Saturday, 9 April 2016

Wanna be seen by everyone? An analysis of the Eurovision promo tour

In recent years, Eurovision in Concert has become the pinnacle of the Euro Promo Tour, and for many it signifies the day when the Eurovision season truly begins.

But for some acts, it's just part of what can be an extended tour promoting their song around Europe. This year saw Nicky Byrne and Barei both show up at the Ukrainian final, Dalal and Deen sang 'Ljubav je' during the Montenegrin presentation show, and Nina Kraljić gave the first live performance of her entry 'Lighthouse' on Serbian breakfast TV.

In this article, we'll take a look at the history of the Promo Tour, and examine just how useful it can be.

Up until 2000, promo tours were effectively forbidden, as the rules stated the song was not allowed be promoted outside of the home country until after the contest. Once this outdated rule was removed, several countries immediately took advantage, sending their acts flying around the continent, appearing on TV shows and showing off their entries to the people of Europe - with mixed success.

Fabrizio Faniello gained great benefit from his promo tour in 2001

Early on, there did seem to be some benefits to jetting off. One example I distinctly remember was Fabrizio Faniello in 2001, who appeared on Danish TV shortly before the final in Copenhagen. And lo and behold, on the night he scored 12 points from the Danish televote - his only maximum score of the evening.

The next year, several countries followed Malta's example. Cypriot boyband One visited a number of TV stations and held a swathe of live performances, including a well-targeted gig in a North London shopping centre filled with local Greeks (and me) and an appearance on an ITV daytime show. They came sixth on the night, including three points from the UK. Slightly more pointedly, a number of acts visited Malta, including Macedonia's Karolina. She eventually scored five points from the Mediterranean island, who just happened to have a 50/50 voting system that year. I wouldn't want to insinuate anything, but sometimes these trips can just as much about who you meet before you perform as who you impress on screen.

Treble, who toured all 42 competing countries

Let's fast forward now to 2006 and the infamous Amambanda promo tour. Dutch girl group Treble pledged to visit and perform in every one of the 42 competing countries, and this they did, though hampered slightly by the fact that they weren't always able to find a TV show that would have them. They busked on the streets of London. And come the big night, the result of all of that effort? 38 points, 21st place and an early trip home (though they did get a point off Iceland after being ridiculed by Silvia Night). They were probably ready for their own beds after that travelling anyway.

In 2012, the two biggest examples of the promo tour came from France and Switzerland. It seemed like you could barely switch on a national final without Sinplus or Anggun (or both) turning up to mime along to their entries, and they were far from the only ones. But come the contest itself, Sinplus bowed out in the semi-final, whereas Anggun gained a grand total of nul points from the televote.

And maybe delegations have learned from this. Since 2012, there's been far fewer acts trailing their entry around myriad national finals. Is the reward not worth the effort? Or is it simply that with many entries being chosen close to the deadline, there's no time to fit in a promo tour?

Jade Ewen performs "It's My Time" at the Russian national final

On the other hand, some would argue that it's not all about impressing the local television audience. For a novice artist in particular, there's some real benefit to be gained by sending them to perform their song again and again on any TV show that will have them. Jade Ewen certainly benefited from this in 2009, growing in confidence as the season went on, culminating in a strong, charismatic performance in Moscow that netted her a 5th place. But it doesn't always work that way. Performing in a TV studio is very different to facing a 20,000 strong cheering crowd, as we saw when Sinplus just appeared tiny and lost on the huge stage in Baku, and it's far harder to find cameras and take control in an arena.

If appearing on national finals and TV shows are no great help in scoring votes in the contest, events like the London Preview Party, Riga Pre-Party and Eurovision in Concert in Amsterdam are even less useful. The acts are performing to a limited audience of people, nearly all of whom have already heard the songs and formed their opinions on them. The stage is nothing like performing at Eurovision, so there's not even any useful experience to be gained, and the mainstream media don't care, unless you count CNN showing up to grill Sabina Babayeva on the misdeeds of her country. But as we've already seen this year with Hovi and Sanja, they are a whole lot of fun, and give the artists a chance to perform without the pressure of competition and let them revel in the adoration of fans, if only for a few brief hours. And of course, there are those contacts to be made...

The performances at the Eurovision Pre-Party in Riga 2015

So, does a promo tour really work? We don't think so. It had some success initially, but recent years have shown that the impact on the final voting is pretty much minimal. There are some benefits to a carefully targeted campaign, aimed at diaspora or other friendly countries, and it can give an artist vital experience in singing their song live on TV, but it's by no means the magic formula to scoring points on the big night.

