for Vienna, and they will perform in the second Estonian heat on February 14.

The Finnish selection, UMK, starts the same day, and we already know the songs, with Unibet currently offering a market. Odds-on favourites are Pertti Kurikan Nimipaivat, a Finnish punk band made up of adults with intellectual disabilities. Those odds reflect the initial domestic buzz, though in my view, the two strongest songs are the One Direction-esque offering from Satin Circus and Siru’s ballad.

Do let us know your thoughts on any of the above and more below. And welcome back to Eurovision season on Sofabet!

27 comments to Eurovision 2015: Semi Allocation Draw and First Update

  • The songs chosen so far are indeed very uninspiring – after having heard them once each, I can’t remember how any of them goes apart from vaguely the chorus of Malta. None of them is a winner.

    Slight east-west split between the semis as usual: SF1 has 6 ex-USSR countries competing but only 5 “Western” nations, SF2 only has 3 ex-USSR countries (plus Israel) but 9 Western nations. Only 2 Balkan countries in SF2, while SF1 gets all the rest.

    Did you miss Georgia (the other “Warrior”)? I can understand why…

  • Daniel

    Ah yes, I did forget Georgia! Will add as soon as I get home. It goes into the *shrugs shoulders* category. 🙂

  • Richard

    Having bagged 40-1 pre-semis on Austria last year, I’m keen to get one or two onside early again. Betfred have a full market now – any early prices caught your eye? Cheers

  • Montell

    I’m so glad that Eurovision season starts again 🙂 In Lithuania selection is still ongoing but I already predict a winner. Here it is: How do you rate this song?

  • Alan Sedgwick

    I’m tempted to suggest the Czechs as a qualifier already, I’m sure the organisers will do all they can to ensure they qualify as if they didn’t it would surely be a complete waste of the effort put into bringing them back (apparently mostly instigated by ORF themselves) and would almost certainly see them out again for even longer. Luckily they’re already in the ‘easier’ semi on paper so let’s see what happens next.

    • Aneta Langerova in a late slot would be a dream. Her latest album only came out in November, maybe they could edit something from it down to 3 minutes. Ceska Televize will pick her if they have any sense – with the right song and performance she could Anouk them into the final and even the top 10.

      • Chris Bellis

        One of my favourite singers since I heard Hrisna Tela many years ago. I preferred her with all the eye make-up, but her singing voice has improved with maturity. Quality doesn’t always work in Eurovision, but I think she could do it with the right song. She’s great live too – no worries on that score.

  • Ben Gray

    Merry New Year Sofabet. Glad to read your thoughts so far Daniel and that there will be more extensive pre-rehearsal coverage this year, something I did feel these sites were lacking in before, and I tend to post more on ESCtips because of that.

    Anyway, this year I am aiming to think less about finding a specific type of song, (even though they’re usually good indicators,) with a specific type of performer to champion as a potential winner – in a way I suppose I took EV’s semiotics article a bit too literally, but I’m prone to doing that in general.

    So instead, I’m focusing more on the overall package and feeling as though I can dismiss some countries, Montenegro for example, from the possibility of winning just by looking at their faces. Shallow, I know, but them’s the brakes trying to predict the outcome of an entertainment show. Of course I’m open to surprises, Knez might come out with a corker, but I then have to consider how well the song matches up with his appearance and likely stage presentation. And – if they do match up, are they then powerful enough, relatable enough, memorable enough etc? Conchita taught many of us a valuable, humbling lesson which, if I’d benefited from earlier, would have made 2014 a crystal clear case. With the March-April odds on Conchita that were available, the amount I’d invested in Molly, invested in Conchita instead, would’ve translated a Ferrari or a budget flat. Sounds ridiculous I know, but it was a genuine possibility this time last year.

    Anyway, as for 2015 so far, I would be tempted to suggest that if the seven songs we currently have lined up for Vienna were the only ones taking part, Malta would be lifting the trophy. That’s a view that I’m holding onto, but am keenly waiting to let go of. They’re very beatable. I do however expect the revamp, when it comes, to give cause to some initial hype.

    Outside of that, I’m sensing promise in Spain, Germany and Belgium, perhaps also Poland or dare I say it again, the UK.

    The five second teaser Edurne recently released gives me the impression that she’s prepared a pop/R&B dramatic mid-tempo piece that’s asking for choreography. It also sounds a bit like it could be a new theme tune for the Countdown clock. She has a good team on her side, but it will likely be very Eurovisionny and big and I’m expecting it to really get fanboys hyped to Brequette levels. TVE openly said they want to win. Whether that’s PR-spiel or not I don’t know.

    Germany’s NFs since Lena’s victory have always been full of music produced to a high-calibre with all the bells and whistles and expensive Vevo videos, but we can’t be suckers for polish as is the case with Melodifestivalen and the Norwegian MGP too in recent years. Some of the acts already confirmed look promising, but I’m hoping they won’t be usurped yet again by someone who doesn’t really know what they’re doing.

