It’s May and that can only mean one thing: Europe gets voting.
No, I’m not referring to the EU elections we weren’t meant to be having. I’m of course referring to Eurovision.
This year, the contest is being held in Tel Aviv, Israel following Netta’s win in Portugal last year with her song ‘Not Your Toy’. So wind machines and pyrotechnics, outrageous and daring costumes at the ready – let’s look at what this year’s contest has in store for us.
Who’s not here?
41 countries are competing in Israel but there will be some notable absences.
Ukraine went through a bit of a disaster selecting their entry. The public voted for Maruv’s “Siren Song”, which was an early front-runner. However, the producers of the selection show wanted to enforce a contract on the artist which would prohibit them from performing in Russia from their selection in February to the end of the contest. Maruv declined to sign such an agreement. The producers then approached the runner-up and third place acts, who also declined to take up the offer. Ukraine then announced that they would not be participating in the contest. This means the only country to have a 100% qualification record (other than Australia in their infancy at the contest) will not be in Tel Aviv.
Bulgaria is another notable country missing this year. With recent success in the previous couple of years, placing fourth in 2016 and second in 2017, they have been forced to withdraw following financial difficulties. Bulgaria aren’t the only country struggling with finances. Bosnia & Herzegovina will be sitting the contest out for a second year following sanctions from the Eurovision Broadcasting Union (EBU). Similar sanctions were levied against Romania in 2017 which saw the country thrown out of the contest.
Turkey is the final missing nation of note and continue their long period of absence, which started in 2013 following protests over the voting and later protest against 2014 winner Conchita Wurst.
So what’s new & who is returning?
This year there are no returning nations to the contest. Yet there is one change. We will no longer hear the hosts, or the juries, refer to the “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia”. Following negotiations with Greece and a referendum, this nation renamed itself North Macedonia and will be competing under their new name.
The Czech Republic similarly renamed itself the Republic of Czechia in 2016, however they are yet to compete under their new name.
We do however have some returning artists. The most notable is Russia’s Sergey Lazarev, who was the odds-on favourite in 2016 with his song “You Are the Only One”. Russia had gone all out in order to secure victory but ended up in third place. Russia are no doubt hoping to take victory once again having suffered the embarrassment of losing their 100% qualification record last year.
San Marino’s Serhat is back also from 2016. This year his song “Say Na Na Na” has already done better than he did in 2016, as he became one of the qualifiers for the final.
Hungary’s Joci Pápai is returning after placing eighth in 2017 but failed to make it past the semi-final this year.
The first semi-final saw one of the favourites, Belgium, leave the contest. Executive Supervisor Jon Ola Sand revealed after the semi-final that just two votes separated the last qualifier and first loser. All results will be released after the final and it will be interesting to see if Belgium just missed out.
Who is in the expected top 10?
10) Malta – “Chameleon” by Michela
This year Malta have used The X Factor to find the song for their selection. I personally don’t know what to make of this one. In good years Malta have come second but in a bad year they’ve not even qualified. Malta was the last country to be announced as a qualifier for the final, beating off final regulars like Romania and Lithuania.
9) Switzerland – “She Got Me” by Luca Hänni
Another early favourite, Luca Hänni has, however, fallen in the odds more recently. Switzerland have also struggled in recent years having failed to qualify since 2014. I have to admit, this is another good song, and wouldn’t be out of place on the radio, however I fear the staging lets it down a bit.
8) Italy – “Soldi” by Mahmood
Since Italy’s return to the contest in 2011, Italy have come in the top 10 six times and have come second and third. Italy are seeking their first win since 1990. This is one the bookies have ranked throughout, but I don’t quite see it myself.
7) France – “Roi” by Bilal Hassani
France have gone for another song with a great message behind it. Last year a song about refugees fleeing in boats brought home the reality of what’s happening in the Mediterranean. This year Hassani says the song is about him expressing who he is.
The stage performance features a woman who was told she was too big to be a ballet dancer and another dancer who is deaf and has never heard music, both overcoming adversity and criticism to do what they love.
France are searching for their first victory since 1977.
