ESC Insight has arrived in Lisbon, and the next two weeks will be full of opinions, thoughts, and editorial around this year’s Song Contest. But first, what are the team expecting from the Song Contest, what is Suzy expecting Portugal to offer us, and what do we think of the first day of rehearsals?
Eurovision Insight Podcast: Daily News From Lisbon, Monday 30th April
Welcome to Lisbon! ESC Insight has arrived in Lisbon as the first rehearsals get under way. Our first daily podcast from the Big Orange Sofa in Lisbon with expectations, explanations, and the excitement of the first day of rehearsals.
Now we are reporting from backstage at Eurovision, remember to stay up to date with all the Eurovision news by subscribing to the ESC Insight podcast. 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.
As is the tradition, the first Monday of rehearsals means the release of the names of the jurors for this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. In line with recent years, the list features a broad mix of artists, music or media industry professionals and ‘others’.
2018 Jury membership criteria
According to this year’s rules each delegation’s jury must:
Have five members, including a chairperson
Be citizens of the participating broadcaster’s country
Juries cannot include employees of a participating broadcaster as members
Members cannot have been jurors in 2016 or 2017
Jurors are supposed to be music industry professionals, specifically “radio DJ, artist, composer, author of lyrics or music producer.”
Feature some balance based on age, gender, and background
The last requirement is particularly vexing, since there is an odd number of jury members and only five members in total.
A scan of the list of jurors shows there are a fair number who don’t seem to line up with #5. “Artist manager” is one example of this, as are “journalist”, “stylist”, and “Deputy Head of Professional Arts Department of the Ministry of Kulture”.
Unlike in some recent years, all delegations have provided a complete list of jurors before rehearsals began.
There are a number of Eurovision alumni on this year’s list, including two former winners. Niamh Kavanagh gave Ireland its fifth victory in 1993 with ‘In Your Eyes’. In 2010 she brought Ireland back to the Grand Final, finishing 23rd with ‘It’s For You’. Emmelie de Forest brought Denmark its third victory in 2013 with ‘Only Teardrops’. She also composed the 2017 UK entry ‘Never Give Up On You’, which finished 15th.
Artists who have previously competed in the Eurovision:
Nathan Trent (Austria 2017)
Laura Tesoro (Belgium 2016)
Tom Dice (Belgium 2010)
Mary Roos (Germany 1972, 1984)
Aminata (Latvia 2015)
Amber Bondin (Malta 2015)
Cristina Scarlat (Moldova, 2014)
Nina Zizic (Montenegro 2013)
Michał Szpak (Poland 2016)
Bojana Stamenov (Serbia 2015)
Tijana Milosevic (Serbia 2017)
Guri Schanke (Norway 2007)
There are also a few artists who’ve sought to represent their country at various national selections. Sweden’s Mariette Hansson participated in the 2015, 2017 and 2018 editions of Melodifestivalen. Bryan Rice competed in the Dansk Melodi Grand Prix 2010. K-One is on the Swedish jury. He co-wrote Sanna Nielsen’s ‘Undo’, which finished third in Copenhagen 2014.
We aren’t provided data with respect to the ‘background’ of jurors. We do know, however, their dates of birth and (ostensive) genders. Broadly speaking, the gender split is even.
Our youngest juror at 16 years is Karl Killing who competed in Eesti Laul 2018. The most seasoned juror is Zdenka Kovacicek from Croatia, who is 74 years young. Azeri jury chairperson Mubariz Tagiyev is 70 years old, only a few months older than his fellow Azeri juror Tunzala Qahraman. In fact, with Nurlana Cafarova (their youngest juror) aged 30, the age range for the Azeri jury is 42 years.
What happens next
Juries do not vote during the live broadcasts. The second dress rehearsal for each show–called the Jury Rehearsal, cunningly–is live streamed to a sequestered jury room in each broadcaster’s studios. They complete and submit their votes that same evening.
That means half the scores for each stage of the competition are determined before the public shows. Sometimes differences between the broadcasts matter–a lot. In 2011, the UK entry (‘I Can’, Blue) featured a wobbly jury vocal and a much better one on Saturday night. The juries ranked Blue 22nd (57 points): the public had them 5th (166 points). The following year Loreen choked on her prop snow during the jury final. ‘Euphoria’ nonetheless topped both the jury (296 points) and public (343 points).
During this year’s Grand Final broadcast, the participating broadcaster is required to read out the names of the jurors live. Once we know the 2018 winner, the detailed jury votes for the semi-finals and Grand Final are routinely published on eurovision.tv.
