There are many ways to win the Eurovision Song Contest – after all, Russia didn’t even compete in 2017 but there will be many that would consider the outcome to be positive for the Kremlin (but it’s not a political show, you understand).
It’s a Song Contest that looks for the best singer, expects the flashiest fireworks, anticipates a well-choreographed dance routine… but it also treasures a low-key performance, artistic simplicity, reflecting modern music all packaged for family entertainment. We expect each entry to be the pinnacle of what that country can presents, but assuming a delegation finds the right balance of every factor, the audience has to be told ‘this is the one’
What role does press and marketing play in the Song Contest?
Storytelling Tools For A Modern Song Contest
The same topics rise in the public conscious as each Eurovision approaches: ‘This country will vote for that country every year, regardless of song quality;’ ‘That country only won because of current events, not because the song is any good;’ ‘If a country does well, it’s because they found a way to cheat.’
But if those were actually true and actual deciding factors each year, how does that explain Portugal’s victory? Or Denmark, Austria, or Germany in recent years?
Polls wavered in the days leading up to Kyiv 2017 between an Italian man with literal ‘sex appeal’ backed up with an ape suit and a Portuguese jazz singer standing alone onstage. It was all but decided: Italy was destined to win, so what happened?Italy’s Francesco Gabbani appeared cocky and bored and seemed to be ready to move on leading up to the Final – did that affect his outcome?
Meanwhile Portugal’s Salvador Sobral was in and out of hospital and most appearances in preparation for the performance were made by his sister. The story presented through the media was one of hope, never one looking to pull heartstrings. The result was that of a pure song winning, but could a native language-jazz waltz combo have won without such a narrative? How important is the attachment to the singer and their journey in a song contest?
The songs with the high notes, vocal presence, best-sounding song with headphones, etc are not mentioned in a Song Contest. Is it because our favourite show is something different… the Eurovision Story Contest? What tropes perform well at each year’s Contest, and can we predict the final result based on the trope that will be employed?
The No Shows
Albania seems to love those long, drawn-out notes perfect for impressing the juries at the Eurovision Song Contest, and it certainly helped achieve their best result, fifth place in 2012 with Rona Nishliu. 2017’s Lindita didn’t get this same treatment with ‘World’, reaching 14th and not qualifying, but then, what do you remember hearing of Lindita? She was missing the elements that told a story during the three minutes.
This year’s No Show: Romania’s entry with The Humans. ‘Goodbye’ is soaring at times and has big moments as a pop ballad, but what will happen onstage and will it be enough?
Armenia in 2017 had a three minute song that sounded like it lasted an hour—in a good way! It grew and grew until it exploded, but for a first listen would it work? Watching a video taken from the crowd while she performed at the final, the crowd seemed distracted, waiting. When the big moment finally happened (in the last 30 seconds) it took some pyrotechnics to get an explosion from the crowd. It scored 18th and nobody talked about it, even to say that it was cheated out of Saturday night á la Finland not qualifying at all.
This year’s guesstimate: It’s hard to say who no one is talking about so early when the preview concerts have just started, but given how early they were announced I’m going to go with Switzerland’s Zibbz and ‘Stones’. The song has a fine message, a different sound, but no one’s talking about that—yet. Let’s be positive for Switzerland’s indie-flavored duo!
Maybe it was always a stretch, and maybe they were never bound to qualify, but I took personal offense when Latvia didn’t qualify with the electronic pop ‘Line‘ – in fact, they placed last. Latvia hosted its fourth annual Pre-Party in Riga for 2017 and the band performances there were strong, but maybe they required Aminata to get press instead of… awkwardly shaped neon art? I had high hopes for the performance, and I think I can admit it fell short of what I had wanted.
This year’s guesstimate: I’m looking at you, Czech Republic’s Mikolas Josef with ‘Lie to Me.’ This artist has the swagger, charisma, and charm that Jüri Pootsmann sorely needed in 2016 and I will be heartbroken if he underperforms on the night. Dear Mikolas, you’re on fire.
How about winners that didn’t, well, win? The songs that should’ve never rested on their laurels as it were. The song is everywhere and everyone is talking about it, but tripped on the edge of greatness?
