Saturday, May 26, 2012

Eurovision 2012 prediction : Saturday's final

My starting-point for this prediction (which may well look very foolish in 24 hours' time) is that the bookies have called it completely wrong - I just don't see how either Sweden or Russia are going to win the contest. Sweden are unlikely to win because dance tracks always underperform at Eurovision, including those tipped for victory (Xandee finished a miserable 22nd, Kate Ryan failed to even qualify for the final). Russia are unlikely to win because juries comprised of music professionals hold 50% of the vote, and they're simply not going to go for a novelty act with dodgy singing, however beguiling it may be.

Looking back twelve months, it's quite astonishing how big a divergence there was between the juries and the public vote. Italy were the runaway winners with the juries, but finished just 11th on the televoting results, leading to an overall result of second. The disparity for Denmark and Slovenia was even more extreme - they were placed third and fourth respectively by the juries, but were a mere 18th and 22nd on the public vote. I must admit I'd completely forgotten about the Slovenian song until I looked it up a few minutes ago. It's really good, worth far more than 22nd place, so there's not much doubt that the juries were doing the job they were paid to do, and pushing the classier songs up the leaderboard. Realistically, therefore, for a song to have a chance of winning it needs to appeal to two very different constituencies, and attract a high level of support from both juries and the public. Azerbaijan were the only country that managed that feat last year, and were thus bound to win (not that I predicted it, of course!).

So which countries are likely to have that dual appeal this year? Let's start by considering what will appeal to the juries. It wouldn't surprise me if for the second year in a row they give the nod to Italy. As you may have noticed, my opinion of the Italian song has been 'evolving' at a rate of knots over the last two or three weeks (as has my understanding of one of the key lyrics - it turns out that it's actually "you're an independent grown man after all"!). I now belatedly recognise that it's dripping with class, and I think the professional juries are bound to go with it, regardless of how much it might be overshadowed by the 'showier' entries later on in the running order. At the absolute minimum, I expect them to place it in the top three. It's a touch harder to judge how music professionals will react to an ethnic ballad like Serbia's - it depends what type of music professionals they are, I suppose. But surely they'll recognise the quality? And strange though it may seem, I also think the juries will go with Ireland. Jedward were actually quite a bit more popular with the juries than with the public last year, and Waterline is a stronger song than Lipstick.

I'm not sure the juries will be quite so kind to the contest's dark horses, such as Ukraine and Turkey, but nor do I necessarily think they'll push those songs out of contention completely.

Now let's move to the public vote, where all sorts of factors that are (or should be) irrelevant to the juries suddenly come into play with a vengeance - such as running order, visual gimmickry and political voting. And that's where I think Italy may run into a problem. Certainly there's no doubt that they have a much less favourable draw than Ireland, Serbia, Ukraine, Spain and Turkey. They also have fewer natural allies than three of those five countries. From the point of view of the visual impact of the performance, it's harder to make a direct comparison, because we've already seen the majority of the leading contenders in the semi-finals, but not Italy or Spain. I have seen dodgy video footage of a couple of Italy's rehearsals, for what that's worth. The backdrop looked stunning, and Nina Zilli's vocals were near-perfect, but she did seem to be holding back slightly on selling the performance visually, which makes it impossible to draw too many conclusions. She also didn't bother with the high note in the final "femmina", which is a pity, as it's a memorable feature in the studio version.

Although I was slightly disappointed with the visual impact of Serbia on Thursday night, Željko Joksimović sounded fantastic, as he always does. Unlike Italy, we don't even need to pose the question of whether he can attract public votes - he has a formidable track record of doing so in three previous contests, with very similar songs to this one. Some of that might be classed as political voting, but votes are votes. And he has a fantastic draw. So the stars seem to be aligned for Serbia this year, and my gut feeling is that they're the most likely winners. But it wouldn't surprise me if Italy or Ireland won, and Spain, Ukraine and Turkey all just about have a chance as well. Turkey are potentially this year's Marie N (the Latvian performer in 2002 who won with a striptease rather than a song) - they're carried by just one very strong visual gimmick, but it's not entirely inconceivable that could be enough.

On balance, this is how I see it working out...

Winners - Serbia (Nije Ljubav Stvar by Željko Joksimović)
2nd - Italy (L'Amore È Femmina by Nina Zilli)
3rd - Ireland (Waterline by Jedward)
4th - Russia (Party for Everybody by Buranovskiye Babushki)
5th - Spain (Quédate Conmigo by Pastora Soler)

Possible dark horses - Turkey, Ukraine, Iceland

Italy's second place is based on the assumption that they'll win the jury vote - if they don't, obviously their overall placing could be quite a bit lower. Until a few days ago, I'd have had the UK in the top five, but I'm not even putting them/us in the 'dark horse' category because Engelbert Humperdinck's performances in the rehearsals have been so patchy.

