Special

A few weeks ago this fella asked me to contribute a “Eurovision Thought” to the ESCInsight podcast. Chapeau, monsieur! I perhaps surprised a few folks when I argued against what is the ostensive purpose of this site: a data-driven perspective on the Eurovision. Here’s part of what I said:

It’s simple. To win the Eurovision Song Contest, you need to send something…special.

Not of universal appeal: special. Not the best singer: special. Woman, women, man, men or mixed: special. Schlager or power ballad or epic EDM track: special.

Something that makes lots of people watching—in the public and in national juries—sit up and pay attention. It might well be polarising: these sorts of entries force viewers to react, positively or negatively. For some 1944 was atonal self-indulgent crap; for many of us it was an artistic and cultural tour de force. Very few people watched Jamala’s performances without being moved: special.

There’s no obvious or linear formula for finding a special entry for the Eurovision. But an entry that stirs a reaction in the heart rather than the head is pretty good indicator.

None of this means the data generated by the Eurovision isn’t interesting or consequential or somewhat predictive. It merely acknowledged precisely what the data show: there isn’t an obvious formula to win the Eurovision.

Decades ago, there were much clearer trends: an ingénue, particularly one singing in French rarely did poorly from 1960 to 1986. Across 27 Contests and 30 winners (thanks 1969), 11 ingénues won, as did 11 songs performed in French. But there were nine different scoring systems, with only one commonality: jurors decided the winner.

And there are two data trends under the current system that cannot be ignored. First, whomever comes closes to doubling their semi-final points in the Grand Final wins. Second, you need to be in the top 5 with both the public and juries to win. Take a look:

Rank Public 2016 Jury Public 2017 Jury Public 2018 Jury
1 Russia Australia Portugal Portugal Israel Austria
2 Ukraine UkraineBulgaria Bulgaria Cyprus Sweden
3 Poland France MoldovaSweden Italy Israel
4 Australia Malta Belgium Australia Czechia Germany
5 Bulgaria Russia Romania Netherlands Denmark Cyprus

Top 5 Televoting and Jury Rankings, 2016-2018 (bold indicates top 5 in both)

Data. Meaningful data. But in describing a series of events it offers no mechanism for predicting the next winner. Until after the next event. And probably at some point we will have a winner that is outside one of the top 5s. Or the voting system will evolve again. Or both.

But let’s talk about 2019.

Special

First off, a confession: this hasn’t been a year with a lot of music that moves me. The last year that was this bland to me was 2011. Before that we’d have to go back to 2000. Most years I am rather luvved up about the Eurovision. This year, not so much.

But there are some entries that tickly my special button. So here are the 2019 entries that I think have something special, and what might make or break its fortunes. This is not an ordinal ranking.

  1. Netherlands Arcade Duncan Laurence

A leak of this entry appeared months ago, which I heard before it was yanked down. “Wow.” Full release and my reaction was “wow, distracting preview video.” This will come down to staging and his vocal. Keep it simple, let the camera find him.

  • Iceland Hatrið mun sigra Hatari

Instant reaction was “fook awf.” But really hatred will prevail is an exceedingly well executed musical piss take on nihilist electro-pop. A great song. This will come down to how many tipsy fans will give this one single vote (as opposed to their favourite entry 5 votes).

  • Greece Better Love  Katerine Duska

As soon as she opens her mouth you give her your undivided attention—such an unique voice. This is an artist doing their thing, just a three minute (Eurovision) version of their thing. This will come down to the staging: I can’t see how this should work. Hopefully ERT can.

  • Sweden Too Late For Love John Lundvik

I don’t want to go back to Sweden. I don’t want Sweden to tie Ireland for most victories. Yes, it’s another solo male singing for Stockholm: but Lundvik is a man, not a man child. He misses some of his cameras. But he sings with his heart and soul (I’m guessing a bit high maintenance as a boyfriend?). This will come down to where it’s performed in the final and if he can keep putting everything out there: in Melfest you need two performances that count, a semi-final and the grand final. In the Eurovision you need four: a jury and live semi-final and a jury and life Grand Final. And he’s in the Thursday semi-final, so no days to rest his voice.

  • Italy Soldi Mahmood

I didn’t listen to this until it won Sanremo. Super contemporary, super catchy, and he tells you a story without understanding a word (OK I didn’t understand a word). Last year I had Italy bottom 5 because inaccessible. I can see this winning: I can’t see it outside the top 10. The challenge for him will be staying connected with the televoters: Sanremo televoters are less important for victory (and he was third in the superfinal televote).

  • North Macedonia Proud Tamara Todevska

I am a bit pissed off that some anglophone “feminists” are critiquing this because it doesn’t reflect their idea of feminist. Piss off: she’s North Macedonian and she gets to sing from her positionality (also, I wouldn’t stay the UK is exactly the ideal place for women rights in Europe, k?). This is a song meant to be performed live. She will put her heart into it. And I’ll be in a puddle. The challenge for her will be to avoid a FYROM-esque staging or styling car crash. You’ve got your new name, time to reboot.

  • France Roi Bilal Hassani

This year’s most compelling performer, even when he misses notes, even when his diction isn’t great in French or English. Genderqueer. Confident. Dare I say, fierce. The challenge for him will be inspiring the sort of deep, emotional reaction (like Conchita) that helps you overlook the song’s a bit of une mélangée disagreeable in terms of genres.

Avant la tempête

In a few hours the rehearsals start in Tel Aviv: I have purposely posted this before we get any sense of entries that will surprise based on what they bring to their first rehearsal.  Happy Eurovision month!

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