6) Azerbaijan – “Truth” by Chingiz
Like Russia last year Azerbaijan lost their 100% qualification record, missing out by one place. One of the big players in the contest, they have previously spent a fortune on competing, eventually winning the contest on their fourth attempt in 2011. When they hosted, they built an arena specifically for the contest. They are hoping the contest will return there. Compared to recent years, the song feels a bit flat. The staging involves robotic arms with lasers.
5) Iceland – “Hatrið mun sigra” by Hatari
Okay, so this one is a bit out there. It’s not to everyone’s taste and is far from your typical Eurovision entry. However, odd and out there has done well before. Remember Lordi, who secured Finland’s one and only victory back in 2006?
4) Russia – “Scream” by Sergey Lazarev
An early favourite since his selection, Lazarev is looking to restore a bit of pride in Russia after they failed to qualify last year and lost their 100% qualification record. Russia are desperate to win and have been known to summon ambassadors from allied nations who don’t provide them with points.
Whilst catchy and one of my personal favourites, I fear this act may be hindered by politics. This isn’t really helped by a song with lyrics about screaming, in light of recent atrocities in Chechnya. When Lazarev last competed, he won the jury vote but was pushed into third place when the public voters came in behind Ukraine and Armenia.
3) Australia – “Zero Gravity” by Kate Miller-Heidke
This one has to be seen to be believed. Whilst I felt the song was a little below par for Australia, the staging makes it. There is a catchy hook in the song also which remains stuck in my head. Australia are looking for a win and the song has risen in the odds in the last week.
2) Sweden – “Too late for Love” by John Lundvik
Sweden are undoubtedly the modern day beast of the contest with many of their acts making the top five. The nation is searching for their seventh win, which would put them in joint first alongside Ireland for most Eurovision wins.
What’s also interesting – if you believe in ‘signs’ – is that when, during the national selection, the international juries and public vote both rank the song first they have in all occasions bar one gone on to win the contest. Not only did Lundvik win both the jury and the public vote, but all the voting nations gave him 12 points – the first time this has happened. Lundivk is also quite unique this year as he will be competing against himself, in a way, as he has also written the UK’s song this year.
1) Netherlands – “Arcade” by Duncan Laurence
The Dutch have remained top of the bookies list for the last week which, considering the position changes throughout, is quite impressive. Personally, I think this has a bit of a Coldplay feel to it. In 2014 the Netherlands came second, following several years where they didn’t qualify for the final. Since then they have done well in all years bar one, coming in the top 10. Whilst I can see merit in the song, I do feel it won’t grab people quickly enough on the night.
So what about the UK?
A question we ask, sadly, every year. Whilst artist Michael Rice is optimistic and Lundvik wrote the song, I fear he will be lost on the night. I have to say that of the Big Five nations (the five European nations who pay the most to the EBU) Spain and France, for me, are the better songs.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Eurovision without assessing the politics of the voting (this is where my political nerdiness blends with my love for Eurovision).
What about the politics?
Yes, it comes up every year. This year is especially notable because some people have called for a boycott of host nation Israel for its track record on human rights in Gaza.
But it’s the politics behind the voting that we’re concerned about here. In fact, this was the reason behind Sir Terry Wogan’s resignation, but I will say we have seen the breaking down of this over recent years.
Since Sweden completely separated the jury and public vote, it has made the competition more transparent, as well as more exciting.
For those unfamiliar, the traditional satellite links will be there, with each nation revealing their juries’ votes. Whilst they do this, the public vote is totted up. Each nation will then award their points: 12 to the song with the most votes, 10 to second place, and so on for their top 10 songs. All the points are then added together and revealed in ascending order.
For example, Country A receives the following: 10 points from Country B, 12 Points from Country C and another 10 points from Country D. Country A’s public vote points equal 32 and are added to whatever score the juries have given them to give them their final score.
This means we have to wait to the last moment to find out who the winner is, and it also means bloc voting becomes more visible. I will say that, despite claims of political voting, we have had a different winner each year and more often than not the bookies can’t even pick the winner. Lord knows, here at Vada we’ve only got it right once in the years I’ve been covering it.
I don’t see us being able to rely on political support this year, for obvious reasons. This time around, there also isn’t a clear front-runner and I half expect the bookies to be wrong in their assumptions. You’ll have to watch the final to see just how it all unfolds.
The final will be live on BBC1 at 8pm.