Being a Eurovision fan who has tasted the delicious banquet that is the on-the-ground live-show contest, it’s hard when you have to stay at home and feast on lean pickings served up by your mates who are all enjoying themselves in the land of Pastéis de Nata for May 2018. Rather than suffering serious FOMO or forcing myself to adopt a European timezone for the next fortnight (cause one actually has to work and earn a proper living), I’ve been seeking out ways to enjoy the contest here at home and take a whole bunch of people along with me for the ride.
One of the best ways to share the love, introduce your some of your non-fan colleagues to the contest and have them feel invested in the results is to run a sweepstakes.
Download your ESC Insight Eurovision 2018 Sweepstakes Kit here
Sweepstakes aren’t about betting or strategy, but about a game of luck. For a small investment, you stand the chance to win a significant amount more. It doesn’t require entrants to necessarily know the songs, the history of the contest or the artists. But rest assured they will be more keen to follow along when they think that doing so could be to their monetary benefit.
The potential of having your workplace or other organised environment (perhaps a class or another social group) are endless. Working in the travel industry, I use a sweepstakes to encourage my colleagues to learn more about the countries they have drawn and then share their tourism knowledge with others as part of the experience.
In addition, you can use it to run some related events – perhaps a screening – or write some emails or newsletters to entrants where you can share your knowledge of this years contest.
Eurovision is about bringing people together. I highly recommend using a Eurovision sweepstakes as a launchpad to not only create new fans, but to create conversation in a positive and culturally embracing way. And if it makes your working life more bearable and helps you get through the season whilst remaining separated from your mates all in Lisbon having a good time, all the better.
There was a certain frisson around ‘Amar Pelos Dois’ when it was revealed (along with the other entries) for RTP’s Festival do Cançao (FdC) 2017. That frisson built through Salvador Sobral’s appearance in its semi-final (where it ranked second): by the time Sobral performed in the FdC final, there was a genuine buzz: Portugal had something special on offer, though it perhaps seemed too Portuguese for the Eurovision Song Contest.
It is worth remembering that ‘Amar Pelos Dois’ did not win the televote in either its FdC semi-final or grand final. In other words an audience where everyone would have understood the song’s message, public support was extensive rather than overwhelming. Rather quickly the buzz around ‘Amar Pelos Dois’ got very loud within the Eurovision fan bubble.
And yet…many a Eurovision obsessive made observations like “it’s wonderful, but it’s not the sort of song that inspires a massive televote”, “I love it, but he’s too quirky for a mainstream audience” or “I think this is timeless, but I suspect a lot of jurors will see it as dated.” In other a quality entry, but not expected to do particularly well in Kyiv.
Well that turned out differently.
In 2017 we had a winner that shattered some of the unwritten rules—or, if you prefer, the conventional wisdom—in terms of winning the modern, aggregate-public-and-jury scored Eurovision Song Contest. Portugal is not part of a reliable voting bloc. Its diaspora might help an entry get out of its semi-final, in a flat scoring year. Aside from some regions of Spain, there is nowhere else in the Eurovision voting area where Portuguese is a regional or official language. And then there’s Salvador himself, whose style might best be described as idiosyncratic. RTP’s decision to eschew the surfeit of LEDs or other special effects in favour of classically stripped down staging.
‘Amar Pelos Dois’ had so many things going against, in terms of convention. It still won. Which got us thinking: why don’t we unpack some of the unwritten rules of the (Eurovision) game? And which winners have flouted them?
Rules Versus Rules
In discuss rules, we are not referring to the actual rules for the 2018 Contest. Year upon year these are more often tweaked a bit rather than being wholly rewritten. Even the shifts in the scoring system (from jury to public to public with a bit of jury to blended public/jury to the current aggregate public jury system) have been incremental over two decades. The fundamental rules have been consistent. Of course participating broadcasters can add their own rules about language, nationality of artists and songwriters, among others. But we’re not interested in those broadcaster specific rules either.
We’re focused on those unwritten rules, which fans and delegations discuss from time to time, often in consideration of an entry’s potential to do well. The sorts of things that work or do not work at the Eurovision.
Play To The TV, Not The Crowd
Many a dream about winning the Eurovision ended when an artist comfortable playing arena gigs steps onto a Grand Final stage. In addition to being huge, a Eurovision audience is super passionate. Many artists get hit with that rush of Eurofan love and proceeds to give an epic performance to the crowd. For everyone in the arena something amazing has been shared.
However it often comes across really disconnected to the much larger audience watching on telly. There are a few thousand votes available in the arena: there are millions for the taking behind the camera. Many seasoned musicians, who have cultivated their performance ethos over years, have fallen into this trap and not got the result they had hoped.
