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Good Karma Or Bad?

Mar 21, 2017 by

Good Karma Or Bad?

For a long time during the ESC 2017 season, it was looking like Italy would go shorter and shorter as potential challengers were falling by the wayside. Then Portugal and Belgium turned up and things have become a bit more interesting at the top of the betting market.

Starting with Italy, those who are picking holes are looking at him and a guy in a gorilla suit on stage and seeing it as cheap, bordering on novelty. On the plus side it is a catchy pop song performed by a hugely charismatic guy. It has a feel-good nature and the audience interaction element helps the song come alive on stage. You can imagine social media going into a frenzy on the night of the final too over the guy with the gorilla.

A strong televote looks assured; a bigger question mark is how jury members will treat it. It is worth remembering exactly what the ESC jurors are supposed to be judging. In the voting rules it states: ‘By judging each song each jury member will focus on the vocal capacity of the artist(s), the performance on stage, the composition and originality of the song, and the overall impression by the act.’

In terms of performance, composition and originality you would have to say Italy is more likely to be rated highly by jurors, and it’s a song that probably appeals to young and old alike. We also have evidence in the past of jurors reacting like televoters when it comes to the visual impact of a performance, and the atmosphere generated by a song on the night of the grand final – Conchita in 2014 being the classic example.

We also have evidence in the past of jurors reacting like televoters when it comes to the visual impact of a performance, and the atmosphere generated by a song on the night of the grand final – Conchita in 2014 being the classic example

‘Occidentali’s Karma’ has some meaning behind the lyrics too and you would expect plenty of jurors will have done their homework. For those concerned it is in Italian and viewers won’t get it, it also seems fair to anticipate a good few national broadcasters explaining the song’s meaning to viewers. The visual backdrop used at the Sanremo Festival helped tell the story as well and we can probably expect similar visuals in Kiev.

My initial reaction to the 3-minute version of the song was, good job, regardless of a fair amount of dissatisfaction expressed within the ESC fan bubble. The heat around Italy going into this year’s competition also means that if it pulls out a first half draw, producers will place it as close to the end of the first half as possible, with the 12 or 13 slot most likely in such a scenario.

ESC is an audio-visual competition and the overall Italian package appears to be a strong one. However, its price with the bookmakers is already short at a best price of 7-4 at time of writing. Also worth considering is that we will find out the jury points first, and there has to be a chance Italy could find itself falling down to, say, third place, perhaps lower.

The question then becomes how the Betfair ‘in-running’ market would react. Last year, we obviously saw Russia drift significantly in these circumstances. Might the same thing happen with Italy?

It’s never easy to second guess the market. Last year, my expectation was Russia’s jury shortfall would see it drift in price ‘in-running’ and come up short of winning. The difference with Italy this year is that it could easily achieve an exceptional televote points score, enabling it to win overall even if it doesn’t finish top on the jury side of the equation, and the market could be clued up enough for the Italy price not to drift in such a scenario.

Portugal is very much the joker in the pack this year and comes with clear risks attached. Portugal lacks allies, it’s sung in Portuguese, it’s under-stated, it didn’t win the televote in its national final… There seem to be a good few hurdles standing in its way.

Televoters have been able to discern quality in recent Contests with under-stated songs – Netherlands 2014 being a good example, but it is difficult to draw any comparisons with past songs as this feels altogether more unique

However, it is an exquisite song, has a magical charm about it, and stands alone in the competition. We have not had an entry like this in recent Contests but it’s the sort of thing juries could go for in a big way. Obviously the televote side of things is more of a question mark.

Televoters have been able to discern quality in recent Contests with under-stated songs – Netherlands 2014 being a good example, but it is difficult to draw any comparisons with past songs as this feels altogether more unique.

Of course it would benefit from pulling out a second half draw in the grand final (assuming qualification), but the view here is Salvador’s mental tics performing it, make him and the song even more endearing, and news of his health issues is a narrative that could be a further boost to its chances in the lead up to this year’s Contest.

The argument against it is that it is too niche but he performs it with such heart-felt authenticity and fragility, he adds a certain x factor to the whole performance and he could just win the hearts of Europe.

The market springer this year has been Belgium. Available at 100-1 with bookmakers and bigger on Betfair, the odds plummeted to 5 after the leaked song turned up a day early. It’s a gem of an indie/pop song jurors should be rating highly assuming it’s delivered well on stage in Kiev.

Given the song’s downbeat nature, the main difficulty will be delivering the song effectively visually but Belgium has done a good job with staging in the last couple of years

But the big question mark with Belgium is how it scrubs up live. Blanche is only 17 so it will be a huge stage for her. A live clip of her performing the song led to a recent drift (it has since been backed in again) but was largely inconclusive. Given the song’s downbeat nature, the main difficulty will be delivering the song effectively visually but Belgium has done a good job with staging in the last couple of years.