The Promised Ones
Belgium’s Blanche was in the group of potential winners with her low-key song ‘City Lights’, but the press reports of her nervous rehearsal caused her betting pool to swim for the edge. The advantage to that was the synergy with the lyrics,,, her chorus including the sublime line “all alone in the danger zone”. To first time viewers it could be seen as a “performance”, though those who followed her story knew her struggle.
This year’s guesstimate: Let me do some non-jinxing, perfectly safe rituals here, alright, now that that’s done, prepare yourself… Finland’s Saara Aalto with ‘Monsters’. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love this, but it’s doing really well right now, and that causes me panic. Let’s just leave it at that and pretend I didn’t say anything, shall we?
The press loved to discuss whether or not Romania’s Ilinca and Alex Florea rap-yodeling track, aptly titled ‘Yodel It!‘, was a gimmick or a legitimate song. The song was in every Eurovision conversation in 2017, but the question was “was it a real song?” rather than how well could it do—would it have mattered if it had been the latter? The duo still gave them seventh place in the Grand Final, not even beating Romania’s overall best of third place.
As with Saara, I’m going to need another moment with the warding-off-evil tricks. Ok deep breath. This year’s guesstimate: Estonia’s Elina Nechayeva with the opera track ‘La Forza.’ This is perfection—she’s proven she can do it live, it’s clear, she’s talented, but how many out there will see and hear opera and tune out? Hopefully they’re impressed by her dress…
Language as its own gimmick? In a Song Contest involving multiple countries with their own languages, English is still the most prevalent choice—sometimes to an artist’s detriment (my precious Greta Salóme).
In 2017 we were treated to the first all-Belarussian language entry with Naviband. The group was ever-present in interviews, performances, on the red carpet—everywhere they went they were delightfully entertaining, and the track was well-discussed. However, the band still scored 17th place. I was hurt; I anticipated them landing Top 5.
This year’s guesstimate: This year’s entries have presented a delightful mix of native language entries, and so far I’m loving all of them. I’m going to go with Hungary’s AWS and the post-hardcore track ‘Viszlát nyár’ because they have a chorus including the translation “Goodbye, summer, you’re out late / Because you lied, you will be me / But you did not come.” Last year’s Hungarian entry, also non-English (Hungarian and Romani) landed eighth place, and do you know how much I would leap into the air if a post-hardcore non-English song did well at Eurovision?!
For Eurovision 2018 the big news (yet) doesn’t seem to be how good anything is yet. The point is that we all have an idea of what we want from our Song Contest. If an article surfaces that puts our favourites in a bad light, will it affect our take on the night? If it were truly about the performance, should we let it?
Sometimes it comes down to presence, that star quality that demands you stare at, or more importantly, a song that makes you vote for it. Loreen performed mostly solo on a mostly bare stage, as did Jamala (plus her tree). Måns Zelmerlöw had a simple costume, if you could even call it a costume, and danced alongside a stick figure on a screen. They were all favourites to win going in, not surprise winners. The same can be argued for our Salvador Sobral; the song may have been a “dark horse” in nature, but it was slated to land at least second place for the time leading up to the Grand Final.
Show me this, fellow internet citizens: I would like another Netherland’s The Common Linnets performance—a shock win, or at least second placement. I want to have the song no one mentions, no one expects to do well, but secretly loves.
Here’s hoping—wouldn’t it make for such a fantastic show?
Lisbon 2018 is seven days closer and as the preview party season continues, the Eurovision community draws together to remember Lys Assia.
Eurovision Insight Podcast: C’était Ma Vie
Goodbye to our first legend, a winner drops to third, and some surprise tickets go on sale. Ewan Spence and ESC Insight bring you another week of Eurovision Song Contest news,
As the Eurovision Song Contest 2018 draws ever closer, keep listening to the ESC Insight podcast for more Eurovision news, fun, and chat. You’ll find the show in iTunes, and a direct RSS feed is also available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.
I’ve been in plenty of odd Eurovision related events in my time, but on Saturday morning I trekked across the igneous rock covered pavements of Reykjavík into an out-of-town shopping district. I was meeting the President of the Icelandic branch of OGAE, FÁSES, for a round of Zumba to warm up for the evening’s final.
Now I was expecting a small corner office room for such a particular combination of two niche interests, but the music was blaring well into the shopping centre for all to hear. Inside the sports hall was rammed from end to end with a mass of sweaty bodies busting their moves to ‘Kizunguzungu’.
