The Kyiv Conundrum
The role of Contest Producer for the Eurovision Song Contest 2017 was always going to be an intriguing one. In 2016 SVT’s Christer Björkman took on the role and ran the ‘look and feel’ of each act, as well as deciding on the final running order.
Ukraine’s victory meant Eurovision was heading east for the first time since producer led running orders, a Björkman creation for Malmö in 2013, were introduced into the Song Contest. Ukraine’s history of producing running orders has been quite the opposite of the modern trend to control who sings when.
In the recent National Final in Kyiv, each act drew out their running order position in a televised draw. Further to this back when Ukraine last hosted, that being Junior Eurovision in 2013, the running order was drawn at the Opening Ceremony by each act. This was a format change from earlier Junior Eurovision shows, where the running order was producer controlled. Roman Keryk, the Executive Producer for that Junior Eurovision, argued then that it would be important to make the process seem ‘fair and transparent’.
It would be easy to see that the role of Contest Producer and the need to decide a running order would be a new challenge for the new Ukrainian broadcaster. However instead of copying the Western European practices of the last few years, instead they have ditched all the responsibility onto somebody else. The Contest Producer for the 2017 Eurovision Song Contest is that very same Christer Björkman who had the gig in 2016 and 2013.
It means we have a very typically modern Eurovision running order with uptempo starts, interesting finishes and lots of weaving back and forth between the genres. It also means Ukraine completely avoided the drama of having to select the running order themselves and any potential controversy arising from it.
Deciding where Russia would sing would be another lose-lose situation that Ukraine has managed to deflect onto Swedes and the EBU. After what’s happened this week, thank goodness for that.
There are though 42 other countries taking part in the Song Contest, and 37 songs have been given starting positions for their Semi Finals. As always what we are looking for in a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ running order comes from three different factors. One is the absolute placing (being later is perceived as better, with 2nd infamous as the death slot), the second is based on crescendos in energy (does the song arrive on stage in a build up of crowd excitement and public interest) and the third is on direct comparisons between two songs with similar USPs back-to-back (i.e. if there are two power vocals together which one might out-shine the other).
The Winners Of The Running Order Minefield
Let’s get this out the way first, the position of Sweden was always going to look awkward with Christer Björkman’s involvement in the production team. Being drawn #1 kills anybody wanting to make those arguments.
However drawing first is not a bad thing for this track, and Robin won his Melodifestivalen Semi Final from the same position. Indeed having young male pop stars and their slick routines open the show is oh-so-Melfest…and they usually do really really well. The high production values on show here would have seen ‘I Can’t Go On’ sail through from any position in the running order. However opening makes perfect sense to get the party started, and also continue on the narrative from last year’s Contest in Stockholm.
The main ‘win’ for Sweden comes post-qualification to the Grand Final. An early draw on the Tuesday legitimises far more the option to showcase Sweden in the chaos of the 26 song Saturday night melee. Last year in Stockholm Frans was considered one of the favourites to win, and was pulled on stage after Poli Genova had lifted Globen up to the 9’s to warm up the home crowd. Mildly nudging the audience to warm up to a Swedish act is something that has been done before by the individuals making the running order previously. This move means they have more political flexibility to play Robin Bengtsson in for victory number 7 if they had the will and it was perceived the extra few % were worth nudging for.
By all rankings and ratings currently Slovenia are looking destined for the Semi Final scrapheap this year, with dated ‘On My Way’ performed by Kyiv Eurovision returnee Omar Naber a fan favourite to flounder.
However this type of song, where it is, might capture the attention of the less committed fan. Running order brings this into consideration once more. There’s a run of very restrained performances at the end of Semi Final One. The Czech Republic singer is strong, but never takes the song past third gear. Cyprus brings ‘Gravity’ which relies on a melodic hook, but a very over produced sound wrapped around Hovig’s voice. Armenia’s ‘Fly With Me’ has the potential for off-the-wall staging, but still doesn’t reach a point where it impresses.
This is where Slovenia comes in, second last in the Semi Final. This slot is akin to what Poland’s ‘Color Of My Life’ received last year in the Grand Final, placing second last in the first half of the Grand Final. The power vocal stood out far more than anybody anticipated and resonated in Poland securing third place in the televoters.
Now I’m far from suggesting Slovenia will do that or anything close. But it’s been given plenty of room to impress with a sound that feels empowering to the artist, with the big vocal and key change signifying this is the one. It also makes it tricky for the intricacy of Latvia afterwards to show off it’s novel syncopation after the static melody from Slovenia is belted out across the arena.
In absolute terms Portugal have been drawn as late as possible, after pulling out a slot in the first half of Semi Final One. ‘Amor Pelos Dois’ is one of Eurovision 2017’s more love-hate points, with Salvador’s stage presence (or lack of) and old fashioned charming music dividing fan opinion strongly.
By being given the longest run-in possible, it makes the anti-Eurovision essence of this song far more noticeable than before. That impact is amplified by coming after Azerbaijan’s ‘Skeletons’ which will deliver a jarring big production to the stage.
We have no idea how a song like this will do in Eurovision voting, but the last time we felt like this was in Malta at Junior Eurovision last year. There the rules meant the old music-hall feel of Georgia’s ‘Mzeo’, drawn last, suddenly felt ‘right’ after the big production numbers beforehand. There’s a similar run here for Portugal, although an effect weakened by being in the first half.
Nevertheless to do well this song is going to have to charm the audience by being so utterly different from everything else. It will still divide opinion, but whereas Azerbaijan separates two deep ballads and will probably come across messy in-between Finland and Portugal, the latter will be a focal point for the production. Again harking back to an old Swedish production, the placement here reminds me of Anouk’s ‘Birds’ in 2013, drawn last in the first half of both the Semi Final and Grand Final, a breath of fresh air in the middle of the Eurovision hurricane.