Belgium is also the sort of song you can envisage doing well in Europe’s iTunes charts on the back of its appearance in semi-final 1, and it could build up a head of steam. It is worth remembering an extended clip of Italy will also be seen during semi-final 1, giving this is the semi it is voting in.

Sweden looks over-rated by the betting market as things stand. Sweden seems to be over-rated every year, partly due to the heavy focus on Melodifestivalen during the national qualifier season. It is slickly presented but feels rather soulless, lacking in charm and devoid of originality as a song.

There have to be major doubts regarding Eurovision juries being as generous towards Robin as they were in Melodifestivalen, where OGAE members and casual fans have a say. He doesn’t seem the most vocally assured performer either and won’t have the luxury of pre-recorded vocals and will require his dance troupe to offer vocal assistance in Kiev.

Robin didn’t win the televote in the Swedish final – though I am always reticent to use any domestic televote as a barometer of how a song will get on Eurovision-wide – but he is a telegenic guy who younger female voters will likely gravitate towards.

It might also prove unwise to draw too many comparisons with Bulgaria’s song last year (5th on the televoting side) as that was an uptempo tune that probably charmed a lot of neutrals on the night, as the first burst of life in last year’s final

It feels like there are a lot of generic, heavily-produced songs this year, in particular, among the plethora of solo ballads. Australia’s ‘Don’t Come Easy’ feels like an attempt to channel Sam Smith but remains a rather dull 3 minutes. Isaiah doesn’t have the look of the most charismatic performers and unlike Dami Im last year, the song doesn’t offer the window to show off a powerful vocal, seemingly loved by jurors when done evocatively in recent years (Dami Im, Polina Gagarina, Sanna Nielsen).

Australia, Bulgaria and Ireland all seem to be fishing in similar waters. ‘Cute’ boy performers of ballads of various hue, but the first impression with all 3 songs was they were rather bland and will need impressive staging make-overs to have impact. Staging impresario Sacha Jean-Baptiste having a hand is a potential plus for Bulgaria and Russian-born Kristian could enjoy a vote boost in the east too.

However, Kristian might not have things all his own way in terms of the Balkan vote. It might also prove unwise to draw too many comparisons with Bulgaria’s song last year (5th on the televoting side) as that was an uptempo tune that probably charmed a lot of neutrals on the night, as the first burst of life in last year’s final.

Regarding the other Scandi nations this year. Iceland’s Svala has major image issues that are of concern. While the song is reasonable enough the outfit, the tattoos, and the way she moved around the stage in the Iceland NF all felt like negatives in terms of the overall package.

Finland possibly has the chance to carve a bit of a niche for itself. Again, however, the visuals are a concern as the lead vocalist cast a ghostly presence at the Finnish national final, wearing a funereal dress. It’s very Enya, and it is an atmospheric track at least but her vocal is rather colourless and the track maybe lacks the artistry to seriously challenge.

Norway might be under-rated. It is modern, distinctive (with Daft Punk-style visuals) and different. Denmark’s Anja lost some vocal control in the Danish final and got a bit shouty so I’m not completely sold on her ability to deliver this track well enough live. But it’s a decent modern ballad and she comes across as a likeable performer with a beaming smile.

For it to really come to life they are going to have to do a fantastic job with the staging and build Common Linnets-style intimacy. The worry is whether the BBC can be trusted to achieve this

The revamp of the UK has given it a bit more impact. Lucie Jones is a highly capable live vocalist who has the pipes to deliver this song with aplomb but she needs to work on the performance side. For it to really come to life they are going to have to do a fantastic job with the staging and build Common Linnets-style intimacy. The worry is whether the BBC can be trusted to achieve this. Only rehearsals will tell us more.

The battle for top honours in the east looks most likely to lie between Armenia and Azerbaijan. Armenia was the last to reveal. It’s an interesting track and has some nice moments, not least the start, but it maybe lacks the impact of the songwriter’s previous two songs, written for Iveta last year and Aram MP3 in 2014. With great staging it could still go well in this year’s competition.

Azerbaijan is lacking a discernible hook, but is Sia-esque, and perhaps more accessible to Western Europe compared to Armenia. It also feels like a track that is built to come to life more with a good staging concept. Dihaj is very much an artist who you expect will have a clear vision of how to present this song. Certainly if Azerbaijan can return to the staging quality of old, it could go well.

Russia looks more interested in playing the propaganda game by entering Julia Samoylova. The song itself does not appear strong enough to challenge even factoring in any potential sympathy vote.