A room full of sweaty men and women in mid-Zumba action (Photo: Ben Robertson, ESC Insight)
The President of FÁSES, Flosi Jón Ófeigsson, wasn’t just getting involved; he was leading the entire group. With being a hotel manager as his day job, Flosi has also been running the Eurovision Zumba sessions at EuroClub the last two years, but here in Iceland there was a whole magnitude more people than in Kyiv or Stockholm. That post-workout euphoria filled the room with collective glee as everybody demolished the fridge full of help-yourself skyr.
Only in Iceland could they love Eurovision so much.
This Is My Life
It is a well known fact in the Eurovision community that Iceland is officially the country that loves Eurovision the most. Statistically speaking no country comes anywhere close to Iceland’s TV audience share with 95.3 % of people watching television tuning into the Grand Final. That number is from 2016, a year when Iceland didn’t even qualify to the Saturday night show. The bonkers ratio can be partly explained by the lack of competition from other channels in the country of 350,000, and part to the dark Scandinavian winters, but these don’t account for the full nature of Iceland’s loyal viewers.
One unique factor of geography also works in Iceland’s favour is lying on the west of the European continent. That means Iceland is in a time zone one hour earlier than London in May, and two hours ahead of Paris or Berlin. Starting Eurovision at 19:00, with the sun only just setting as the credits roll, very much shifts Iceland to a prime time viewing audience. A family audience at that.
I spotted that later that afternoon in the basement of a different Reykjavík office block at the fan club pre party. Almost everybody in attendance was either a child or with a child. Fizzy pop was flowing, the cute party dresses getting plenty of twirls and some were putting finishing touches on their very handmade signs for the evening’s show. Most Eurovision fan club events across Europe are impossible for children to attend with all the late night dancing and alcohol consumption – but here I had stumbled into the most unique of family celebrations.
Interval acts Robin Bengtsson and Emmelie de Forest meet young fans at the pre party (Photo: Ben Robertson, ESC Insight)
This leads to a second quirk about Eurovision fans in Iceland. According to Flosi FÁSES is the only OGAE member club to have a majority female membership. Part of this may be attributed to the family viewership attracting mothers and daugthers to actively sign up, but also this reinforces what we know about Iceland’s love of Eurovision.
The Eurovision Song Contest is no fringe interest here in these northern reaches. Eurovision dominates the gossip columns, news clips and radio stations many days before and after. Everybody has an opinion.
And also, in a country this small, everybody seems to know somebody involved in some way with the show. That personal connection just amplifies everything above to crazy heights.
Hear Them Calling
Flosi is keen to showcase how much the fan club in Iceland is different for having such a good working relationship with so many influential people. Artists flock to them for interviews and promotion, rather than the other way around. Newspapers are bombarding their members for interviews and on the day of the Söngvakeppnin final a one page spread in the Icelandic paper Visir covers just what FÁSES are doing to celebrate.
However the real relationship Flosi was most proud to talk about was with Icelandic broadcaster RÚV.
“RÚV are realising that we are a great asset. We have now a much bigger arena and they realise we are the people who support all the acts and wave our flags. We love the balloons and spectacle of Melodifestivalen and they listen to our comments.”
In conversation with Flosi before the final of Söngvakeppnin (Photo: Alison Wren, ESC Insight)
“They approached us after the semi final and told us how great an idea bringing the Icelandic flags were. Hopefully in the future we will be in a position where we (OGAE Iceland) can be a part of the decision making process of who to send to Eurovision as is already happening in Denmark and Slovenia.”
There are a few things to point out here. The much bigger arena gives Iceland the highest ratio of live audience members to population anywhere in Europe, with over 1 % of the country able to squeeze in Laugardalshöll, an arena most commonly used for handball. Secondly that Melodifestivalen comment is not just a throwaway response from a Eurovision fan, it is a direct part of Icelandic culture too. RÚV have a history of actually broadcasting the Swedish extravaganza, and the year both finals were on the same night Melodifestivalen was recorded to broadcast straight afterwards.
That explains the room full of Zumba dancers knowing the moves to ‘Håll Om Mig Hårt’.
Finally is it the exact nature of that co-operation that is helping give Iceland a Eurovision boost. FÁSES get not just reduced price tickets to the show but also ones in a prime location for all that jubilant flag waving to be centre stage. In recent years Iceland has dotted National Finals around various locations, with budget a decisive factor to move out of the sparkling new Harpa Concert Hall in downtown Reykjavík. This year though ticket sales for even the Semi Finals were sold out weeks in advance and Söngvakeppnin is back as Iceland’s premier TV event once more.