    I’m quite wary of Belgium’s choice of act. Young pin up boy with a big voice and a compliment from Sia is a potent recipe. I just hope the song isn’t a letdown. Poland, I dunno, their act came to them last year, not the other way around, but their encouraging result should see them trying a bit harder.

    As for the UK, I now have to make myself expect a very good song that will be intangibly but critically botched on the night. I still don’t really get what it was about Molly’s song last year that made outsiders I showed it go go “Naaah”, but I do recognise that the sound mix on the night was dreadful, the staging was too conservative and Molly, bless her, didn’t smile, even though I stressed the importance of it to her in person after her postcard shoot.

    Other than these countries, I agree with Alan Sedgwick that the Czechs will be pushed towards qualification. Their surprise comeback suggests some persuasive talks were had behind closed doors. I’m not saying its fixed, but I do think they’ll be given guidance. They need to get Slovakia back as well.

    Finally, Stig and Elina from Estonia look set to win Eesti Laul hands down. It’s so telling of the impact The Common Linnets really had on the contest, when the fan community suddenly becomes switched on to these understated numbers. I, myself, am very aware that it’s the best song we’ve heard so far, musically. It also offers the potential for similarly charismatic staging. The lyrics tell a very clear story between the two performers. It’s almost theatrical or trite in its clarity, but musically, it’s absolutely cool. I’m pondering right now whether or not the lift that the song has towards the end helps it to be a feel good song or not. Also, if that barstool staging (and individual spotlights, I imagine. Engelbert style) is what they’re going with for Eurovision, it might not be sufficient to nab the trophy.

    That’s my long-winded report on what I’m sensing out there. TL;DR – Malta the early front runner, Spain could be an upset, Belgium has a boy, the UK may or may not lower the bloomin’ key again when they get to Vienna, and Estonia might be just a bit TOO moody.

    • Chris Bellis

      Ben – great piece. Lessons from last year – never over-estimate UK and don’t dismiss the Eastern Bloc’s potential to vote for quality. Some posters said that they were homophobic and country music wasn’t their kind of thing. I even started believing it myself, even though I’d attended a country music festival in Moscow and seen all the gay bars in both Moscow and St Petersburg. They don’t all follow Kyril and Putin’s ultra conservative line, especially the ones that watch Eurovision. I too initially thought Molly had a chance, but laid the bet later when I realised it was too corny for Eurovision. I sensed the change in the Zeitgeist.

      • Chris Bellis

        I should add – never under-estimate Sweden. That was my banker for a place last year.

        • Ah, but Bjorkman has openly said in an interview last year that it’s difficult to maintain interest in Sweden’s participation and in the Melodifestivalen brand if they start doing an Azerbaijan, (coming top 5 year on year.) To use his words, he said, “you have to go down in order to come back up again.”

          Obviously this year’s Melodifestivalen will tell us whether he intends to follow through with that strategy or not, but I’m inclined to believe that after winning, hosting, and then getting a national treasure to 3rd, Sweden’s high point has come full circle. Now it’s time for them (and Denmark) to take a step back. They could win the thing every bloody year if they wanted to.

          Norway are another recent Scandi-host but I think a sufficient amount of time has passed now that we can consider them to be at least not deliberately holding back.

    • Agree, Knez is never gonna win Eurovision in a million years, I doubt he’d even win a Serbian NF if he was in one – he’s basically just a washed-up Belgrade pop-folk singer from the 90s who’s migrated into dad-rock, and his song is bound to be nothing special, certainly compared to Sergej’s last year.

      I agree on Malta, but yes, everything chosen so far is pretty balls (though I like France).

      Ben, I think it was you who previously commented how, for all Eesti Laul’s indie cred among fans, something pretty mainstream/cheesy often wins it (Rockefeller St, Birgit, Amazing, Leto svet). Could happen again this year, I dunno that that song is a shoo-in if there’s something else that Estonians prefer. Eesti Laul was in my book the best ever (and one of the best NFs ever), yet one of the weakest and most facile songs (Rockefeller Street). While the past couple of years have been weaker, Tanja’s Euphoria-lite still beat credible alternatives like Nimmerschmidt and others last year. And going back to 2008, Leto svet beating Iiris Vesik’s Ice Cold Story was a travesty.

      Austria and the Netherlands last year were both a triumph of musicality and storytelling. It was the most visual contest ever, both had songs and presentations that were serious and stood out, and there was a real clarity and simplicity of message and performance to both.

      • *Eesti Laul 2011 was in my book the best ever (and one of the best NFs ever), yet one of the weakest and most facile songs (Rockefeller Street) won.

        • Durhamborn

          You could say the most popular artist won (Getter Jaani),as they do most years in Eesti Laul (both Birgit and Tanja were very popular).The tv show Laula mu Laulu is a good pointer to who is well connected.
          This year we have one of the most popular writers in Estonia in Stig and quite popular Elina.You could argue that Triin Niitoja is the really popular/middle of the road act and might push Stig/Elina all the way.The sing off is three acts this year rather than two to try to stop the safe songs winning a head to head though.
          Semi 1 is far more interesting.Bluestocking with Kordumatu is true eesti avant garde.