My own favourite songs are (in no particular order) Serbia, Italy, Iceland and Spain, but because of my personal rule that I only vote for songs performed entirely in a language other than English, I'll be voting for Serbia and Spain. Which I have some regrets about - the segments of L'Amore È Femmina that are sung in Italian are an amazing showcase for that language, and a perfect antidote to Terry Wogan's theory that "pop is an anglophone thing".

Last thought - I don't know if the Azerbaijanis are persevering with Leyla Aliyeva as the sole 'results host' tomorrow night, but I certainly hope so. She has an old-school panache about her that reminds me of female Eurovision hosts from a bygone era.

* * *

Lib Dem blogger Caron Lindsay on the launch of Yes Scotland -

"Nothing I have seen from anyone in the SNP has come close to persuading me that there is any need for independence other than they want it. As a highlander, I have as much of an issue about being told what to do by Edinburgh as I do London."

You see, this is one of the stock unionist arguments that baffles me. Edinburgh rule is just as bad and remote as London rule...therefore by definition London rule is better. How exactly does that logic work?

Friday, May 25, 2012

Even with a biased question, the No campaign's own poll shows an increase in support for independence

Well, we've seen polls published by broadcasters, newspapers, political parties, charities and trade unions before. But this must be the first poll in history to be "published by Alistair Darling". I suppose needs must when you're desperately trying to dream up a wheeze to sabotage the Yes campaign launch. Just a pity the former Chancellor couldn't find a question biased enough that it didn't produce a one-point increase in support for independence since the last YouGov poll -

Yes 33% (+1)
No 57% (+4)

These figures of course aren't remotely comparable, because the last YouGov poll had a question with relatively neutral wording (albeit even then they couldn't quite bring themselves not to tinker with the proposed referendum wording slightly). But the more important point is that YouGov are well-known for producing figures more favourable for the No side than many other pollsters do, regardless of the question asked. The reason for this isn't quite clear - it may be an artifact of the internet panel system, or there may be some other factor at play. Either way, it's no surprise that Darling and chums made a beeline for the company that would produce the most palatable figures, but it doesn't tell us anything new (other than the fact that Alistair Darling is now a publisher).

* * *

Scottish football fans have long enjoyed pitting their wits against each other to see who can most accurately guess how many seconds into a routine Switzerland v Cyprus game it will be before Clive Tyldesley finds an excuse to mention that England won the World Cup in 1966. I'd suggest we can have similar fun with the Daily Telegraph's reporting of the independence referendum over the next couple of years - 3 points if you can correctly guess how many times an article will refer to the pro-independence side as "separatists", 5 points if you can guess the number of times the anti-independence side will be referred to as "pro-UK", and 7 points if you can guess the number of crushing "blows" for Alex Salmond that the article identifies.

Along with these comfortingly familiar gems, the article on the Darling poll also informs us that the SNP's allies in the Yes campaign are "minor left-wing parties". Hmmm. Given that the Liberal Democrats only have three more Holyrood seats than the Greens, does that mean the Tories and Labour will be joined in the No campaign by "a minor right-wing party"?

Oh, and apparently the lead for the No side in the poll means that "the United Kingdom is under no threat of breaking up". I presume by the same token that Labour's handsome poll lead in the summer of 2007 means there is absolutely no danger that we're now living under a Tory-led government. Phew, what a relief.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pirates, high seas, cautions, cannons and potions

I only got 7 out of 10 right this time, but it was such a finely-balanced semi-final that it would have been tough to do an awful lot better. Having said that, my cogitations about which one out of Slovenia and Croatia would 'kill' the other now look a bit silly, as neither made it through! I must say I'm mildly baffled as to why the Balkan bloc vote preferred Bosnia to both of them, but perhaps Bosnia's favourable draw was a factor. Lithuania's even more favourable draw may also explain that country's qualification, which I didn't see coming at all. Estonia's success, on the other hand, isn't at all difficult to understand, and it's so nice to see a country that stuck religiously to the English language during its golden Eurovision years now prospering with a ballad sung entirely in Estonian.

The one country I had pencilled in to qualify that I'm delighted to be proved wrong about is Georgia - it was an absolute dog's breakfast of an entry, but it stuck out like a sore thumb and I just couldn't see past it.

One thing tonight's show brought home to me is the limited use that the YouTube videos of the rehearsals are, because they don't give you the whole picture. I had been extremely impressed by what I'd seen of the Serbian rehearsals, but it just doesn't work as well on screen as I thought it would - there's too much in long-shot. By way of contrast, Ukraine and Turkey are two examples of songs that I personally don't think are that great, but which really leaped out of the screen tonight. In particular, Turkey is such a distinctive and quirky entry that I think it now goes into the final as a real contender - if not for outright victory, then perhaps for a top three finish.

A couple of final thoughts -

1) Could someone please tell Scott Mills that Herzegovina is not pronounced with an 'ee' sound before the 'a'?