But who cares, really. Hovi's having fun, and so are we. Hop over to the wonderful ESCKaz to watch videos of the show from Amsterdam.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Preview Party Results

We had a preview party last night, with six of us each giving points to all the songs out of ten. Here's our results.

Semi 1

1. Netherlands - 48
2. Estonia - 46
3=. Azerbaijan - 45
3=. Montenegro - 45
5. Hungary - 43
6=. Armenia - 38
6=. Albania - 38
8. Ukraine - 36
9. Russia - 35
10. Sweden - 32

11. Iceland - 29
12. Moldova - 27
13. San Marino - 19
14. Portugal - 18
15. Latvia - 10
16. Belgium - 8

Semi 2
1. Israel - 45
2=. Finland - 41
2=. Slovenia - 41
4. Austria - 39
5. Macedonia - 37
6. Ireland - 35
7. Norway - 33
8. Lithuania - 26
9. Greece - 25
10. Poland - 24

11. Malta - 20
12. Switzerland - 20
13. Georgia - 10
14=. Belarus - 9
14=. Romania - 9

As you can see, because of the two-semi split, Greece and Poland qualify over Iceland and Moldova, which actually scored higher. Which brings us to the final result:

1. Italy - 51
2. Netherlands - 48
3. Estonia - 46
4=. Azerbaijan - 45
4=. Montenegro - 45
4=. Israel - 45
7. UK - 44
8. Hungary - 43
9=. Finland - 41
9=. Slovenia - 41
11. Austria - 39
12=. Armenia - 38
12=. Albania - 38
14. Macedonia - 37
15. Ukraine - 36
16=. Russia - 35
16=. Ireland - 35
16=. Spain - 35
19. Norway - 33
20. Sweden - 32
21. Denmark - 27
22. Lithuania - 26
23. Greece - 25
24. Poland - 24
25=. Germany - 23
25=. France - 23

Our winner! It was actually the very last song we watched.

And here's the overall results with all 37 songs.
1. Italy - 51
2. Netherlands - 48
3. Estonia - 46
4=. Azerbaijan - 45
4=. Montenegro - 45
4=. Israel - 45
7. UK - 44
8. Hungary - 43
9=. Finland - 41
9=. Slovenia - 41
11. Austria - 39
12=. Armenia - 38
12=. Albania - 38
14. Macedonia - 37
15. Ukraine - 36
16=. Russia - 35
16=. Ireland - 35
16=. Spain - 35
19. Norway - 33
20. Sweden - 32
21. Iceland - 29
22=. Moldova - 27
22=. Denmark - 27
24. Lithuania - 26
25. Greece - 25
26. Poland - 24
27=. Germany - 23
27=. France - 23
29=. Malta - 20
29=. Switzerland - 20
31. San Marino - 19
32. Portugal - 18
33=. Latvia - 10
33=. Georgia - 10
35=. Belarus - 9
35=. Romania - 9
37. Belgium - 8

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

How do you solve a problem like Imperija?

The Macedonian Eurovision song selection is normally a much more sedate affair. Either they have a long drawn out national final and everyone cries fix but doesn't really care too much, or else they pick Kaliopi and everyone worships at her feet.

This year, Vlatko Lozanoski and Esma Redžepova were a popular choice, but no sooner had 'Imperija' been presented in a live show on Macedonian TV than complaints began to fly in the national media, and a few days later we learned that the song might be changed. Earlier this week, it was confirmed by MKRTV that this would be the case, and on Friday we will hear the new song for Macedonia.

So what happened? It's not at all clear, but let's try and explain.

Firstly it was said that the song would undergo 'changes in the arrangement and lyrics'. The reasons for this weren't particularly clear - the lyrics themselves aren't particularly political or controversial and the arrangement is fitting for the song, however the decision was made after "clearly stated views and contructive suggestions of experts and Macedonian audience".

MKRTV were apparently unhappy with the standards set in the video in particular; they'd let the artists and video producers have a completely free rein this year, and the resulting product was not 'dignified' enough to be presented to a European audience. It appears they were generally unhappy with the whole thing from the moment it was completed, but with a show to broadcast, had no choice but to run with the original song and video for the presentation.

The major bone of contention was the prominent appearance of buildings and monuments from the 'Skopje 2014' project, a government building program. Skopje 2014's aim is the construction of museums and other buildings, as well as monuments, in a neo-classic style, which has been strongly criticised for "constructing nationalistic historicist kitsch" as well as just generally being very expensive and a waste of money in what's not exactly a cash-rich economy. In effect, the whole video plays as a propaganda piece for the achievements of the current government, made up of a nationalist, right-wing party (VMRO-DPMNE).