Unless you’re The Olsen Brothers. If you were two middle-aged Danish brothers who’ve been trying to represent your country at the Contest for a couple of decades and finally got the ticket. You’ve already lived the arechtypal rock and roll lifestyle (and all its excesses). You walk out on stage, look at each and decide “Let’s just have a blast!” You missed the camera? No worries, there another one (and you point to it each time you find it)! The crowd’s clapping along? AWESOME! When you’re nothing singing, you’re laughing.
The Olsen Brothers – ‘Fly On the Wings of Love’ (Source: YouTube/Olsenbrother Music)
The Olsen Brother were just so damned cool! And it came across brilliantly on telly.
Comebacks Don’t Win Eurovision… Or Make Great Comebacks.
Blue tried it. Ditto No Angels, Dana International, and Bonnie Tyler. Each of them tried to leverage participating in the Eurovision to rekindle their career. Some did OK (Blue were 5th in the public vote in 2011) while others…didn’t.
A Eurovision enabled comeback is probably still a risk worth taking…if you’ve got a strong entry. If you do reasonably well, you will probably gain some new fans, perhaps even a record deal (or retain one about to be lost). Many have tried to win the Eurovision as a career reboot strategy. It doesn’t usually work out as well as hoped.
Then there’s Katrina and the Waves, whose career had stalled by the mid 1990s. After a global smash with Walking on Sunshine, they released a series of CDs and singles, none of which generated anywhere near the sales as their big hit. But one night in Dublin that changed, when the Waves—led by 37 year old vocalist Katrina Leskanich—scored one of the biggest Eurovision victories of all time.
Katrina and the Waves – ‘Love Shine the Light’(Source: YouTube/escLIVEmusic1)
‘Love Shine the Light’ became the band’s biggest ever hit. Which still couldn’t prevent the band from collapsing a year or two later. The comeback thing also sort of worked out OK for Johnny Logan.
You Can’t ‘Just Sing’
In the golden era of the Contest, viewers were treated to legions of singers standing at their mark and singing. The high tech stage setup that is the 21st century Song Contest offers a lot of options for entries. Aside from all the high tech kit, many countries’ top designers are happy to contribute a frock or outfit for an extra fabulous look. Dancing or some form of choreography is good too. Whatever you do, you don’t want your performance to seem to be too static.
The 2010 Eurovision season had a handful of entries favoured in the betting odds. The Azeribaijan entry, ‘Drip Drop’ would be performed by the ingénue Safura. Denmark’s Chanée & Evergreen had the more schlager ‘In a Moment Like This’. And then there was Germany’s entry:
Lena Meyer-Landrut – ‘Satellite’ (Source:YouTube/Eurovision Song Contest)
Stefan Raab was the man driving that years German selection, the man who brought ‘Guildo hat euch lieb’ (7th in 1998) and ‘Wadde hadde dude da?’ (5th in 2000) to the Eurovision stage. Raab also co-wrote those ‘Can’t Wait Until Tonight’ (8th in 2004). That’s three entries, with top 10 results. Handing the reigns to Raab savvy rather than risky.
At the end of a multi-week selection there were two shortlisted singers, each of whom recorded the two short listed songs. Lena Meyer-Landrut’s version of ‘Satellite’ topped the German charts almost immediately. When it entered the Austrian and Swiss charts Eurovision fans started to take notice. In the quiescence after the mid-March Reference Group, Lena seemed to fall off the radar a bit.
When the rehearsals started in Oslo, Lena rocked up in a little black dress and just sang the song. Many wrote off her chances—except perhaps Raab and Lena. She sounded great, she looked great, she looked comfortable and she clearly was having fun. And Europe decided to join her!
Buzz Kill ≠ Victory
Many Eurovision entries have been built around an important social message, which is laudable: art is sometimes uniquely positioned to illuminate the need for change in our world. Over six decades of Eurovision Song Contests war, family violence, terrorism, and racism have been the subject of really strong entries (including several in 2018 too). While many of us appreciate it when the Song Contest is used as a platform for such aims, it does not often result in a finish near the top of the leader board.
Therefore on paper a song about Stalin’s purge of Crimean Tatars during World War Two (the Great Patriot War) would seem an obvious party killer. Unless you’re Jamala.
The magic was in the music, but the path to victory was in the maths, according to Jamala’s scientist husband Bekir Suleimanov. After the car crash that was the 2011 Ukrainian national selection, no one could blame Jamala for never again having any interest in the Ukrainian Eurovision selection. But Bekir persisted: with her talent, and a great song—one that suited her as an artist—along with strong levels of support across the public and jurors, Jamala could win the Eurovision. With something strong.
Jamala – ‘1944’ (Source: (Source: YouTube/Eurovision Song Contest)
“When strangers are coming, they come to your house, they kill you all and say ‘we’re not guilty, not guilty.’”
