16 May 2021
Yes, finally the Eurovision Song Contest is back. It’s been a two year break after Rotterdam 2020 was cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and needless to say, the anticipation is high. The Rotterdam Ahoy arena will be the host with 39 countries competing, and it will be in front of a live audience. We’ve only lost Armenia and Belarus from 2020 while the Dutch government is allowing crowd capacity of 20%, or about 3900 people. Everything so far is looking good, so it’s full steam ahead for some exciting shows.
Last year’s cancellation meant that 24 countries selected the same artist again, while Estonia and Lithuania saw their 2020 participants return after winning their respective national finals. The break has been beneficial as most of these artists have brought stronger songs while overall quality is up for everyone. That’s reflected in my Return Artists Battle post and in my annual review and ranking of all songs, which saw 2021 win easily both in direct battle and in more songs awarded at least four stars (21 for 2021, 14 for 2020).
Semi Final 1
The stars represent my personal favourites to qualify, with red being hot, yellow being warm and blue being cool. I only assign stars until I get to 10 finalists. Croatia is actually my strongest entry from the first semi final at third overall, thanks to Albina’s hypnotic and bopping, Tick-Tock. Norway is next at 9, Lithuania at 10 and Cyprus at 11. After that, I’m warm on Ireland, Romania and Malta and 14, 15 and 20, respectively, then Ukraine at 24. Slovenia and Russia are best of the rest, with Russia actually growing on me in recent weeks.
Despite the pervasive internet nonsense of a “bloodbath”, this semi final is one of the weakest ever. There’s just 16 songs, and most of them are only moderately liked, with Lithuania and Malta the main fan favourites. It’s a very even field and this evenness is probably the factor that’s given a sense of quality or difficulty when, in truth, any decent point of distinction will ensure easy qualification for any song. It’s hard to see Lithuania or Malta not qualifying, while we won’t be losing a Zibbz or Greta Salome, like we did in 2018 and 2016, respectively, in truly difficult semi finals. In fact, that first semi final of 2018 was the true essence of a bloodbath as it contained 19 songs with 14 deserving to be in the grand final whereas here it’s hard to promote a full 10. Of course, let’s not forget the era of single semi finals where top 10 of 28 was the brutal criteria in 2007.
Among my hot songs, I can’t see any at risk, and that’s even considering the likelihood of Sweden, Russia and Ukraine qualifying. With Lithuania and Malta almost certain, that leaves 5 spots for the remaining 11 songs. Perhaps Croatia is a small risk as there are other quality up-tempo songs like Lithuania, Cyprus and Malta to absorb votes, not to forget Israel and Azerbaijan could offer something distinctive. Really, there’s no excuses for any song that misses out. If you can’t qualify from 10 out of 16, you weren’t good enough. Ireland would be the main risk of missing out from my warm songs. I see Romania as a strong chance to qualify.
Preferred non-qualifiers: Sweden, Australia, North Macedonia, Belgium, Israel and Azerbaijan.
Predicted non-qualifiers: Slovenia, North Macedonia, Belgium, Israel, Ireland and Azerbaijan.
Difference: Slovenia and Ireland out, Sweden and Australia in.
Semi Final 2
As you can see, there’s much more red and yellow in this semi final, and no need for blue. Of the 17 songs, only four are not marked at least warm, and since 13 into 10 doesn’t go, I needed to cut three. Serbia was the easy pick, with Georgia next. I’ve seen so much of Uku Suviste through Eesti Laul 2021, so it’s ta-ta, Uku. Sorry! Of my hot songs, Greece is my ultra favourite song this year, with Bulgaria second, Poland third and Moldova fifth. So four of my Fab Five are in this semi, and then we get to Denmark (7) and Austria (8). Estonia actually leads the warm group at 12th spot, which means I’m saving lower ranked songs of Finland (13), San Marino (16), Albania (17) and Switzerland (18). As they say, that’s Eurovision! Even though I’ve seen plenty of Blind Channel at UMK, Finland is a bit more interesting and I’d like to see rock rewarded.
Iceland is the entry most likely to knock out one of my 10 qualifiers, and most at risk is Austria, Denmark and Poland from the hot group and Albania from the warm group. Even though all are distinctive entries so could surprise a few people (especially Albania being the only female power ballad), at the moment, they have almost no attention elsewhere. Perhaps a squeak or two for Poland, that’s it. I even quietly worry for Greece. Last Dance is a difficult song with some big notes, and I won’t know if Stefania’s vocals are up to it until she performs. Hopefully, it’s just pre-ESC anxiety and there’s nothing to worry about.