It's perhaps somewhat unusual and unexpected that MKRTV would speak out so publicly against the government in this way, which leads me to suspect there's somewhat more to this than is being said. Certainly, even if the video were the root cause, there'd be no need to change the song itself.

However, that is what's happening. One of the reports wrote that Lozano had threatened to leave the project if the song wasn't changed, and indeed it seems he's got his way. The new song will be written by Darko Dimitrov and Lazar Cvetkovski (the latter is Lozano's own producer) with Simeon Atanasov, the composer of 'Imperija'. Esma herself will reportedly sing in the Romani language this time, rather than in Macedonian, and the song will have much stronger influences from the world of gypsy music after criticism of the 'ethno-motifs' in 'Imperija'.

So, who knows what really happened? One of the articles mentioned 'Eurovision representatives' being involved in the discussions, so perhaps there was an element of the EBU that disapproved of the blatant political posturing - though for once it seems it wasn't due to annoying the Greeks! There's certainly more to it than meets the eye, but to summarise what we know for sure, the main objection within Macedonia seems to be that there was an element of 'ethno-kitsch' to both the song and the video, which it seems will be eliminated in favour of something more genuine.

And what potential does the new song hold? I have to admit that, while I liked 'Imperija', I was a little disappointed in the overall product, but this new song doesn't sound like it will have the same accessibility as the previous. With strong gypsy influences and opportunities for both singers to show off their vocals, it could potentially wind up having little chance in a European context.

You can hear 'Imperija' below (the video has disappeared from the internet), before the new song is released on Friday.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Does the draw make a difference? Why we'll never know

The EBU's decision to allow SVT to decide the running order of the upcoming Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö has caused the shit to hit the fan and rain down over the Eurovision message boards in a fashion barely seen since the days of Marlain.

But is it going to be a game-killer for the contest? Does a song's starting position make a big difference for its chances? Maybe. In the past few weeks and months, fans have come up with plenty of theories to prove that the draw does make a difference, and that SVT are out to screw the chances of the songs they don't like.

I intend to show you that those theories are generally a whole load of hookum.

"But in 2009, 14 of the 20 qualifiers came from the second half of the semis."

Two points. Firstly, 14/20 is hardly an overwhelming correlation. Secondly, using statistics like that out of context ignores one of the greatest variables in the contest - the quality of the songs. One of the main reasons it's impossible to compare statistics like this on a year-by-year basis is that the songs and performances are, by their very nature, completely different each year.

Without even looking at what songs were drawn where in 2009, that argument contains obvious fallacies, as it assumes that all songs are born equal. They aren't, and by just looking at the bald statistics you're completely failing to take this into account.

Taking 2009 as an example, the first halves of those semis include 'Aven Romale', 'Copycat', 'La teva decisió (Get a Life)', 'Let' tmou' and 'Firefly', songs that most fans would agree never had any hope of qualifying. This just shows that judging the numbers and the statistics without taking into account the songs themselves is pretty much a futile exercise

"But Haba Haba is a great song, and was drawn second and failed to qualify."

Sure, you think it's a great song. Maybe everybody at your party loved it too. The problem is, of course, that there is no hard and fast way to judge a song's quality, and on the night, not enough people liked it and voted for it. And in music, unlike science, there is no right/wrong, no measure of good or bad.

We simply cannot argue that if a song had been drawn in another position, it would have got another result. Ultimately, we cannot know. Perhaps Haba Haba did only fail to qualify because it was drawn second. Or perhaps it did badly because most people didn't think it was very good or very well performed.

Ultimately, it's impossible to directly compare songs - all songs are different and we only ever see them in one starting position - it's not like we ever get the opportunity to place the same song in different positions with all the other influencing criteria intact, just to see what would happen. In summary, it's the songs themselves that are the biggest variable, and have the biggest influence over their own final result.

(Incidentally, as a side note: in researching this article and looking for an example for this section, it struck me just how many songs drawn second have actually qualified since 2008 - either six or seven out of ten, depending how you view Sweden 2008.)

"But we do see them in two different positions - in the semi and the final!"

This is a fair point, and there are examples of songs which qualify and then get a very different draw in the final, and get a very different result. Two examples would be Latvia in 2005, which scrapes through the semi then performs last in the final where it finishes 5th, and Finland in 2011, which qualifies comfortably, then has to go on first in the final where it bombs.