Not the sort of lyrics that gets the party started. ‘1944’ is neither a banger nor a ballad. It’s sort of jazz-infused, trip-hoppish song that Jamala’s catalogue has featured for years. It is contemporary; it’s just not mainstream pop. But everything—the melody, the arrangement, the vocal and the staging—were pure class. Both jurors and the public got solidly behind ‘1944’: being second favourite with both, under a new aggregate scoring system, brought Ukraine their second Eurovision victory.
Don’t Be Too Queer
When ORF announced Conchita Wurst had been internally selected as the Austrian entry for Copenhagen, many fans viewed it as a “nothing else works, why not just send…” moment. The preview video revealed a very good song, but it was very camp—and could she deliver it live? How would it be staged? Ostensibly ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ should have been staged rather conservatively.
Then there’s Conchita herself, Austria wasn’t known for being the most socially progressive member of the European Union in 2014, particularly around LGBTQ+ rights. And then there were all the central and eastern European participant broadcasters (including former Soviet states further East) from countries for overt hostility towards gender and sexual orientation diversity. There were so many ways ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ could have gone off the rails.
Conchita Wurst – ‘Rise Like a Phoenix’ (Source: YouTube/Eurovision Song Contest)
Except it didn’t. Styled and coiffed beautifully, staged magnificently, and performed epically, from the first rehearsal it was clear Conchita was a contender. And that the public in “western” Europe would love her. As did the public in Hungary, Lithuania and Georgia (10 points each), Ukraine and Romania (8 points), and Moldova (7 points). Austria’s third place in the Russian televote only earned Conchita 5 points because Russian juror Dominik Joker slated Conchita by putting her 21st: the others had Austria 7th, 9th or 10th (she ended up 11th with the Russian jury as a result. It didn’t matter. Conchita won. On her own terms.
The Golden Rule
These rules have all been broken. There is one, however, that trumps both the unwritten and written rule books: artist self-belief. Every one of these artists believed in themselves, their song, and how to present it. It is very difficult to win a 40+ entry song contest. But if you don’t believe in yourself and your entry, if you don’t walk out on that stage supremely confident (all four times), it is so much harder to convince jurors or the public to put their confidence in you.
These entries all appeared on the Eurovision stage on their own terms. They were presented in ways that allowed them to be confident, and thus were able to deliver great performances when it mattered. As the rehearsals start this week it will be readily apparent who isn’t comfortable and confident. That can improve over the fortnight—Blanche’s ‘City Lights’ in 2017 comes to mind—but we haven’t recently seen that lead to actual victory.
Class of 2018
Sending something amazing is better than sending something safe, if you want to win the Eurovision Song Contest. Most years. We thought it would be fun to consider who might be this year’s rule breaking winner. In the end we have four.
Georgia’s Iriao, which combines polyphonic singing with jazz on ‘For You’. A group of middle-aged guys singing in a language no one else understands.
The Netherlands’ Waylon, who has gone full-on country with ‘Outlaw in ‘Em’. He finished second as half of the Common Linnets with ‘Calm After the Storm’ in 2014, so it is something of a comeback too.
Hungary’s AWS, who have aspirations to be the first metal and post-hardcore Eurovision winner with ‘Viszlát nyár’. Performing a song about a father’s dying words to his son.
Portugal’s Cláudia Pascoal, who aspires to make Portugal the first Eurovision host to complete the double since 1994, with the airy, chilled and moving ‘O Jardim’.
Mind, we aren’t predicting any of these will win. Yet. Let the rehearsals begin!
You win the Eurovision Song Contest by scoring more points than any other song in that year’s Contest. No points are ‘more special’ than any others, four ‘single points; from the jury are worth the same as a single ‘four points’ from a public televote. All you have to do is collect the most, the Glass Microphone is yours and your broadcaster gets an incredibly short deadline to put on three massive live shows in just under a year.
You could leave you final score up to chance, but the many investments in at the acts, staging, videos, and promo tours are for one simple goal. To score as many points as possible. If that’s more than every other song, you win.
Denmak 2013 Emmelie de Forest
How Many Points Do You Need?
There’s no hard and fast number to target for victory at the Song Contest. Each country awards 116 points, and no one song can score more than 24 of those points under the current system. Can it be as simple as “half the maximum available to you plus one” enough?
Surprisingly, the answer is almost a yes. If you can earn this many points you are going to be within touching distance of first place. Every winning entry in the current ’50/50’ era (which started in 2009) has passed this mark except for 2011; although it should be noted that the second placed song in the last six years have also snuck over this winning line.
Paths To Victory, Margin of Victory
As a working hypothesis, this is close enough for me. Lisbon 2018 has 43 entries, which means there are 42 countries with a douze from their jury and a douze from their televote up for grabs for each song in the Grand Final…. this year’s ‘finish line’ is 505 points.
