Stockholm 2016 – The BIG Preview

30 April 2016

We’re almost there! The 2016 Eurovision Song Contest officially starts on Monday with the first rehearsals, and then it’s into the shows themselves the following week. It’s my first Eurovision live in person so it promises to be an extra memorable year. There’s a great collection of artists and so many genres represented, from the traditional ballads, pop and dance, to disco, soul, rap, country, whatever Ukraine’s style is called, and even 3 rock songs. In the month since the national finals finished, it’s been a nice period of reflection and introspection, watching videos and concert performances, and listening to the CD. It reinforces the theme of a good, consistent collection of songs and potentially some very exciting shows.

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The CD…

Listening over the past few days, the song that made the biggest improvement is Armenia. I finally heard something that makes me interested to see it performed. In fact, all the big sounding songs are so much better listening to the audio only, especially will good headphones. Notably that’s Australia, Belarus, Cyprus, Finland, Montenegro and Serbia. Norway doesn’t seem as disjointed. Dance songs like Spain, Belgium, and even San Marino, are also improved. Songs that lost appeal are Germany (boring), FYR Macedonia (repetitive) and Sweden (boring and repetitive). My favourite song this year, Slovenia, had a change in arrangement with it kicking off with a long “allay”. That cuts time from the bridge making the song seemed rush. It looses a little as a consequence.

If you need a reminder of my Fab Five…

The Semi Finals and Finalists

In selecting my top 10 to reach the final, I’ve marked songs based on my run through the list. First run is hot (red), second is warm (yellow), and third run is green (cool). If a song is not marked by then, it’s sayonara.

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There’s only nine hot or warm songs in the first SF. For tenth spot, I’d probably take Armenia at this stage. I believe most of these 10 should make the final too. The main challenge will come from Malta and Estonia, with Austria and Moldova at risk of being displaced. The only song I will be really cheering to make the final is the Czech Republic. It will be their first time, it’s a great song, and Gabriela is a brilliant singer. Croatia deserves a place in the final for its individuality, both in song and artist. Rock can often be flat on the Eurovision stage, so here’s hoping Cyprus can put it together and give rock an incentive to keep coming to ESC. The misnamed song from Greece is the only one from this semi final that I don’t want anywhere near the final. It’s so bad it should be called Dystopian Land.

 

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With 12 songs red or yellow, Semi Final 2 is obviously stronger than SF1. I need to cut two to form my Top 10, so sorry Ireland and Switzerland. With fan favourites of Latvia and Ukraine outside my top 10, my selection is certainly no prediction. At risk are Slovenia, Belgium, Belarus and Albania. The only ones I consider safe are Serbia, Australia and Norway. It really is one of the most even semi finals I can recall.

This is also the semi final with a much stronger emotional sense. I’ll be praying like hell for Poland! This is my “momentum song” of this year’s ESC, and I’m totally entranced by Michal Szpak (pronounced “shpak” – one syllable). He’s an amazingly infectious and humble character, much like his song. Obviously I want ManuElla from Slovenia through, and Bulgaria. In fact, Bulgaria will be really interesting to watch. With power pop songs like this, it’s actually difficult to get the right balance of spectacle without overwhelming the song. Australia will make the final, so no need to get emotional there. That’s unless Dami Im doesn’t qualify, and then you can expect a minor tantrum. Ukraine and Denmark are the only songs I don’t want anywhere near the final. Ukraine, especially, I remain bemused by its appeal. Jamala sounds like a constipated ferret.

 

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Italy is my big favourite from the pre-qualified finalists. It’s probably not the attention-grabbing song that is needed to win Eurovision, especially as Francesca looks like she’s trying to land aircraft when she sings it. She needs a steady, more deliberate presence when performing it, to allow her vocals and the music to tell the story, not her flapping arms. France is notorious for producing rubbish performances to good songs (remember Anggun with the half naked gymnasts from 2012 and the opera dude the year prior?), and indications are that Amir is poor live. Europe doesn’t seem to like France either. Their average place over the past 13 years is 19th with only one top ten finish (8th in 2009).