Preferred non-qualifiers: Estonia, Czechia, Iceland, Serbia, Georgia, Portugal and Lativa.
Predicted non-qualifiers: Estonia, Czechia, Austria, Serbia, Georgia, Portugal and Lativa.
Difference: Austria out, Iceland in.
Not a strong year compared to last year’s corresponding group, in which four were warm and one was hot. This year’s just one warm and one hot. Spain is my number 6 entry for 2021 while Italy is at 19. In contrast to most people ranking France near the top, I have France last. Conversely, while I have Blas Canto from Spain near the top, most people have Spain near the bottom. That’s Eurovision!
These were captured before the rehearsals started, so reflect the betting public’s impressions primarily on the songs only. Obviously countries with a national final, like Sweden, the performance there will have an impact too. Also, historically, countries like Sweden and Russia always attract early betting even before songs are released, while Iceland attracted large betting activity when it was eventually confirmed Dadi Freyr would return.
If we make the main hopes at no more than $20 chances, we have six songs: one (Malta at the top) in the first semi final, three in the second semi and two grand finalists. Looking down at the top 20, or songs around $100 or less, it’s roughly an even split, while the longest priced songs at the bottom are mostly from the second semi. Perhaps this is part of belief the first semi final is so tough – people looking at the bottom instead of at the top. In reality, due to the impact the Eurovision performance can have, any song at $100 or worse is essentially in the same bracket.
Personally, this is a very open Eurovision. I’m surprised Malta is the favourite, especially at a comparable price to Netherlands in 2019, while Israel was $2.75 in 2018. I’d have Malta a dollar or two longer given Malta’s propensity for complicated and confusing presentations that could bury one of the key attributes of their entry: Destiny’s impressive vocals. When she won Junior Eurovision in 2016, you knew she’d win from her very first note. It was probably the biggest single-note statement in the entire history of Eurovision song contests.
Even though I can’t stand the style and nauseating repetition of the French entry, clearly others feel differently and that’s reflected here. Then the betting is a bit all over the place. None of the songs scream winner, while Sweden, despite the unusually long odds for them, might get their dream of winning with someone of colour after Austria nearly embarrassed them in 2018 with Cesar Sampson. It really will depend on the performance and the mood of the audience. Switzerland will need to captivate viewers early and take them for a ride, Italy could tear the house down, as could Finland. Lithuania could entrance viewers with their zany performance, Norway might strike viewers’ hearts with its infectious style, and there’s the sweet sentiment of Bulgaria. Even Russia, Manizha is such a charismatic performer that she could sweep to victory. I’m not seeing anyone else with a chance lower in the betting.
Junior Eurovision Battle
We have two artists that previously competed at JESC, with Malta’s Destiny Chukunyere winning in 2015, and Greece’s Stefania (performing for Netherlands) finishing 8th as part of the trio, Kisses. Could Destiny be the first to do the junior and senior double, or will Stefania beat Destiny on the scoreboard? Despite the betting marking, I say it’s an interesting battle within the battle.
Not since 2015 when we had two songs called Warrior have we had two songs with the same title at Eurovision. This year Austria and Slovenia bring us Amen, and this will be an interesting battle. Austria has the tougher job getting out of their semi final, so Slovenia could simply win on that. If both reached the grand final, I’d be backing Austria.
Grand Final Prediction
Historically songs performing poorly in the betting market simply don’t win. So I’m restricting it to the top 15, or less than $100, and looking for something distinctive and memorable. It’s hard to escape Lithuania and Italy in that sense, while Moldova could be the wildcard at juicy odds. For third, I tossed up between Russia and Greece. My bias to Stefania won and I just can’t ignore Greece. Last Dance is my overwhelming favourite this year, and I’d love to see Last Dance actually be the last dance of Rotterdam 2021.
Mr Eurovision Jury
With myself, my sister and an associate called Z, our annual preview of all songs resulted in a three-way tie. Each song was scored out of 10.
01 Austria 23
02 Greece 23
03 Ireland 23
We’ll declare Austria the winner on countback, after receiving a 10 from my sister. Greece received a 9 (from me), while Ireland got 8, 8 & 7. It should be said, Z is of Greek origin and only scored Stefania 6. Traitor!
San Marino 20
United Kingdom 17.5
North Macedonia 7