How to win big on Eurovision:
1. Know your stats: It is vital to get a grip on each nation’s voting strength. Some countries have more friends than others, and a bigger diaspora. You can work out how the 2 semi-finals and the final shape up studying historical voting data found here.
2. Do not be put away by a polished studio or ‘official’ version of each song: While you need to listen to the competing songs, the artists have to sing live at the finals, though backing singer support can help conceal any vocal weakness. How a song comes across live on stage can be a far cry, and far inferior, to what you hear on the official videos. A good example is to compare this with this. Search YouTube for those far more revealing ‘live’ performances.
3. Do not under-estimate the significance of the draw: A single figure draw is proven to be a disadvantage in the final. The 2 slot has never won Eurovision and produced the most last place finishes. Going back to 1999, 17 of the last 18 ESC winners have come from the 10 slot or later, only diaspora heavyweight Turkey (drawn 4 in 2003) defying this trend, and that was in the televoting era. Conversely, a late draw, especially coupled with voting strength, can be a huge advantage, arguably even more so in the semi-finals.
4. With the introduction of app voting/SMS-voting, teen-friendly pop acts can have a distinct advantage with the televote: Look out for telegenic boy bands and solo male heart-throbs performing catchy tunes. If they also incorporate slick dance moves in the staging this is like catnip for young female voters. The public vote, of course, is only half the story and the recent trend at Eurovision has been for uptempo songs to consistently be penalized by juries unless outstandingly well executed. This point is another way of saying, look out for the next Eric Saade ‘Popular’-type entry to emerge.
5. Staging is an increasingly important factor: How a song is visually presented on stage live can massively enhance or damage its chances. Put yourself in the position of a casual viewer watching at home. We all have ever decreasing attention spans and need to be lured as much by the visuals, as the song itself.
Staging would also appear to influence juries. Greece, Moldova, Ukraine and Ireland were 4 staging triumphs in 2011. We would go as far as to say Ukraine’s 4th place in 2011 had a lot more to do with the sand artist than the song. Austria and The Netherlands were 2 staging triumphs in 2014 helping them overcome their historical voting weakness and end up first and second on the leaderboard. Mans for Sweden in 2015 was all about the stage show.
6. Factor in the anti-diaspora effect of juries: We have some fairly compelling evidence that juries have a propensity to assess the televoting big guns harshly at the slightest opportunity. As a for instance, in semi-final 1, 2011, Georgia (51), Armenia (33) and Russia (31) were heavily penalised by juries, resulting in Armenia’s failure to qualify. Conversely, ESC minnows, by way of voting friends, Lithuania (113), Iceland (104) and Switzerland (76) were all given a significant boost by juries, enabling all 3 to make the final. This would appear to be part of a wider ESC directive to try and make the contest more of a level playing field.
7. Well performed solo male or female ballads tend to be favoured by juries: In ESC 2011 Austria’s ‘The Secret Is Love‘ performed by Nadine Beiler (5th place on the jury vote with 145pts, but 24th on the televote with 25pts), and Slovenia’s ‘No One‘ performed by Maja Keuc (4th place in the jury vote with 166pts, but 22nd on the televote with 39pts), are 2 perfect examples of this jury propensity.
Lithuania topping the jury vote in semi-final 1, 2011 with 113pts, Belgium’s Tom Dice singing ‘Me And My Guitar‘ topping the jury vote in semi-final 1, 2010 with 165pts, and Georgia’s Sofia Nizharadze singing ‘Shine‘ topping the jury vote in semi-final 2, 2010 with 117pts, add further weight to this theory.
Looking at 2014, Conchita Wurst singing ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’ for Austria comfortably topped the jury vote in semi-final 2.
8. Keep an eye out for unexpected vote-influencing elements & think outside the box: When assessing the ESC, each one is different, and the contest evolves every year. You need to be alert to potential trends and political narratives that may not have been spotted by others yet. Be intuitive in assessing the field, and have faith in your own observations.
Germany were written off in 2010 for lacking voting allies but shrewdies were aware ‘Satellite’ was a massive YouTube hit and the song was charting across Europe prior to the contest. Turkey’s exit at the semi-final stage in 2011 was an indirect boost to Azerbaijan’s televote, helping to push it to victory. Italy’s return to the contest in 2011 was greeted by a massive jury haul of 251pts – welcome back generosity or merely recognition of a unique classical jazz number? Either way, those who clocked the Italian ‘angle’ were rewarded with huge place odds when it finished second.