      • I did indeed say something along those lines EV. I wouldn’t really say that something ‘cheesy’ tends to win Eesti Laul, but like Eurovision itself, in a field full of indie music, something with radio-friendly appeal is likely to triumph.

        I do believe Goodbye to Yesterday is a shoe-in to win Eesti Laul this year, it’s not really that indie, esoteric or overly Estonian. It’s very easy on the ears and its narrative is, like I said, almost theatrically clear and familiar, but at the same time, it has a nice adult contemporary sophistication to it, like it isn’t trying too hard. Everything else in the competition this year is comparatively dreary or generic. Daniel Levi is really the only credible threat, but I don’t see Estonia going for that kind of One McBusted Direction fodder. Remember that it’s not just a case of bubblegum beats raw, it’s weighing up the quality of the songs in the first place. That’s an easy trap to fall into – judging songs by set rules and criteria first while bypassing the general impression.

        You’ll notice there’s nothing by Sven Lohmus this year either, who did Randjad, Rockefeller Street, as well as near-winners by Laura, Grete Paia and Sandra Nurmsalu’s hippy dippy ditty last year. I like his style as a writer though.

        Also Leto Svet predates Eesti Laul so it doesn’t count. 😛

    • Agree with you on Conchita vs Molly. Had I thrown my money on Molly on Conchita instead I would have won something approaching what some would call a life changing sum of money.

  • In a weak field (like 2013, 2014 and so far 2015), I think Time To Shine could easily do an Undo given the right visual storytelling. She has the voice and telegenic charisma, and the song has the right narrative. I’d be very surprised to see it win, but given smart, clear, effective visual presentation that really brings out the narrative, I think a high placing is possible at this stage.

    Ditto Cyprus on all of the above. It has a Lisa Andreas via Jostein Hasselgard feel, and both of those finished top 5. I don’t think it’s quite as immediate/accessible as either, but given the right presentation it could do pretty well.

    Though neither are amazing, there’s more charisma, personality/quirk and genuine emotion in the Swiss and Cypriot entries than in anything else chosen so far. For me they’re the best we have at this relatively early stage.

    Czech hype may be premature, it could easily be another Let’ tmou. I mean, I love Let’ tmou (and it would arguably do better now than it did then), but this is a country with very little practice in (and commitment to) getting songs right for Eurovision, and extremely low public awareness of the contest.

  • Donald

    Hi all, Happy New Year, will catch up on all this over next weekend. Not thread subject but caught The Voce UK on Saturday, if Lauren vote on X -Factor any sort of benchmark, keep an eye on Olivia Lawson, worth an early few quid maybe..

  • Looking forward to this after an enjoyable and profitable series of X Factor.

    Summing up, and I’m probably repeating others here, massive lessons to learn from last year.

    1. Don’t over-estimate the UK. I put way too much faith in Molly and am still trying to scrape the egg of my face a year on. On paper, Molly should have top 5-ed it but she didn’t even trouble the left hand of the scoreboard.

    2. Bear in mind, however, we have a general election a fortnight before. If the Tories get into bed with UKIP in a hung parliament, I don’t see that washing well with Europe. If Labour get back in, it could actually do us a favour. It’s worth remembering that Katrina and the Waves’ victory came the day after Tony Blair’s landslide victory.

    3. Remember Eurovision is out-and-out gay and proud. This goes for the Eastern Bloc, Eurovision fans aren’t people who want to toe the Putin line.

    4. Gimmicks and outlandish performances still “click” with the audience. Conchita was ultimately remembered after 26 tracks and two hours.

    5. However, good songs are still doing well. The Netherlands flew because it was a brilliant execution, and was genuinely different in style to anything else on offer.

    6. There’s always a number of attempts to copy the staging or style of the previous winner. It generally doesn’t work in the second year.

    • Hi James. I’d disregard no. 2 on your list there. The UK mainstream media talk a lot of BS about Eurovision when trying to make excuses for our poor performance. Truth is, the vast majority of people in Europe don’t know or care that we have an election this year, regardless of its results. Katrina’s victory had nothing to do with Tony Blair. I can say that with confidence even though I hadn’t even heard of the contest back then. Love Shine a Light was and still is a great song and that’s why it won.

  • From the German NF, Fahrenhaidt’s Mother Earth (released today) has a lot of potential: It’d need chopping down to 3 minutes (and they should perform it as their first song), but the chorus, production and vibe have the potential to stand out from the field and appeal to a lot of people.

    • I feel like they might have some really visually striking staging, but I’m not sure about the music. It’s roughly along the lines of what I listen to but I feel it’s a little bit too alternative. Her voice is a bit shrieky. Maybe it’s just me but I’m sceptical.

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