2) How can the Yes campaign in the independence referendum even dream of launching themselves on the Friday of Eurovision week? There aren't enough hours in the day for such excitement.

Eurovision 2012 prediction : Thursday's semi-final

Well, this one has been hurting my head. There are no fewer than five Balkan ballads that are all perfectly plausible qualifiers, but it's hard to believe that all of them will make it through. There's a school of thought that holds that because Slovenia and Croatia are next to each other in the running order, one of them is bound to 'kill' the other. But if so, it's not entirely clear which one it will be - Croatia is the stronger song, but Slovenia has the more eye-catching staging. There again, Slovenia is the only ex-Yugoslav country that hasn't discernibly benefited from the Balkan bloc vote over the years. Anyway, it may be my heart talking (given that I'm a fan of both songs), but I'm going to stick my neck out and say that I expect both Croatia and Slovenia to just about sneak through. If at least one of the Balkan ballads is going to miss out, Bosnia and Herzegovina looks like marginally the most probable candidate.

The Georgian entry is atrocious, but I've pencilled it in as a qualifier, if for no other reason than it will stand out amongst all the ballad mush. So that leaves me with the following ten -


You could just as easily make a case for having Estonia, Lithuania and the Netherlands on that list. It's certainly a much more unpredictable semi-final than Tuesday's, and should be really exciting. The quality will be a bit higher as well.

This is also the semi-final in which UK viewers can vote - although Serbia is my favourite, I think I'll be going with Croatia, as they'll probably be more in need of help.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

This trumpet makes you mine, girl

Well, the first Eurovision semi-final was the perfect tonic after a manic day - it was the usual masterful blend of the good, the bad, and the barking mad. On the latter front, the opening entry from Montenegro may have been a joke that didn't quite work, but I can't fault the performer's comic timing when Scott Mills asked him what he was doing at the contest, and he replied "it's a mistake". In fact, I think that may have been my highlight of the evening.

My prediction was pretty close to being spot-on - I got nine out of ten right, with Albania the one I overlooked. Belgium would probably have been a worthier qualifier, but I should have remembered that Albania do have a formidable record of qualifying almost regardless of what they enter. If nothing else, it's good for the contest (in my opinion) to have one more song not in English through to the final.

I was a bit irked that the BBC commentators suggested that Hungary's qualification was a surprise, and that it wasn't the strongest entry. In my view, it was more a case of a strong song making it through in spite of some uninspired staging. I had been a bit concerned that the glitzier performances from Austria, Switzerland and Israel might squeeze Hungary out.

One half of Jedward (no idea which one) looked ready to burst into tears when six qualifiers had been revealed, and Ireland wasn't one of them. As with previous years, it's a bit hard to believe that the order in which the qualifiers were read out was completely random, with two of the most obvious countries left for last. And it's also very hard to see the point of the 'golden ticket' wheeze to reveal the final qualifier if the camera doesn't even zoom in when the envelope is opened.

Scott Mills mentioned during the show that Italy are now the favourites to win the contest. That doesn't baffle me as much as it would have done a few weeks ago, as the song gets under the skin a bit more with each successive listen - I had the words "you're an independent woman after all" (which may well become my new life motto) rattling around in my head on the bus home this evening. But the fact that it's taken me so long to 'get it' makes me wonder if it really has much chance of winning on Saturday, when most people will be hearing it for the first time. In fact, one of the fascinations of this year's final is that so many of the strongest songs are pre-qualified, which will make it much harder to deduce the likely outcome from the semi-final performances alone.

* * *

Thanks to everyone who voted in the Scot Goes Pop Eurovision poll. Here are the full results -

Ireland 23%
Serbia 20%
France 20%
Spain 20%
United Kingdom 17%
Iceland 14%
Sweden 14%
Turkey 14%
Italy 14%
Denmark 11%
Hungary 11%
Israel 8%
Bulgaria 8%
Norway 8%
Slovenia 8%
Latvia 5%
Albania 5%
Romania 5%
Switzerland 5%
Netherlands 5%
Malta 5%
Finland 5%
Lithuania 5%
San Marino 5%
Germany 5%
Montenegro 2%
Belgium 2%
Cyprus 2%
Austria 2%
Moldova 2%
Macedonia 2%
Belarus 2%
Portugal 2%
Croatia 2%
Estonia 2%
Bosnia and Herzegovina 2%
Azerbaijan 2%
All Others 0%

In case anyone is wondering, the reason the percentages add up to far more than 100 is that multi-voting was enabled!

* * *

I very nearly wrote a post the other day entitled "Note for Americans : Johann Lamont does not speak for the people of Scotland. Source : Election results." But I didn't need to, because Doug Daniel said everything I wanted to say on the subject, and more.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Eurovision 2012 prediction : Tuesday's semi-final

I'm in a mad rush at the moment, so for now I'll just do my traditional prediction, and write something more substantial after the event! In no particular order, here are the ten countries I think will qualify this evening -