In 2011, Iceland’s song, ‘Coming Home‘, was sung as a tribute to the song’s writer, Sigurjon Brink, who died prior to the Iceland national final. His friends formed a tribute band, ‘Sjonni’s Friends’, to perform the song. Largely unheralded before the semi-final, it went on to qualify in 4th place, its televote score inflated due to a certain sympathy factor among those watching at home informed of the song’s back story.
In 2014, there were a number of countries the EBU needed to qualify to the grand final for the sake of their Eurovision futures. And the four of them duly did qualify in the shape of San Marino, Montenegro, Slovenia and Poland.
The 2016 Contest witnessed a developing Russia vs Ukraine narrative. It was apparent Western media coverage would work in favour of Ukraine come the day of the Grand Final and Ukraine duly received enough of a televoting boost to overhaul both Russia and Australia and win the Contest.
9. Follow the ESC blog sites religiously during the key rehearsal period: Numerous ESC sites report live from the venue during the rehearsals (including this one), some being as helpful as to upload video clips on YouTube – but be careful watching YT clips as video recorded inside the arena can be a far cry from what comes across on a tv screen.
Many bloggers in 2011 alerted readers to the poor performance of Blue in front of the juries on the Friday night. They proved to be on the money as the UK ended up 22nd on the jury vote with a woeful score of 57pts, resulting in the UK missing out on a top 10 finish. In 2012, attending Eurovision in person for the first time in Baku, readers were informed that Humpy was struggling and represented a golden lay on assorted markets.
10. Check the context of the running order: It is imperative you consider not only a nation’s draw position but what precedes it, and what follows it. A loud rock song surrounded by quieter ballads might have the chance to shine and seize the televoting initiative. Listen to the songs in order and try and get a handle on what stands out.
Since 2013 the EBU has opted for a ‘producer-decided’ running order after countries draw either first half or second half in the two semi-finals and the grand final. While this has tried to give every song the chance to stand out, you can still identify the running order winners and losers.
11. Male/female combos can prove a big vote winner: The interplay between Ell & Nikki performing ‘Running Scared‘ for Azerbaijan in 2011 helped to sell this soft and fluffy pop ballad to ESC viewers, and was lapped up by televoters to the tune of 223pts. In 2010, Romania’s ‘Playing with Fire‘ was performed in a playful and flirty way between Paula Seling & Ovi helping it land a televote score of 155pts and finish 3rd overall. In 2014, the close-up staging of The Common Linnets’ largely unheralded ‘Calm After The Storm’ exuded chemistry between Waylon and Ilse helping The Netherlands win semi-final 1, and finish runner-up in the grand final.
12. The new ranking system introduced in 2013 appears to benefit safe, middle-of-the-road songs on the jury side of the equation: This is something of a new trend which has surfaced and is partly due to the fact safe, inoffensive, middle-of-the-road songs are unlikely to achieve lowly rankings among jury members whereas edgier, minority genre and original tunes are in greater danger of being ranked poorly by some jurors, dragging down their overall ranking.
In 2013, we saw Israel (Hebrew), Montenegro (Who See, Igranka), Croatia (classical) and Bulgaria (ethno-rock) suffer at the hands of jurors, resulting in all 4 failing to qualify for the final. In 2014, the likes of Belgium (operatic) and Israel (part Hebrew) failed to qualify for the grand final, while Greece (rap) was heavily penalised by jurors seeing it drop to 20th place in the final.
Looking at the 2014 grand final, you had 3 very derivative but inoffensive, middle-of-the-road songs making it into the jury top 10 in the shape of Mumford & Sons clone Malta (6th), Coldplay clone Finland (7th) and Bruno Mars clone Denmark (10th).
The more original Switzerland song (compared to Malta) was rated 22nd by jurors leaving it in 13th place overall despite proving popular with televoters in 7th. The novelty Poland song, 5th with televoters, suffered even more at the hands of jurors rated 23rd which landed it in 14th place overall, despite being superbly performed and staged. Competent and bland is winning out over songs with any kind of edge under the new ranking system.
Latvia‘s jury success in 2015 perhaps indicates edgier songs can do well under the new scoring system but when you see Estonia being ranked joint 8th in semi-final 1 (lower than the anodyne Netherlands) and a lowly 11th in the grand final, originality appears to remain at risk of under-performing on the jury rankings and there can be an abject failure to reward musical artistry.
Again in 2016, the easily-accessible if rather bland Australia achieved a much bigger jury points haul compared to the edgier Ukraine track, though Ukraine managed to win the Contest courtesy of a bigger televote points haul.