Now we know what we need… how do we get there?
A Genuine Game Of Two Halfs
A key change happened in 2016… the televote and the jury vote were no longer combined to generate the final score. Instead the juries and the televote of each country produced their own list of points, from 12, 10, 8, right down to a single point. Under this system a jury can easily award no points to a song while the televote awards it 12 points – previously the methods used to combine the two electorates meant that a strong televote could be held back by the weak jury score and the song score no points at all… see the United Kingdom’s last place jury score negating the first place in the televote going to Poland in 2014.
Skipping forwards to 2018… The Eurovision Song Contest, like any good European international sport, is a game played out over two legs – one on the Friday night with the jury scoring methodology, and one on Saturday with the televote methodology.
The important thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter which leg you score your points in, they are worth the same – there is no ‘jury points score double in the event of a tie’ rule. If you can get 400 of your 505 points from the jury, that’s a good strategy. And if you are reliant on the public to lift your song on Saturday, that’s acceptable as well.
Choosing Your Strategy
This leads nicely into the definition of a Eurovision entry being a ‘jury song’ or a ‘televote song’. The former is a song which is likely to score more points on from five hand-picked jurors given specific criteria, the latter more suited to the all or nothing approach of the public. And this is where the different ranking methods of the two legs come into play.
Relying On The Jury
A jury song strategy needs to consider that the jurors are asked to rank every single song from most favourite to least favourite. Every song will be considered. The combination of the rankings from a very small electorate of just five jurors means that a big part of a jury song’s strategy is not just to gather high rankings from across the board, but to avoid low scores – because only five jurors are used, one low score can pull down the points haul from a jury. Thanks to the new changes announced by the EBU (which Ellie has explained in great depth) the single juror drag will no longer pull a song out of the points, but a jury song is about maximising the return on Friday.
The goal here is to be ranked consistently high by all five jurors. While a juror’s final score sheet simply orders the songs, the EBU ask that jurors look at a number of criteria:
The vocal capacity of the performer.
The performance on stage.
The composition and originaitly of the song.
Overall impression of the act.
Simply put, your song should stand out in these areas. Delegations will be able to ask your own jurors from previous years how they used these criteria in judging songs to give you a sense of how everything is weighed in the room. It’s a clinical approach to a song, but the goal is to score as many points as possible.
The danger is that these criteria are not hard and fast. There’s no instructions on the weighting that should be applied to each. At the end of the show, the jurors provide one single ordered list. If you are looking to gather eights, tens and twelves from as many juries as possible, you’re going to need to get in the top three of every juror in a country. Thanks to the new exponential weighting, that’s likely to put you in first or second place.
Forty juries scoring you an average of ten points each is 400 points, eighty percent of the way towards the finish line. Forty juries scoring an average of six points is 240 points, not even half way. It is critically important to keep your average rating over the five jurors as high as possible, and to try to not lose the support of even a single juror. If you are leaning heavily on the jury for the majority of your points, you still cannot afford to be divisive with your song.
All In With The Public
Going for the televote audience is a much simpler play, but one with greater risk. Once all the songs have been played, you want your song to be the one that will make people pick up the phone and vote for it. Yes, tele voters can cast more than one vote (in fact, up to twenty times in 2018) and some may split their votes, but you need your song to be so strong that it captures the maximum number of votes from every audience member with a phone.
Where the jury vote allows for more than one strong song to pick up momentum, a strategy based around a televote song cannot afford to be second best. It needs to be the only one in consideration at the end of the night. There are no specific criteria for voters at home, it’s just ‘be memorable’.
Arguably thats true of the Jury vote as well, but the assumption is that the jurors will look beyond the ‘hype’ and focus on more artistic and technical matters. For a televote focused song you need to clearly answer the question “why would someone vote for this song over every other song?”
The real trick is to find a song that is utterly enchanting to the juries and is a slam-dunk winner within the four categories (vocals, performance, composition, impression); a song that has the strong hook, visual staging, and memorable recap to win over the telelvote; and has the story and media presence to push the artist forward and into the minds of both jurors and public as ‘the one’ when the time comes to vote.
Balance all three and you’ll watch scoring records fall (see ‘Fairytale’ and ‘Amar Pelos Dois’).
But a win is a win. Get to 505 points in Lisbon, grab the trophy, and musical immortality is yours.
Maximising Your Vote On The Night
Although the Jury and Televote shows are different shows with subtly different strategies, there are three key moments that can be worked on to maximise voting potential no matter the strategy you chose. These are the song, the recap, and the build up.
