TEL AVIV 2019 ■ What results to expect in the Grand Final

At the moment of writing this piece, it’s april 4th 2019. In less than 6 weeks some 300 million viewers at home can watch another annual edition of the biggest light entertainment TV-show on planet Earth. It will be the 64th edition, but even before these three big broadcasting moments (two semi finals, one grand final) a lot of preparation is taking place. But obviously the readers at home mostly care for what matters most: the (rehearsing) artists, from 41 participating nations to be precise.By: Gert Waterink

Their rehearsals, right now, and during the Eurovision weeks in Israel, will prove pivotal for the eventual outcome. And upcoming Saturday, fans and professional betters alike, can already get a glimpse of their performances during the 11th edition of Eurovision In Concert, Amsterdam. Will this concert create game changers? Obviously not. Most betting traders already know what to expect. Concert stages will be great moments for those performers (up-tempo?) songs that will be definite crowd pleasers in Tel Aviv, but less so for (slower?) songs that will be more dependent on enhanced cinematography on the big Eurovision stage. Also, current favourites will receive the loudest cheers, but we all know that can change dramatically once the Tel Aviv-rehearsals kick off. In essence, the upcoming fan concerts shouldn’t create game changing moments (if you have as much info as you have already from the performers). And if they do, they can easily create ‘false favourites’.

Hence I thought it was time to already focus a bit on what might happen in the Grand Final of the 64th Eurovision Song Concert (Saturday evening, May 18th). Too early? Too soon? Perhaps. But for a Dutch Eurovision fan (and occasional better) there’s more at stake in 2019. The possibility of winning!! Eurovision In Concert won’t change that dramatically. But the possibility of bringing Eurovision back to The Netherlands after 40 years is my focus point here. Let’s have a critical look at the current top favourite, and all of its serious competitors and contenders.

Duncan Laurence, having fun on stage © Copyright The Voice Of Holland, RTL Nederland (2019)

A worthy pre-contest favorite

THE NETHERLANDS

Weaknesses: Duncan ‘Laurence’ de Moor was pretty much unknown inside and outside The Netherlands. His inexperience, especially on such a big stage, could hamper a position in the TOP 3. Yes, he proved himself back in 2014 with The Voice Of Holland, but that was that and with ‘Arcade’ Duncan at time gets too introverted while performing smaller, acoustic versions of his song. On the big Eurovision stage it sometimes can work, look at Salvador Sobral (Portugal 2017, winner). But that was a rather different case. Sobral had enough ‘meme’ to let audiences indulge in his ticks and love him for that; they even thought he had an intellectual disability. Duncan Laurence doesn’t have that. On top of that, Duncan Laurence doesn’t have the best of the best staging directors to guide him. It’s good that his mentor Ilse de Lange joins him, but Hans Pannecoucke and Ignace d’Haese are not all-round staging coaches. They join the team mainly for lighting choices and camera angles. Pannecoucke & d’Haese really need to work out a true winning staging concept and at times they even need to put a brake on some of the artist’s ideas and wishes. Just look at Belgium 2018 (NQ), The Netherlands 2018 (18th place), Spain 2017 (26th place) and The Netherlands 2015 (NQ) and punters in here know what I am talking about. So the big question still is: will #TeamDuncan use the Tel Aviv stage and all its available props, stage effects, LED’s and editable visual effects to its full potential, so that they can recreate the skin-tingling atmosphere from the video clip on the big stage?
Strengths: Again, Duncan ‘Laurence’ de Moor was pretty much unknown inside and outside The Netherlands. But then, during your student years at The Tilburg Rock Academy, you decide to compose a gentle modern-sounding indie love song, but only in a later stage you find the possibility to get this produced and mixed exquisitely. Producers Joel Sjöö (Swedish) and Wouter Hardy did just that. This is a smashing song, that would sound fantastic on a Coldplay compilation CD. Chris Martin himself would vie for it. The composition creates emotional thrills at the end of every verse and chorus. Combined with strong, tingling backing vocals, added handclaps and Sam Smith-esque vocals from Duncan, that go from lower registers to falsetto registers. Emotionally, it perhaps conveys more goosebumps than ‘Beautiful Mess’ did (Bulgaria 2017, runner-up). Let’s just hope that #StagingTeamDuncan brings about the same artistry as Duncan Laurence, Wouter Hardy and Joel Sjöö already did in the studios.
An early outlook to its possible result: 1st – 5th

The Swiss singer Luca Hänni performing his dancing skills © Copyright SRG/SSR (2019)