The same sadly can’t be said for Iceland’s Eurovision results.
All Out Of Luck
From 2008 to 2014 Iceland made every single Eurovision final, a stat punctuated by Johanna’s stunning performance of ‘Is It True?’ giving Iceland 2nd place in 2009.
Since then though Iceland have stuttered badly, missing the Grand Final by a distance the last three years. Greta Salóme was closest in 2016 with a disappointing 14th place.
The man in charge of trying to steer Iceland back is Felix Bergsson, Icelandic Head of Delegation. He’s been with RÚV since those good old days of 2011 as a press officer, commentator and assistant Head of Delegation before taking the full reigns in 2016.
Despite the viewing figures, Felix feels ‘a lot of pressure’ on his goal to qualify to the Grand Final.
“I thought we deserved to be in the final the past two years and sadly the tide turned. The party will be better and we want to do it for the artist.
“Our challenge is in getting noticed, we don’t have many friends and Scandinavia doesn’t vote for us automatically.”
Felix has been on numerous international juries this year, as the Melodifestivalen trend of being bringing in fellow Eurovision voices from overseas because increasingly popular. Countries like France and Germany alongside Sweden show the extra level of difficulty in trying to compete side-by-side. Not only do they have closer borders than the expanse of the Atlantic Ocean to the nearest neighbouring country, but also the record labels and professional contacts that stream into their respective competitions. In Iceland foreign collaborations are often limited to those perennial songwriters who turn up in National Finals wherever they may be.
Felix reading out the Icelandic points in the French National Final this year
One possible attributing factor is the complicated language rule in Söngvakeppnin. For the Semi Finals all songs must be performed in Icelandic, with artists having a free choice of what language to sing in the Final. However that language choice in the final will be the language the song goes to Eurovision with.
“The reason is that we are making new Icelandic pop music,” Felix justifies. “We want Icelandic songwriters and RUV is the Icelandic broadcaster.”
“For children too, everything being in Icelandic makes it easy to understand.”
The extra barrier in preparing a song for both languages might be offputting for some songwriters or performers to take part. Furthermore this could arguably make the contest decidedly uncool to those who are looking for an international platform with an awkward backward step in the middle. Certainly a critical eye amongst the six competing songs in the Söngvakeppnin Final would struggle to classify any of the six as hip and trendy.
On the flip side though, the majority of acts who reached the final this year were young fresh talent which Iceland is constantly a good breeding ground for. For 16 to 20 year olds at college a competition called Söngvakeppnin Framhaldsskólanna – pitching schools against schools – has cultivated much Icelandic talent. It is no surprise the alumni roll call is basically a who’s who of anybody you’ll recognise from Icelandic Eurovision history. ‘Í Stormi’, eventually toppled in the Super Final after winning both jury and televote in round one, was created from a collaboration of two former winners of said competition.
Iceland Needs That Je Ne Sais Quoi
There is an awkward paradox in Icelandic Eurovision. On one side it is promoting new Icelandic talent and growing the brand locally to never seen before heights anywhere in Europe. However the flip side has led to performances internationally faultering. Ari Ólafsson is the 19 year old artist heading to Lisbon this year after charming the camera lens with tear-jerking emotion from the Green Room, coming from behind to win a tight superfinal. His song, ‘Our Choice’, is a ballad belonging to a Eurovision era before his birth and is currently seen as a very unlikely qualifier where the chance to charm viewers back home will be limited.
However, as family friendly entertainment it is little surprise that those puppy dog eyes stole the crown in the last few minutes of voting on Saturday night. This is a country of family parties and barbeques on sunny May evenings. A country where the fan club pub quiz isn’t held in a pub at all but the conference room of the capital’s LGBT organisation just behind the main square – welcoming all. A country that last qualified with a bunch of multi-coloured pre-school teachers singing about how bad bullying was.
There is a word that defines what the Eurovision Song Contest is to Iceland. That word is cute. It is the kind of entertainment that everybody gets a warm glow inside from. Sadly cute alone might find it hard to qualify in a modern Eurovision of professional juries, PR machines and pop music increasingly defined by expensive production values.