The obvious moment is during the three minutes of the song. This is arguably the moment where the performer can maximise their impact, where the visuals can come into play, and where points can be most easily won or lost.
A delegation will focus on this three minutes, but the key is not just to be impressive in your three minutes – the key is to be memorable in this three minutes so that once all the songs have been played their song is the one that stands out. It’s no good having everyone at a Eurovision party turning to each other and going “that’s nice” if they don’t pick up the phone or the jury form when the time comes to cast their votes.
That’s where having a strong recap clip of ten seconds comes in. This is the second moment. The most memorable image, lyric, pyro or camera move as the last nudge in the recap to remind everyone that this is the one they liked and should vote for is needed on the night.
But the real investment comes from making sure everyone knows to vote for your song before Te Duem strikes up before the show. The key moments are the ones a delegation make for themselves.
The Media Winning Strategy
The very essence of the Eurovision Song Contest is that it is a popularity contest. If you stride on stage and literally everyone has decided you are the chosen one, then that momentum will be captured to ensure the victory.
This is the media strategy part of winning the Song Contest – having the audience look down the songs and say ‘that’s it, that’s who’s going to win’ at the flag ceremony. People love voting for the winning song, so if you are portrayed as the winning song, the votes will follow.
The achivement to unlock is to have the mainstream media tell everyone on Saturday morning that your song is the best, that your performer has the story, that your country is hungry and ready to win. And those stories and editorial choices are generally made by people who arrive in the Press Centre on Friday afternoon, look around, and ask “so who’s going to win?”
Who will they ask? The embedded reporters from other large media outlets… who ask the specialist media outlets… who watch the larger online media publications… who watch the smaller online publications. Essentially there is a hierarchy, as the opinions bubble up the strongest opinions survive to become reality.
That’s where the importance of preview concerts, song reviews, online polls, reaction videos, and other community content comes into play. These small social bites may not reach the millions that a printed tabloid may reach, but they start the conversation and shape the Contest that the tabloids will eventually react to. If you’ve ever wondered how influencer marketing helps you win the Song Contest, just follow this chain back up to the mainstream media, and the moments before the Contest when the public have heard “that Luxembourg is going to win this year”.
Just A Note About The Odds
The fast moving media sometimes needs a barometer to measure the mood. While it may not be accurate and is open to manipulation and misrepresentation, it’s hard to argue with the bookies as a source of a story.
This is why the interest in ‘the odds’ has captured the attention of the Eurovision community over the last few years. Leading the odds, and how the odds change during key moments of the season (such as the song reveal, first live performance, first rehearsal, semi-final performance) is seen as both an influencer-by-proxy and something reliable to hang a quote on in the mainstream press.
As the morning of the Grand Final approaches, the odds tend to settle down into something resembling the final score table. Of course those odds are influenced by the odds themselves – get yourself installed as the favourite early in the season and you can stay riding high in a visible spot for much of the season.
Some Practical Examples
The Jury Song – Denmark and France
Two songs stand out for me as songs that will not only take the lion’s share of their points from the jury, but have a chance of gaining just enough from the public.
The first is Denmark. The Viking inspired ‘Higher Ground’ from Rasmussen ticks all the boxes of a strong jury song. Rasmussen can sing the roof off the auditorium, the staging mix of blues and dark colours fits perfectly with the ‘upturned boat’ ethos of the Florian Weidler’s (CHECK SP) latest staging, and the overall impression is one of power and believing in yourself.
The second is the French entry. It has a feeling of power, emotion, and connection. It does address a modern political issue, but so far the delegation has navigated this with taste and decency. The caveat to ‘Mercy’ is the low score from the jurors in the French National Final, but the make-up and criteria of the jurors at Eurovision are different
The issue for France is that jurors will only hear the song in competition once, and they won’t have time to re-evaluate their thoughts between Semi Final and Grand Final preferences. That said, knowing the jurors are provided with lyric translations means the power of Madame Monsieur could cut through in the jury room far easier than with the public. 400 points from the jury and another 100 from the public? The former looks achievable and the later is slowly building momentum outside of the normal Eurovision media bubble.
Both of these songs will be easy picks to land in the top picks of a jury, and the new weighting lends them even more distance from many of the more mainstream straightforward pop numbers.
The Televote Song – Finland and Israel
Again two songs stand out as likely to gather televote support with strong visuals, memorable lyrics, and an obvious hook when the voting window opens.
Finland’s Saara Aalto is a proven vote getter both in National Finals and in Talent Shows (even though the top step has eluded her). With a Gaga-esque approach to staging and visuals, plus her experienced team built up from The X Factor in the UK, she is unlikely to hold back. That might mean the vocals get a touch ragged on the night, but the promise of something ‘never seen before at Eurovision’ lines up her recap moment.