Duncan’s stiff competition for the victory

SWITZERLAND

Weaknesses: ‘She Got Me’ is another song in this year’s lineup that could be marked as ‘good’ but not great. It is a very current pop entry with plentiful latino vibes. Listen carefully and one could recognize some of the more summery tracks from pop stars like Mendez, Justin Bieber and even Eric Saade (the latter came 3rd in 2011 on behalf of Sweden). Compared to last year ‘Fuego’ (Cyprus 2018, runner-up) springs to mind, like many other entries this year. And that’s perhaps its biggest weakness. It isn’t original or unique enough in this year’s field. Nor has it a certain amount of artistry that ordinarily entries like ‘1944’ or ‘Amar Pelos Dois’. Subsequently one could reason that Luca Hänni’s ‘She Got Me’, like ‘Fuego’, will be more televote bait than jury bait. That’s not the most ideal prospect if your sole goal is winning for Switzerland after 32 years.
Strengths: But……like with so many previous winners it sometimes is enough to have a good but not great song. And here we can basically sum up positives for Switzerland. First the singer. Luca Hänni is not just a singer, he’s an all-round stage entertainer who oozes charisma, knows to flirt with audience and camera’s alike and on top of that can sing tremendously well even with the most complex choreography being executed at the same time. That will be one of the key success factors for Switzerland’s rise on the scoreboard this year. And the Swiss broadcaster SRG/SSR knows it. They hired acclaimed stage director Sacha Jean-Baptiste to oversee the total package for Switzerland this year; a talented woman who directs all aspects of staging, from visuals, camera-angles to choreography. The latter could be the stand-out element of this year’s Swiss entry. One only has to watch this making-of video to get an idea of the potential. And make no mistake: an exquisitely executed dance choreography is a magnet for juries.
An early outlook to its possible result: 1st – 3rd

GREECE

Weaknesses: This year’s Greek entry is certainly more noticeable than the more recent entries. Actually, ever since 2014 Greece has become a rather ‘ugly duckling’ in Eurovision, not being able to score a single TOP 10 result. ‘Better Love’ however is a great uptick to that respect. The song is very anthemic, relatively current with here and there some dashes of Katy Perry (‘Fireworks’), Florence And The Machine, Dua Lipa. Perhaps even Dami Im (Australia 2016, runner-up) comes to mind. However, it’s not a great song. The song is also performed by a very arty, introvert singer. Katerine Duska can come across on stage as a bit ‘weird’, with vocals bordering deliberate low and sometimes unpleasant registers.
Strengths: However, in order to win a song never has been the best of the best. And in the case of Katerine Duska her avant garde style also has its advantages. The ‘Annie Lennox’ of Greece is certainly recognizable in a field of 41 performers. She is not telegenic in the traditional sense, but there is a certain ‘X-Factor’ when she’s on stage. Just have a look at some of her mini-concerts on YouTube and one knows what I’m talking about. Duska is also very much at ease in designing her own style around the song, including a distinct fashion style and some Renaissance style elements in a video clip she helped shaping up. In a way she is a bit the female counterpart of Duncan Laurence. We don’t know much about how her entry will be staged, but her alternative yet appealing style will most certainly finds its way to the Eurovision stage. In my eyes Katerine Duska is a clear danger to Duncan Laurence.
An early outlook to its possible result: 1st – 5th

Katerine Duska, Greek hopeful for the 64th Eurovision Song Contest 2019 © Copyright EMI & Universal Records (2019)

Alternative candidates for victory

SWEDEN

Weaknesses: Melodifestivalen is a class act. The Dutch would love to see a return to a ‘Nationaal Songfestival’ where this Swedish national final format will be used. But being from a country that’s not exactly well-known for worthy national final choices, I can also see disadvantages. Melodifestivalen in its current form is a money maker that is basically owned by Warner Music Sweden. It’s no secret that 90% of the entries this year were written by artists contracted at Warner. Professionalism is desirable, but having a system like in Sweden cuts out original and more risky songs. They seem too polished almost, lacking an amount of purity. Yes, it delivers good results, but in the past two years we have already witnessed the European televoter wasn’t entirely connecting with over-polished perfection. ‘Too Late For Love’ could face the prospect of facing similar backlash; too late for victory. It’s a very cheerful happy soulful gospel, but it’s nowhere near as ‘current’ or ‘hit worthy’ as, let’s say, ‘Heroes’ (Sweden 2015, winner) and ‘Euphora’ (Sweden 2012, winner).
Strengths: But perhaps this year around Sweden will do much better with televoters at home. While the song could ultimately prove to be its biggest caveat, everything else shines. Like Luca Hänni for Switzerland, also John Lundvik is completely at ease in performing this upbeat pop-gospel. He’s charming, knows to find the camera’s in a visual stage package that is more sincere than the ‘video clips’ from 2017 and 2018. Add to that a bunch of oversized gospel backings, who manage to cheer up the audience while at the same time adding tremendous emotional vocal debt to this entry, and you can be assured the beer-drinking, Lays-eating sofa-sitters will like this.
An early outlook to its possible result: 2nd – 7th