For some reason, Spain struggle for votes too. They’ve been great for the last 5 years and only reached the top 10 twice (10th in 2012 and 2014). This year, Barei, and the all-English Say Yay, does have broad appeal and is so catchy. I’d lean to that as the best performing of the six automatic finalists. The UK will enjoy not be rooted near the bottom for once. As for Sweden, I’m not sorry to say flop – or floppa, to add a Swedish twist to the word. To put it simply, Europe have major expectations when Sweden hit the stage. Whether that’s a killer presentation like 2015, or supreme artistry like Sanna Nielsen in 2014, Europe expects wow from Sweden, not wowser.

 

Who will win?

The betting odds are often the best guide, and if you believe them, it looks like Russia. Much still depends on the performances, where odds can drastically change. Just look to The Common Linnets in 2014, who were in the bottom third of betting before the rehearsals and semi finals started, and became one of the favourites come the final. Even Conchita Wurst only hovered around tenth pre-contest.

In 2016, the odds have moved in just the past few weeks since all songs were announced. Betting odds are like that, being initially speculative based on history or reputation, and then changing upon observed evidence. As an indication, as much as a year ago, Sweden were favourite to win ESC 2016 – without any songs announced! Russia is also alluring because of history and reputation. When Australia was announced as a candidate, immediately they rocketed into the top 5. Again, no song announced.

Eurovision 2016 odds to win as of 2016-04-29

Eurovision 2016: odds to win as of 2016-04-29

The good news for Russia is they have held their position and value at roughly 2/1. Same with Australia, who rose to third on release of the song and, at 11/1, have remained steady. That Russia is 5 times more favoured than Australia shows you the strength of their song. France is second favourite at just under 4/1. For Sweden, they have dropped from a clear third at 5/1 to around fifth best at 11/1 in the period their song was announced. That’s a huge drop when you consider the money bet against them now must offset all the money for them over the past year. If fresh odds were framed as of today, Sweden is no doubt outside the top 10.

Another country that has held its position is Slovenia. They’ve been rock bottom all along! They’re actually with a whole bunch of countries in the 300/1 range, only holding up the table with Switzerland thanks to alphabetical order.

To look for challenges to Russia, we need to see the big movers up the table. Bulgaria really catches the eye, rising from 25/1 and eleventh to 14/1 and fourth. France have halved their odds 8/1 to 4/1 and moved to a clear second. Outside the top 10, Czech Republic has improved from a 50/1 chance to 33/1. If I was a betting person, I’d put something small on Gabriela for a top 5 finish and hope she nails a brilliant vocal and stage performance, and put $1 on Slovenia for the win. You never know!

Who do I hope will win?

Every year is the same: anyone as long as it’s a new country. I’d love Slovenia to win simply to boast about being the only person on the entire planet to love the song. Outside that, from my favoured songs, it would be Poland, Czech Republic, Bulgaria or Croatia. Australia winning would be interesting. That would be a strange feeling, a mix of excitement and dread. The dread being the sort of show we’d organise for 2017. My head says it will be Russia. They have the song, the artist, they always bring great presentations, and they’ll attract votes like flies at a BBQ.

My Journey

I arrive in Stockholm next Friday, taking the overnight ferry from Tallinn after landing there Thursday via Helsinki and Singapore. Believe it or not, I’ll be at Eurovision for Eurovision! Meaning, I’m there to enjoy the shows and experience Stockholm, not bury my head in front of a computer. While I’ll post a few pictures and thoughts on the social media accounts, the only updates to the blog will be the usual reviews of each broadcast show. That  keeps some surprises for myself and, for fans that don’t want spoilers, they won’t receive any either. Here’s to some fabulous shows and an experience never to forget. Skol!

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