Israel may well have the visual impact, but its advantage may lie in the audible difference. A highly proficient looping artist, Netta charmed the audiences throughout the Israeli selection and will be hoping to do the same. Her challenge may be to achieve a qualification from the Semi Final. Once that happens the delegation should be able to build a social media story and get the world’s press on her side for Saturday.
Both acts still need some love from the other side of the televote/jury balance and this is where Israel and Finland will benefit from the new weighting system. There’s every chance that one juror per country is going to struggle to connect with ‘Monsters’ or ’Toy’ and place the songs in the lower reaches of their rankings. Last year that would likely wipe out any points from the countries, now it’s possible for one or two points to still score from the four remaining jurors. Forty juries with two points each means eighty points, and 425 points needed from the televote. Just under ten per country.
The technicality of the looper may give Israel the edge in getting the final jury points needed.
Social Influence Inside The Bubble – Bulgaria
Anyone who has been watching the Eurovision community scene will know that Bulgaria has been riding high. It may not have revealed Equinox’s ‘Bones’ until mid March, but the country was installed at the top of the bookies odds from early December on the strength of the delegation’s handling of ‘If Love Was A Crime’ and ‘Beatiful Mess’. That momentum was sustained through the first quarter of the year.
The key point of the reveal of the song was a potential danger point, but it was navigated well, the opinion of those that loved the song were magnified, and Bulgaria remained in the top tier of songs that continue to be discussed as winners.
Can it maintain that momentum through the first week of rehearsals? If the second wave of press arriving in the days before the Semi Final turn up and Bulgaria is still being touted as a potential by the community, then the strategy will have delivered. All that will be left is for Equinox’s promise to be noted by the juries and acknowledged by the media and for that promise to be converted to points.
Social Influence Outside The Bubble – Norway
There’s not a huge amount of love for Alexander Rybak’s ‘That’s How You Write A Song’ inside the Eurovision community. Rather than looking back to the sophistication of the last two victors, Norway’s 2018 entry feels more like a sequel to ‘Love Love Peace Peace’ than a response to a call for ‘real music’ at the Contest (which of course leads to the question of what is real music… the reaction to ‘Verb a Noun’ clearly defines it as a song that has fireworks and feelings.
The key to Rybak’s path to victory lies within ‘Love Love Peace Peace’. Go back and watch the live version of Edward af Silen’s classic, and pay close attention to the audience reaction when Rybak steps out for his violin solo. That love and recognition, that is what will drive the voting public.
Throw in his huge fan base and their ability to drive traffic to any published article – that makes him a financially attractive topic to write about in the mainstream press. Which his fans will share around the internet, creating a virtuous cycle of news feeding in on itself. And with that much noise, the public will assume that the media has got it right, and vote accordingly.
The Balanced Song – The Netherlands
And then there’s The Netherlands. It doesn’t have the technicality to stand out and top the jury vote, but there’s enough for the jury to mark him highly on the four categories. High but not top scoring could give him six points per jury. There’s 250 points from Friday night.
Can there be an average of six points per country in the televote as well? With a unique sound and visual look he stands out, theres a visual connection in the recap, and he’ll attract a fanbase that will pick up the phone and vote twenty times. The tricky part will be can he maintain the televote average from the Eastern European countries who have less of an affinity with US culture.
But another 250 points from the televote? It’s do-able.
2013 saw the EBU alter how the jury score was calculated. The second Malmö Contest saw individual jurors asked to rank every single song from their most favoured to least favoured (in previous years, jurors were only asked for an ordered Top Ten).
A jury as a whole can only hand points to the top ten songs. As such the full ranking method means that any song placed outside a juror’s first ten is effectively given a negative vote. In the past, if your song really turned off a single juror, that single last place rank could have dragged you out of the points of that jury, no matter what the other jurors thought of your song.
That has now changed for the better.
A System That Rewards Love
Speaking to ESC Insight, a representative of the EBU said “The calculation method which determines the points awarded by the National Juries has been changed to increase the value of a group of jurors over the opinion of a single individual. This has been recently approved by The Reference Group.” Further details can be found on eurovision.tv:
Rather than giving each rank given by a juror the same weight, the EBU will allocate predefined ‘score values’ to each ranking position, thereby increasing the value of the top-10 ranks, the top-3 in particular. These score values start with the value of 12 for the first rank and will decrease exponentially further down the ranking list. This is also called the ‘exponential weight model’. The sum of the scores for all 26 songs from the five jurors will create the national jury result where the resulting top 10 ranked countries will be awarded that jury’s 12, 10, 8 points and so on.
In practice, this new method of combining the jury rankings offers a number of advantages that increase the competitive nature of the Song Contest.