However if they do qualify the celebrations in Iceland will be so joyous only their football team this summer in Russia could beat it.
And for that passion alone, I for one simply wish every country could be a little more Iceland.
Tucked away in a tiny corner of Oslo is this week’s edition of Juke Box Jury. The sun has set, the candles are lit, and as the rest of the ESC Insight team take over EscXtra’s livestream, the next batch of hits, misses, and maybes are being decided.
Eurovision Insight Podcast: Juke Box Jury #2 with Ellie Chalkley (Listen Outside) and Wiv Kristiansen (EscXtra).
Greece: Oneiro, by Yianna Terzi.
Germany: You Let Me Walk Alone, by Michael Schulte.
United Kingdom: Storm, by SuRie.
San Marino: Who We Are, by Jessika, ft Jenifer Brening.
Spain: Tu Canción, by Alfred & Amaia.
Don’t miss an episode of the Eurovision Insight podcast by subscribing to the RSS feed dedicated to the podcasts. iTunes users can find us in the iTunes Store and get the show automatically downloaded to your computer.
Eurovision betting markets can be a tricky beast – often a great indicator of which entries have momentum heading into The Contest, but never immune to an upset. Remember when Amaury Vassili had it all sewn in 2011, Aram MP3 was the one to beat in 2014 and last year’s contest in Kyiv was going to be little more than an extended coronation for Francesco Gabbani?
In this week’s newsletter, we bring you an update on some of Portugal’s plans for the trio of shows in May, Alexander Rybak’s ambitions to become the new Johnny Logan and details of the final official ticket release for those who are still hoping to see the Contest live this year.
In the meantime, here are some of the favourites to follow in Salvador Sobral’s footsteps according to the bookies…
Israel: Netta – Toy
A frenetic dance-pop workout that takes full advantage of Next Star for Israel winner Netta Barzilai’s tongue-twisting vocal abilities, this thoroughly modern confection is as narrow as 2/1 for victory with some bookies.
Estonia: Elina Nechayeva – La Forza
Elina swept to a commanding victory at Eesti Laul this year, leading to a drastic shortening of her odds to bring Estonia their long awaited second Contest win. Opera entries have had mixed fortunes at Eurovision in the past, but Il Volo won the televote by a considerable margin in 2015. If this catches the same audience – and also wins over the juries – we could be back in Tallinn next year.
Czech Republic: Mikolas Josef – Lie To Me
A victory for Czech Republic would represent a huge turnaround for a country that has only previously made one appearance in the Grand Finals out of six attempts. But Mikolas Josef’s self-penned groove has proven a huge YouTube hit and currently sits at third with the bookies. Will we be in Prague next year – and will the reaction in Czech Republic be one of elation or bemusement?
Australia: Jessica Mauboy – We Got Love
After a vocally shaky interval performance in 2014, Australian superstar Jessica Mauboy has plenty to prove with her return to Eurovision as a bona fide competitor. This uplifting dance-pop song should be a huge hit in the Euroclub, but will it translate into the points required for a win? The bookmakers certainly fancy her chances, with Australia currently in 4th position with odds as narrow as 11/1.
Bulgaria: Equinox – Bones
They made a spectacular comeback in Stockholm and gave Salvador a strong fight for the crown in Kyiv – can Bulgaria ride their upward momentum to their first victory this year? You’d be hard pressed to find a country that wants it more, and while odds have drifted a little since Bulgarian-American collective Equinox presented their song, they’re still top five with most bookmakers.
Stay tuned next week for more updates over the coming weeks, including more details of the Lisbon shows, the inevitable wave of revamps and remixes and reports from the annual pre-concerts in London, Amsterdam, Tel Aviv and more…
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The National Final season draws to a close. From 10,507 submissions to 696 televised songs, we have our final forty-three songs to take to Lisbon. Let’s round up the last seven days of news, enjoy a momentary pause, and then power through to Portugal!
Eurovision Insight Podcast: We’ll Always Have Ida
The fairytale returns, a rush of edited songs, and we’re off to the Portuguese Ministry of Defence. Ewan Spence and ESC Insight introduce another week of Eurovision Song Contest news as the National Final season ends.
As the 2018 National Finals Season ends and thoughts turn to Lisbon, keep listening to the ESC Insight podcast for more Eurovision news, fun, and chat. You’ll find the show in iTunes, and a direct RSS feed is also available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.