ITALY

Weaknesses: Italy for me is a difficult country to judge. The song ‘Soldi’, although unique and extremely ‘current’, is not on my playlist. But that didn’t prevent the song becoming the most popular Eurovision entry on music streaming services like Spotify and YouTube Music. In fact, when we solely look at chart-worthy entries, then most likely Italy will win Eurovision! However, the Eurovision stage is a different game. On that stage the eye needs to be lured into calling or texting for that song. My worries are that, just like during the San Remo Song Contest, televoters will have a hard time liking this song; a song that, while magnificent and unique to many Spotify listeners, lacks a more traditional construction. It manages to fuse elements of rap, Italo-pop, R&B and hiphop into 3 minutes, but by doing so it sacrifices some standout ‘yells’ or simply put a recognizable melody. Then there is Alessandro Mahmoud himself who is, like Duncan Laurence with his entry, a rather introverted singer. During X-Factor Italy 2012 he was eliminated rather quickly. And on stage it is not a performer who oozes charisma.
Strengths: However, Eurovision has changed tremendously in the past few years. Traditional tropes do not always apply. Each year offers us a new competition and an entirely different lineup. Emotions combined with a short attention span might be the key to success with the televoting audience. And although at first this doesn’t seem to apply to Mahmood, it could become the prime reason for a much better televote in this year’s competition. Mahmood’s cool, ‘street’ vibe combined with the way he more or less ‘explains’ the song with his head mostly faced down, could be exactly that kind of ‘meme’ people love. Very much like Blanche’s somber, gloomy appearance (Belgium 2017, 4th place); traditionalists despised it, but the more anti-elite televoters loved it. Can it win? Currently I’d say no. But Eurovision has its unpredictable moments too.
An early outlook to its possible result: 2nd – 9th


ICELAND

Weaknesses: Probably this year’s entry won’t go down very well with the juries. It’s both extremely harsh on the eyes, and the ears. ‘Hatrið Mun Sigra’ is the kind of techno, industrial steampunk, that could prove too much for some. Staging-wise the group offers a big WTF-moment. Especially for the LGBTQ-fans of Eurovision the toys are certainly not unfamiliar. From leather chest harnesses to rubber bondage masks, to us it simply may look too extreme. Not to mention the actual song, sang by both a ‘clean’ vocalist and a ‘harsh’ vocalist (the latter is usually called grunge singing).
Strengths: However, if there’s one song among this year’s contenders for the trophy with a clear story, then it most certainly is ‘Hatrið Mun Sigra’. In the wake of pure utter Brexit chaos in the UK, and several other (left- and right-wing) populist events on the Western Hemisphere, the ‘hate’ song from Hatari might get noticed as the best, and weirdly enough, most positive antidote to all that. The song itself, and we don’t hear that a lot, is actually quite good as well. It has a distinct melody, with a recognizable chorus and verses. If Lordi (Finland 2006, winner) can successfully introduce glam/hard rock to Eurovision, then what stops a full-blown introduction of techno/industrial/steampunk? An OK-ish 10th place among juries combined with a great TOP 3 televote could propel Iceland, like in 1999 and 2009, into winning territories again. At least these kids believe in it:
An early outlook to its possible result: 3rd – 6th

The Hatari Kids!