A single juror cannot drag a song out of the jury’s top ten ranking by placing it at the bottom of their ordered list. Previously ‘single juror drag’ meant that a good jury song was one that did not upset anyone on the jury, now it’s possible for four positive voices to drown out the single negative voice.
Conversely, a single juror who is incredibly positive can drag a song into the jury’s overall top ten rankings. If you can ignite the passion of a single juror you will be rewarded. Taking risks is no longer a barrier to scoring.
And if you have all five jurors raking your song n the top two or three positions, you can be assured of a significant lead over the competition, offering a better chance of grabbing the douze points in the final calculation.
To coin a phrase, the juries as a whole will find it much easier to #CelebrateDiversity at this year’s Eurovision Song Contest. The marmite songs that would previous have to rely almost entirely on the televote will now be in a better place to grab some jury points, while the successful jury songs are far more likely to stand out from the crowd and be justly rewarded.
Let’s look at this in a bit more detail
Here Comes The Maths
How exactly does an ‘exponential weight model’ work in practice?
The new exponential jury scoring system uses a mathematical formula to turn each jurors ranked places into points. Your first place gets 12 points, your second place gets just under 10 points, your third gets just over 8, with the points value dropping exponentially towards zero – the system will run out to many decimal points in the final calculation. Jurors favourite songs get a comparatively huge score, in line with the general Eurovision scoring method.
Eurovision 2018 scoring chart, Ellie Chalkley
Things get really interesting outside the top ten places though, because you can see that the relative difference in score between 10th rank and 18th rank is much less than the difference in score between 1st rank and 2nd rank! Being ranked low is still not great, but at least it’s not an effective score of -8 in the semis or -16 in the Grand Final!
To give you an idea of how this changes the jury ranks required to get points, I ran two simulations using my approximation of the new jury scoring method, one based on the Semi Final 1 data from 2016 and one based on totally random scores for the 2018 Semi Final 1.
Working With Real Data
Thanks to the public release of juror rankings from recent Contests, it’s possible to look at the impact of the new system using actual data. How did the ‘jury points’ under the new system translate to the announced points for the top ten songs… and the jury points scored by the eleventh placed song.
Eurovision 2018 scoring chart, Ellie Chalkley
In the real 2016 Semi 1, there was a clear group of high scoring songs. The jury scores for these songs cover a range from 55 to 60, which is 5 x 12 or the theoretical maximum. The score required to get a single point varied between countries, depending on how closely the different jurors agreed, but it seems like a score of 11 can be enough to get into 10th place and get a single jury point.
Eurovision 2018 scoring chart, Ellie Chalkley
11? That surely means that you could be ranked 18th and last in the semi by 4 of the jurors and 1st by one and still be in with a chance of getting some points, especially if the other 4 jurors all agree on their 1st ranked song. The more normal way of getting to 11-ish exponential points and that final scoring spot would be to be ranked at least 10th by all jurors. This all feels fair and just.
A Random ‘Base’ Result
In my totally randomised 2018 Semi 1, the range of total jury scores given to each song was much narrower, from 3.5 to 46 compared with 2.7 to 60 for the real data. It is still possible of course to score 60 in the random model, but this is very improbable. In order to score 1 point in the totally random data, you need to get at least 17 exponential points from the Jurors. You could get that by getting one 1st place, one 5th place and 3 x last place or – more likely – having all jurors rank you at least 7th.
Eurovision 2018 scoring chart, Ellie Chalkley
While it’s unlikely a real set of jury data would look like this randomised trial, taken together with the real 2016 data, we have a boundary condition for how well you need to perform in order to score jury points.
Eurovision 2018 scoring chart, Ellie Chalkley
As before, you’re assured points if you manage to place in the top ten of every juror, but you’re also now possibly in line for points if your song utterly divides the jury. The ‘Marmite Song’ can score once more.
Eurovision 2018 scoring chart, Ellie Chalkley
Let’s Celebrate Competition
This change to the jury scoring system is a welcome step forwards to a more competitive Contest. It rewards positivity, it diminishes the power of a single juror to negatively impact a song, and it allows strong but divisive songs the opportunity to achieve a respectable jury score ahead of the televote the following night.
More importantly, it proves that the EBU has carefully considered the competitive angle of the Eurovision Song Contest. It remains a television show first of all, but it is a television show of a contest. ESC Insight has been critical of EBU changes that have emphasised spectacle over sporting considerations, but this subtle tweak of the rules opens up the Song Contest in a positive way.
It offers a better way to combine jury opinions, and it rewards songs that generate positive reactions in individual jurors. By allowing songs to gather solid jury votes while appealing to genre fans in the televote, it offers every song a better chance to go for the win at the Eurovision Song Contest.