Eurovision 2015: Just a breath away from the finals

The 60th Eurovision singing contest is fast approaching. The three shows will take place on Tuesday 19/05 (1st semi-final), on Thursday 21/05 (2nd semi-final) and on Saturday 23/05 (finals); always at 9pm CET (10pm in Greece). Our country is participating in the 1st semi-final.

The system of two semi-finals was established in 2004 due to the large number of countries that take place in the competition. It was then that EBU (European Broadcasting Union, whose member is our very own NERIT – soon to be ERT once again) rightly judged that a night with 40 participant songs can barely keep the viewers’ interest. Yes, the countries participating in the last years are more or less 40; and the reason for this is all the countries that emerged after the breakup of the Soviet Union, of Yugoslavia and Czechoslovakia.

This is the first year that Australia (!) is participating as well (in direct violation of the competition’s terms) because the country has a huge Eurovision audience that was keenly asking for Australia to be included. As an honorary gesture, the country will go straight to the finals.

The participating countries are divided into two groups by lottery: the groups of the 1st and the 2nd semi-finals respectively, which take place on Tuesday and Thursday – before the finals on Saturday. All of them? Surely not. The winner of the previous year goes straight to the finals (a just measure, one would say), as well as the “big-5”. This year it will be Austria (last year’s winner), along with England, France, Germany, Spain and Italy. These countries are the ones bearing the maximum weight of the competition’s budget compared to the rest. If we exclude Italy (which was welcomed back to the 2nd position in 2011 after more than a decade’s absence from the institution), the big-5 status has done more harm than good for the countries in question; above all for Spain – a country that has seen remarkable and melodic Spanish songs end up in the last positions. It is no accident that the big-5 tend to move to the rear end of the contest: the audience dislikes the delicate treatment of “powerful” countries and tends to vote against songs that battle from a safer place.

The most notable absences this year are Turkey (which withdrew two years ago accusing the blocks that vote for each other, despite the fact that its own Western European diaspora had secured its place in the final ten for almost a decade, combined with the fact that the institution is not widely appreciated in Western Europe) and Ukraine (due to the ongoing war). Of course there are other countries, which have participated in the past, that are missing – either due to their discontent for blocks and/or due to financial reasons: Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Andorra, Monaco.

As the organizing authority, EBU established that each country’s final score will be a sum of 50% audience’s tele-voting and 50% committee of music experts, thus “smoothing” ethnic prejudice, positive or negative. However, this tactic has been only partially successful since Greece managed to lose Cyprus’s 12 points just once, with 1998’s “A secret sensitivity” that, try as we might, we cannot forget (and which caused us to be excluded for the next two years, as the regulations of the time decreed); while Armenia can always count on Russia for 12 points, Estonia can rely on Latvia, Denmark on Sweden and so on… Likewise, I can see very few Greeks voting for a Macedonia/FYROM song, even if Madonna or Celine Dion were to perform it (as if).

All that said, 16 countries will participate in this year’s 1st semi-final, out of which 10 will pass onto the finals (with a 63% chance for each one to pass, Greece included); in the 2nd semi-final, 10 out of 17 will move on to find themselves in the finals. The finals will include 27 countries in total: 10 from each semi-final + the big-5 + last year’s winner, Austria + honorary entrance, Australia).

Greece will be represented by Maria-Elena Kyriakou with “One Last Breath”, a melodic ballad perfectly performed by the young woman who won the music show “The Voice” last year; who then went on to be chosen among all the competitors nationwide. This song marks the country’s return to the ballad after the “ultimate 9th place” that “Everything I Am” by Anna Vissi accomplished in Athens, in 2006. Predictions foretell an easy passage into the finals and a possible entry in the final 10, given the fact that our country has a warm audience in the competition, despite its international defamation due to the financial crisis. From then on, the final five seems a tough job, since this year we will hear many beautiful ballads that will, fatally, share the votes of the part of the audience which does not favor more rhythmic songs. So, a fairly modest prediction sees Greece between the 6th and the 10th places.

Furthermore, so as not to become tiresome and in order to give the most concise yet brief picture of this year’s competition, let me just mention the most prevalent participants from each block (groups of neighboring countries that tend to vote for each other):

  • Former Soviet/Eastern block: the dynamic Russian ballad “A Million Voices” by Polina Gagarina stands apart, yet it is highly probable to get the anti-war negative vote that President Putin has amassed in the last few years; the Anglo-Saxon influenced Estonian duet “Goodbye to Yesterday” by Elina Born and Stig Rӓsta; and the dynamic Georgian video-game/cinematic soundtrack “Warrior”.
  • Scandinavian block: the favorite here is “Heroes” by Swedish homophobe Μåns Zelmerlöw. Also notable is the atmospheric duet “A Monster Like Me” by Norwegians Morland and Debrah Scarlett. Finland is represented by a band called Pertti Kurikan Nimipaivat, comprised by middle-aged men with Down syndrome; their otherwise indifferent “Aina Mun Pitӓӓ” will not easily avert the sympathy vote to any given projected social phenomenon (Conchita Wurst and her uniqueness last year, Dana International in 1998, etc.).
  • Balkan block: what stands apart here is “Adio” from Montenegro and “I’m Alive” from Albania; yet they cannot expect a large amount of votes due to the limited resonance of their respective countries to the institution in general.
  • Western Europe (which does not actually make a very successful block if you take into account the prejudice and historical repressions between, for instance, the English and the French, the French and the Belgians, the Germans and the rest, etc… and they have the nerve to talk about the Eastern block…): the Netherlands make a remarkable entry with “Walk Along” by Trijntje Oosterhuis (widely known with “Somebody Else’s Lover”); the country has made a significant comeback in the last couple of years (9th place with “Birds” by Anouk in 2013 and 2nd with “Calm After the Storm” by a band called The Common Linnets in 2014).
  • Remaining countries (Eastern non-Soviet, Mediterranean): it is possible that Israel’s rhythmic, alternating style “Golden Boy” will get many votes – as it is the best of the few rhythmic songs of this year’s competition. Cyprus’s song, unfortunately, does not give much hope – not even for an entry in the finals. On top of the lack in special elements regarding the song itself, there is a prevalent negative prejudice against the sibling-country, perhaps due to the everlasting ethnic issues that has not allowed it to partake in more than 4 finals since 2004; the last time was 2012 with “La La Love” by Eve Adamou (16th place) and the epitome of bad luck of “Comme ci, comme ça” by Evridiki-Corgialas that did not make it to the 2007 finals.
  • Big-5: the festivalic “Grande Amore” by Italian band Il Volo and the atmospheric “Amanecer” by Spanish singer Edurne stand (in this order) good chances for a good place.

The above estimates are not, in any case, predictions for the results, since, in its long history, the institution has given us a fair share of both surprises and the unpredictable. This year’s plethora of ballads means that the inability to predict the results is even greater. However, from a brief search on the internet, the favorites thus far are Sweden, Estonia, Italy and Finland. Make sure to order your pizza well in advance (who are the poor delivery guys to serve first in a country where Eurovision audience reaches a staggering 80% and they all expect to be serviced unfailingly between 10 and 11pm?) and… have a good time watching the show!




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