RUSSIA

Weaknesses: Upon the release of ‘Scream’, two days after ‘Arcade’ was released, fans were a bit disappointed (at least the odds were). Most Eurovision aficionados were perhaps expecting another ballad in the style of ‘What If’ (2013, 5th) or ‘A Million Voices’ (2015, runner-up); songs with a clear build-up towards a bridge and finally a rousing climax. Others were perhaps hoping for something pure, gentle, small, something that in its appearance would be a bit a-typical of what Russians send to Eurovision. Instead, ‘Scream’ is unlike those I just mentioned. The song sounds very much like a title track to a Lord Of The Rings movie, but chorus and verses have been composed in such a way that they sound like a 3 minute chorus altogether without a clear climax ánd melody. Obviously, the ever controversial composer Philipp Kirkorov, who also arranged entries for Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine, does this for a reason: staging. The moment of silence in the song lends itself perfectly for a nice visual play of shadows and paper figures (inspired by the official video clip). But, like Sweden, the Russians sometimes over-conceptionalize their entries. Like in 2016, the danger might very well be that jurors don’t buy all this visual artistry, and that all these visuals blow away some of the more purer emotions this entry needs. A good result always follows the selection of, at least, a good enough song. ‘Scream’ might just barely fall under this column.
Strengths: But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Russia is always in the contest to win it, and not to show Europe how their arty music scene looks like. The staging might very well work. But what might work even more is Sergey Lazarev. Like John Lundvik and Luca Hänni, Mr Lazarev is a very commendable performer. Telegenic, charisma, sublime vocals, good-looking: all of these talents and gifts apply to Sergey and eventually, once on stage, they all blossom out to its fullest potential. No, let’s not beat around the bush. Russia is a contender for a medal.
An early outlook to its possible result: 3rd – 6th

 

Strong TOP 13 candidates

CYPRUS

Weaknesses: Another ‘Fuego’? The motto for composers Alex Papaconstantinou, Geraldo Sandell and Viktor Svensson was perhaps a bit too obvious ‘Let’s make another Fuego!’. Rarely such treatments work from an originality perspective. This year’s lineup sees a big increase of other summery dance songs that draw inspiration from the Cyprus 2018 playbook. When leaving the stage with a Eurovision medal, it will inspire artists the year after. Tamta is a great live performer, but she misses that bit of X-Factor a guy like Luca Hänni has times a 100.
Strengths: On the other hand, most televoters and jurors completely forget the year after. Tamta opens semi final #1, and that might really help her later on in the contest. She will qualify, and thanks to Sacha Jean-Baptisteone of those stage directors who have the ability to translate the videoclip and all its fitting emotions to the big stage– this will be found back in the TOP 13. Perhaps even TOP 7?
An early outlook to its possible result: 6th – 10th

AUSTRALIA

Weaknesses: At first I was disappointed about ‘Zero Gravity’. I found the entry rather tacky, and admittedly incoherent. It tries to be both popera, Kate Bush and dance in one package. For jurors that might be too much to handle. Also, there are rumors Kate Miller-Heidke will dramatically change the staging concept. For a song like ‘Zero Gravity’ one has to ask if the act during the Australian National Final simply wasn’t effective already.
Possible result: However, this could very well be Australia’s best chance of equaling the 2015 televote result (Dami Im, 2018, runner-up overall). Entries like ‘Zero Gravity’ will find a place in Europe’s collective memory during the grand final evening. There’s a lot happening on stage, but this overdosis of ‘memes’ also help to remember this otherwise fun, cheeky entry, regardless of all the messages and story blabla of it. Australia has gone away from our radars already, but don’t be surprised if Australia pulls off a ‘Denmark 2018’ (9th place).
An early outlook to its possible result: 7th – 11th

John Lundvik, Swedish hopeful for 64th Eurovision Song Contest 2019 © Copyright SVT (2019)

SPAIN

Weaknesses: Another of those weaker entries this year is ‘La Venda’, composed by Adrià Salas. Yes, it’s a breeze of fresh air if it will perform between two lackluster ballads. Yes, the elements of ska and Catalan rumba most certainly let me long to the Barcelona beache vibe again. And yes, it’s light and fun. But perhaps too light. On the whole Salas made the entry too repetitive, too fast-paced. So the song passes you by in an eyewink.
Strengths: But that’s not the case with Mr España Miki. The firmly hairy man (ooowh wait, he is only 23) knows how to engage with the crowd. And mind you, Fokas Evangelinos (the Greek Wunderkind) will be directing this entry. I’m not sure if that’s really necessary, as Miki is a singer that doesn’t need much guidance. Just let the boy go, and televotes will come in like insects on sugar. However, if Evangelinos can conceptualize this even better (something Hans Pannecoucke was not able to do with Manel Navarro), then Spain could be in the TOP 10 again after 5 years.
An early outlook to its possible result: 8th – 12th