Georgia’s singer is capable but the song feels a bit repetitive and one-dimensional after a promising Bond-style start although Sacha Jean-Baptiste could help bring it to life a bit more live. Ukraine’s entrant, as is often the way with the defending champion, looks one intended not to win.

Among the Baltics, Latvia is certainly distinctive and on a personal level much enjoyed as a throwback to dance music of the 90s. The lead singer was a bit ropy vocally in the national final, so again we need to see how this shapes up in Kiev.

While Estonia is very old-fashioned Eurovision, it does have impact and ESC loves a good male/female duet. On seeing it and hearing it, it sparked memories of Denmark 2010 (‘In A Moment Like This’), which of course finished 4th from the pimp slot. While it doesn’t feel quite as anthemic as that track did, it could have scope to surprise.

One concern was Laura’s vocal based on the Eesti Laul performances and the pair of them need to work on their chemistry together. But the talk is of completely different staging for this in Kiev.

The Serbian song this year was initially in Bulgarian hands but they decided to reject it. It is a modern, uptempo track with a decent chorus but the perennial difficulty with uptempo tracks at ESC is delivering them well live. They require movement from the lead singer and vocals often go awry. Again, it’s one that needs to be seen at rehearsals before reaching any conclusions.

Israel are usually a safe pair of hands when it comes to delivering an uptempo song well on stage as it did 2 years ago with Nadav Guedj (‘Golden Boy’) and Imri’s song this year seems to have been harshly discarded

The battle for top uptempo track between Serbia, Israel and Greece is a tricky one to call pre-rehearsals. Israel are usually a safe pair of hands when it comes to delivering an uptempo song well on stage as it did 2 years ago with Nadav Guedj (‘Golden Boy’) and Imri’s song this year seems to have been harshly discarded.

After having high hopes for Greece this year, their song was a big disappointment. It’s very generic. That said, Demy is a big star and you can see this song potentially over-achieving because it may well encourage the diaspora to come out and support her. And Demy has a solid team behind her in terms of ensuring the staging is excellent and her live vocal is sounding the best it can sound.

Romania’s yodel/rap fusion is only the sort of thing you could envisage on the ESC stage. There isn’t much of a tune there and this looks like one it will be very easy for jurors to rank at the bottom of the pile. The public may take to it more though it isn’t a given this will generate huge televote support.

Albania’s Lindita appears to be a strong live vocalist and the revamp of the song has improved it. Poland’s Kasia Mos also seems highly capable live. Last year’s Polish televote haul remains something of a mystery and gives rise to hope this could similarly rouse support among the diaspora. It certainly has impact with the strings in the last minute and the power note climax.

FYR Macedonia is a modern, radio-friendly effort and they also have Sacha Jean-Baptiste (who did Cyprus, Georgia and Armenia last year) working for them in Kiev which could help elevate it.

Alma has good looks on her side and this song has a certain USP. The issue with France and key to whether it flies high or sinks like a stone lies in the performance

France has got its act together under new HoD Edoardo Grassi with Amir achieving 6th place last year. Alma has good looks on her side and this song has a certain USP. The issue with France and key to whether it flies high or sinks like a stone lies in the performance. There were signs of an improvement at the Ukrainian final but Alma really needs to sell it better by playing on her cuteness more. The bi-lingual version hasn’t really enhanced it either.

There was one acoustic version of her performing the song sat at the piano. This would potentially work well in Kiev as it added to the song’s charm but it seems more likely we will see her stand to sing it.

Among the remainder of the field Croatia’s split personality song could be a joy to behold live, and Hungary has a strong ethno USP though the rap does feel like it detracts from it. Switzerland came across surprisingly well when performed live at the Romanian national final and might have the chance to surprise, while Belarus certainly has a delightful, feel-good spirit about it.

Cyprus, Austria and Spain are all sung by good looking guys and are respectable enough efforts but are maybe too middle-of-the-road to make a big impact. The return of ‘Epic Sax Guy’ for Moldova is perhaps the high point of a track that seems weaker than their 2010 effort.

Italy might be over-rated by fans within the ESC bubble or it could romp to a comfortable victory; Portugal could be this year’s magical sleeper hit or end up harshly neglected; and Belgium might be a triumph live or fall completely flat

To sum up, Italy is beatable but is hugely respected and one I personally wouldn’t want to have red in my book. Outside of Italy, it’s very difficult to identify any country at this stage you could call confidently to make the top 4/5. Rehearsals are going to be hugely informative as there is scope for something to emerge from nowhere courtesy of great staging.

It feels like a year of boom or bust among the 3 strongest contenders in my eyes at the top of the market – Italy might be over-rated by fans within the ESC bubble or it could romp to a comfortable victory; Portugal could be this year’s magical sleeper hit or end up harshly neglected; and Belgium might be a triumph live or fall completely flat. So there does look room for a surprise or two.