But are they a direct comparison? I would argue that the semi-final and the final are completely different beasts, with greatly differing audiences. Firstly and most obviously, since 2008 the final has all competing countries voting, while the semis only have a selected half. This will naturally affect voting patterns, especially if you got stuck with (or separated from) your neighbours in the semi-final.

The final itself also tends to have vastly higher viewing figures than the two semis. We therefore have a different demographic voting in the final - the semi viewers are perhaps more dedicated fans of the contest or members of a diaspora, whereas the Saturday night show attracts a wider range of people. And on a Saturday, viewers are perhaps looking for something different. The whole family may be watching together, while others may be at a party with significant amounts of alcohol consumed. All of this leads to different voting patterns in the final than in the semi.

And aside from the voting patterns of people watching at home, the final itself is a totally different contest to the semis. The hopeless songs that made you look competent are gone, and perhaps have been replaced by two acts from the other semi-final, doing the same thing you're doing, only better. With completely different competition, and different people voting, the results between a semi and a final are always likely to vary.

All in all, we can never prove that the draw is the decisive factor in a song's result. There is evidence that points that way, and indeed the Latvia and Finland examples mentioned above present a pretty strong argument, but ultimately, with the strongest variable being the song, and a lack of any opportunity to do any kind of representative testing, we can never prove anything for sure.

So, in summary, most fans making up theories and 'proofs' on the internet are talking complete rubbish.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Melodi Grand Prix Semi 3 - the songs

While most attention is focused on the Melodifestivalen rehearsals, let's take a look at this week's Norwegian Melodi Grand Prix songs.

The first two semi-finals in Norway have met with far from universal approval, with the second week in particular featuring some rather less than stellar performances, so let's hope things will get better this Saturday, in the third and final semi-final.

Gothminister – Utopia
Far more of a name in their genre than Gromth were in the first semi-final, Gothminister play industrial metal, though 'Utopia' is far more accessible than may be expected. The metal songs nearly always surprise in the voting in Scandinavian national finals, often due to the genre's large, but quiet, fanbase, so expect Gothminister to put in a strong showing.
In summary: probable qualifier

Adelén – Bombo
The kind of pseudo-Latino pop that always used to crop up in Belgian finals throughout the last decade, and then be performed terribly. I expect nothing else here from 16 year old Adelén, even if she does have some hefty hitmakers behind the song in Ina Wroldsen and Quiz & Larossi. And this year's MGP hasn't exactly been kind to pop.
In summary: lots of fun, but not a qualifier

Lucky Lips – Sweet and Heavy
Country bluegrass from Lucky Lips. I personally think this is absolutely beautiful, and with Melodi Grand Prix traditionally being a lot kinder on country music than its Swedish counterpart, may do better than expected. Will need a strong performance to stand out though.
In summary: Lovely, needs a good performance, borderline qualifier

Gaute Ormåsen – Awake
Unfortunately, Gaute's song isn't available on Spotify or on YouTube internationally, so I haven't been able to listen to this in full, so will have to base this on the 30-second snippet broadcast last night. Which, in summary, a man who's slightly older than he wants to be singing a song that's far too young for him. With potential for some terrible falsetto notes.
In summary: your dad doing Bjorn Johan Muri (not like that!) at karaoke.

Anina – The Young
Now this is a surprise. While the televoters haven't been kind to the girly pop this year, The Young stands out as far more substantial, with its Katy Perry-vibe and stand-up-and-sing-along chorus. We'll see on Saturday whether Anina can carry it off live, but if she does, this could be the big surprise of the competition.
In summary: with the right performance, a potential superfinalist

Winda – Not Afraid
A big dance number designed the get the audience on their feet but ultimately, if it didn't work for Mimi Blix with a much better song, there's no reason it should work here. Not Afraid comes from the team behind 'Haba Haba', but really has none of the catchy elements behind that huge hit – Norway's dance music can do much better.
In summary: not a chance

Sirkus Eliassen – I Love You Te Quiero
Sirkus Eliassen had one of the biggest hits of 2012 with the frankly quite brilliant 'Æ vil bare dans'. Their MGP entry isn't a patch on that, but follows much the same pattern, and is bound to have a strong performance, so should have a good chance.
In summary: qualifying, another likely superfinalist

To sum up, a much stronger semi-final than the past two weeks, though again a lot is going to depend on performances on the night. Last week it was the three best vocal performances that qualified, almost by default, and if the same is true again on Saturday we could see some surprises.

In theory, it's pretty open, though I suspect Sirkus Eliassen are nailed on to qualify. Gothminister should follow them if the metal fans are voting (and they usually do), with the third place between Lucky Lips and Anina.

This piece originally published at Schlagerfiasko.