HUNGARY

Weaknesses: Let’s be plain here, strictly as a song ‘Az én apám’ isn’t as interesting as ‘Origo’. The latter came 8th overall in 2017 thanks to an impressive televote, and thanks to the charismatic singer Joci Pápai. It remains to be seen if Joci’s 2019 song can do something similar. This time around Mr Pápai will not be accompanied by a female dancer, nor will it have that extra bit of chemistry thanks to that female dancer.
Strengths: I expect this year not such a huge discrepancy between the televote and the jury-vote. The song should pick up jury votes thanks to a charming song with wonderful whistle-parts. But also the televoter will witness an interesting, warm, empathic, gipsy-style personality on the big Eurovision stage. It’s the kind of guy a televoter at home won’t easily forget. But a full-blown TOP 10 candidate?
An early outlook to its possible result: 6th – 15th

 

TOP 13 candidates, but with reservations

AZERBAIJAN

Also the Azeri musicians are back in form. For the past couple of years, Azerbaijan didn’t seem to care anymore for a good result. They won, with a rather anonymous points total, but for them it seemed enough after that. This year however the cards could be turned. ‘Truth’ is by far the best entry since their 2011 and 2012 attempts. Add to that a singer who, with his traditional folk music, owns the stage and plays the hearts of many women with his guitar. Singer Çingiz Mustafayev is someone to look out for, but ‘Truth’ is not exactly the kind of music he normally sings. So let’s wait until Saturday’s Eurovision In Concert before we draw any conclusions.
An early outlook to its possible result: 7th – 17th

NORWAY

A fun song, especially for the young kids who normally watch Junior Eurovision. But I’m judging this entry too sarcastically if I compare it with kids songs. ‘Spirit In The Sky’ is a very decent folk/dance/joik song that has one remarkable backing vocal singing in traditional Saami. What more do you want? Add some fire on stage, let the trio KEiiNO be dressed in green again (colors of the northern lights) and this will be a televote pleaser. But will do Spain and Australia do better to that respect?
An early outlook to its possible result: 10th – 20th

BELGIUM

And again Pierre Dumoulin composes the Walloon entry for Eurovision. But is ‘Wake Up’ as striking and unique as ‘City Lights’? Most would answer this with ‘No’, and after having Eliot seen performing his entry ‘live’, I am not that much impressed. But my reservations mainly stem from the comparisons we draw, especially with ‘City Lights’. As a song ‘Wake Up’ has a melancholic feel to it, and Eliot isn’t a bad performer at all. His boyish charm can overcome some of his underdeveloped teenager-vocals.
An early outlook to its possible result: 12th – 18th

Eliot, the Belgian performer in the 64th Eurovision Song Contest 2019 © Copyright RTBF & Sony Records (2019)

CZECH REPUBLIC

Not as mesmerizing as ‘Lie To Me’, which came 6th overall last year in Lisbon thanks to an energetic Mikolas. ‘Friend Of A Friend’ can not compete with the above favorites. It’s pleasant enough, but not striking enough in a field of 26 finalists. But during a performance at the Ukrainian National Final this year (let’s ignore Jamala there for a moment), lead singer Albert Černý, from the indie-band Lake Malawi, proved he can please a crowd. He has a very endearing presence on stage, and one can see how comfortable he is performing this entry. Czech Republic most likely won’t repeat the result from last year.
An early outlook to its possible result: 12th – 19th

 

A possible surprise in the making

NORTH MACEDONIA

The best Macedonian Eurovision entry in years. There, I said it. ‘Proud’ is a wonderful climatic ballad with a powerful #MeToo message. It will be the 2nd time Tamara will sing for her country. The first time, without too much success, was during the 2008 Contest in Belgrade. But if there’s a chance for a TOP 10 placing in the final this year, then this could be it.
An early outlook to its possible result: 7th – 26th

SAN MARINO

And also Serhat returns to Eurovision. And again, Serhat won’t be representing Turkey, but the micro nation San Marino instead. The Sammarinese have only qualified once to the Grand Final. But this year it could happen again. Even with a song that’s better than Serhat’s previous Eurovision entry. ‘Say Na Na Na’ is admittedly very old-school-disco, perhaps too much oldtimer music for most ears, but it closes the lesser 1st Semi Final. With some great dancing routines and football chants, this could do better than the odds currently say.
An early outlook to its possible result: 14th – 26th

AUSTRIA

The song ‘Limits’ was not met with critical acclaim. On the contrary, the Eurovision bubble, betters and fans alike, found the song rather underdeveloped. Especially when analyzing the melody. But the production is pretty flawless, harks back to some forgotten times when Kate Bush danced in the grass, and could be elevated coming right after Sweden. As long as PÆNDA is not copy-pasting the official videoclip to the big stage.
An early outlook to its possible result: 11th – 26th, or NQ

Eliot, the Belgian performer in the 64th Eurovision Song Contest 2019 © Copyright ORF & Paenda Music (2019)

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