The next intel will be gathered attending the London Eurovision concert on Sunday April 2 and the Melkweg event in Amsterdam on Saturday April 8. Keep an eye out for reviews of those two big concerts coming soon.

We are also now waiting patiently for TPTB to reveal the running order of the two semi-finals. Until then ESC traders must tide themselves over playing a game of cat and mouse seeking value Backs and dangling value Lays in Betfair’s plethora of markets.

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4 Comments

  1. Durhamborn (John)

    Always look forward to your thoughts Rob as i think you approach things from a “value” side,and iv always had a similar approach.I have a huge family party for ESC and my no 1 priority is to not ruin my night worrying about a poor book.
    I was glad to see someone else see the hidden quality in Timebelle’s song.Cracking pipes on her that are able to go up with the melody and deliver some punch.Needs better staging though to do anything.
    Belgium have a great song, but i have huge worries over her ability to deliver it well enough.Staying on key with that sort of pitch is very very difficult.The live phone vid only confirmed that to me.Belgium have learned how to stage,but i want to see how the vocals work during rehearsals before pushing her green as she is too short with those worries for me.Backing singers might have to harmonize most of the song and that will be tricky.
    I have Bulgaria green because some good judges i respect like it,even though i think it lacks too much and loses impact second half of the song.
    I have Italy green but nothing earth shattering,and the rest of my book tight.My biggest green is Armenia.In the 40s i just couldnt help taking as much as i could get.It is the sort of song/performance that will grow and grow with the public over ESC week or it wont.At those prices i was happy to risk that i can put it back into the book around 10s after the semis and/or in running and hope it is up there during the jury vote to be matched.
    Value backers had it easy last year buying Ukraine right up to ESC going in play at 25s (thankyou Russian Bot).This year is much much tougher to find value.Patience and keeping things in range seem the best options.

    • Rob

      Thanks for posting, Durham. Very true about the suspect Russian fav last year helping value seekers land a healthy profit. The in-running odds available on Ukraine were amazing.

      In terms of top 10 this year, I am always feverishly trying to find chinks in the armour of the short-priced ones. I do have doubts regarding a few failing to come up to scratch live, and this does have the feel of an open year with the chance for a few dark horses to emerge.

      As usual, rehearsals are going to be very revealing.

  2. Hey Rob. That was quite a big article. But still very insightful ;-). I think we have also a very similar music taste. I too play Portugal a lot. It’s a unique little song in this year’s contest and it has this cinematic quality that ‘Madness Of Love’ (Italy 2011) and ‘Birds’ (Netherlands 2013) had. It’s tender, and is being performed by Salvador Sobral with so much emotion. That could be a strength.

    Yet, I do think that ‘Amar Pelos Dois’ is not as accessible as the other two songs I just mentioned. Perhaps it’s not really the song, but more Salvador’s motorical ticks when he’s performing. It doesn’t come across to me as very charming. Now I know the singer already had surgeries for two hernias, which is very unfortunate. And I am happy he’s doing much better now. But most juries…and televoters probably won’t hear about this backstory (I personally think the backstory of O’G3NE’s parents has the chance of becoming a bigger story during commentary remarks). And perhaps that explains his posture on stage looks a bit painful. I know he sings the song with a lot of emotion, but I’m a bit afraid that juries and televoters alike find his posture a bit ‘strange’ or ‘weird’.

    Inany case, when seeing Salvador perform, he doesn’t ‘catch’ me or charm me like Raphael Gualazzi or Anouk did. Portugal could be this year’s quintessential song that probably will receive lots of respect from juries, but that will fall a bit flat with televoters. I can not see Portugal ending higher than 8th or 9th.

    It’s a bloody shame to realize that, because quality at Eurovision should be rewarded. But we also know that Eurovision 2017 AD doesn’t work like that all the time.

    Look at Sweden this year. Yes, it’s a cocky boy that Bengtsson-man. Yes, he must have huge balls to perform a narcissist show like that. But I can’t help but feeling more drawn to the screen when I see that exquisit dance choreography with tredmills. Perhaps it’s too much for some to look at. But perhaps for some entries that kind of slickness and cockyness is the new ‘charm’ in Eurovision. Just look at Russia last year (I actually think Sweden this year is better than Russia last year), or Sweden in 2011. So Sweden knows how to channel that.

    Personally, I am afraid that Sweden will be TOP 3 again. And I think this year they have a bigger chance at winning the contest than with last year’s entry.

  3. Cathal

    Interesting with the 3 boy ballads is none have been performedited live yet AFAIK, could be a deal breaker potentially.