The Losers Of The Running Order Firing Range
Let’s get this out the way first. Russia is left with two different options here. Not turn up in Kyiv, which recent evidence from their no-show at the Head of Delegation meeting might suggest likely, or get handed one of the stinkiest Semi Final draws ever.
The EBU are of course supportive of Russia’s involvement in this year’s Song Contest, as they would be for any member, but that has no bearings on the treatment ‘Flame Is Burning’ gets as three minutes of song.
Serbia opens up the Semi Final with a female pop track and big production noise; it’s safe, welcoming, professional Eurovision. Austria is up in number two, and Nathan Trent plays another comforting track with a cheeky wink to the camera and charming smile to match.
Then it’s Russia, drawn #3 because actually being given the death slot could cause the EBU another political nightmare. The piano chords comes across too simple compared to the smiley nature played in Austria’s entry, the voice weaker than the clear tones of Nathan and Tijana before.
That doesn’t say anything about the narrative, and the relationship Eurovision fans have with Russia. Julia’s appearance, should it be made, will hark back to her preview video make her appear weak and feeble, as lights and colours buzz around her rooted to the middle of the stage. It will create a mood where people to talk about the act, about the country, about the drama getting her to Kyiv or not.
However, the audience won’t be ready and willing to have those conversations. This will appear awkward compared to the straight-laced entries surrounding it in the running order. Plus there’s no time to make it into a conversation point with Macedonia on next, another young star who’ll be giving their biggest performance ever that night.
Russia would want a situation where its entry takes all the headlines. This draw makes the performance feel wrong, makes it far easier to vote down or vote against, makes the talking point the negative, and makes it arguably more likely that the headlines would be about Russia not qualifying for the first time ever.
The Irish song is slap bang in the middle of the 2nd Semi Final, and filled with a 3-beats-in-the-bar ballad of cheese so mature it’s amazing the teenage singer hasn’t been overdosed from it.
The running order leaves that cheese in the hot air to grow a lovely layer of mould.
There are other realms of cheese in the show, and Ireland’s song to its dismay has been separated from Malta’s ‘Breathlessly’ where direct comparison may have helped Ireland’s chances. Instead after Malta comes crazy Romania to warm up the crowd, followed by O’G3NE which will again lift up the energy in the hall. The Hungarian song, with the huge swathes of ethnicity throughout, may not lift up the energy again, but the heat and melodic hook will keep the crowd clapping along with all the same enthusiasm. It’s worthy.
Then comes Anja Nissen with her modern ‘Where I Am’, a song that sounds like a souped up ‘Sound of Silence‘. And Anja belts new notes all over the melody a la Dami Im did. There will be plenty of whooping and cheering for the blonde bombshell.
The energy will suddenly drop as Ireland appears on stage. ‘Dying To Try’ just takes far long to get going and will lose the interest of the audience in the arena and at home. San Marino afterwards will laughably try and redeem it, as will Croatia depending on the live gimmick, until Norway returns us to musical normality. Ireland is the crowd restbite from the crescendo, the much needed toilet break, and the one struggling to capture attention.
Looking at the first half of the first Semi Final from an Australian viewpoint, you would be expecting a bit of muddy water even before the draw came out. This part of the show includes big power female vocals from Georgia, Albania and Finland, Sweden which was always going to open and predicted craziness from Montenegro and Azerbaijan. There was no choice in creating a ‘TV-friendly’ running order but to use Isaiah from Australia as cannon fodder.
‘Don’t Come Easy’ performs third in the show, after Georgia and before Albania. These two songs have two of the most explosive female songs with mega vocal power. In direct comparison of the studio versions, Isaiah’s track is just as slow but yet a lot less powerful.
Live might be another factor. Georgia’s ‘Keep The Faith’ has the potential to sound screechy as the key changes and manic build up adds just too many layers to the pot. Albania’s ‘World’ might come across as whaling noise to a viewer not focused on the build up before those power notes. Knowing Australia’s track record as well, we would be expecting Isaiah’s live vocal and performance to levitate the song to new heights.
However as much as the position gives Australia a chance to shine, how much they shine is also dependant on how the songs either side also stand out – the others have arguably more potential to be breathtaking. As last year’s voting showed there were lots of countries in the televote, especially in the east, which has Australia very low in the rankings. The Moldova’s, Azerbaijan’s and Montenegro’s of the family are certainly not giving guaranteed points to Australia anyway. On stage Isaiah is going to need a USP more than just his song to protect Australia’s 2-in-2 Grand Final appearance record.
Remember This Is A Tiny Piece Of The Puzzle
Running order is only one factor that impacts the chance of a song having Eurovision Song Contest success. The quality of the song, singer and stageshow are all more important, as of course is the name of the country that any artist represents.
However running order is one of the few things controlled by the production team behind the show. Our research suggests a slight benefit to performing later in the show than earlier, but an impact that is amplified by producer led running orders building and drowning different tracks in the energy of the show. Such impacts are small, in the boundaries of a handful of percent, but something that can be significant if qualification is close.
While this tells us so much about the show and the ideas the production team have, remember there is so much we still don’t know. A key argument for controlling running order centrally is to ensure there is time to set up each of the elaborate stage shows within the tight postcard window. So much we can only speculate on now but it’s fun to try. One would assume Greece being after utterly simple Portugal suggests the former has something requiring tons of set up, for example.
Let’s all see what the competition brings us when we all watch the drama unfold.
What do you think about the running order this year? Who are your winners and losers from the battlegrounds laid out?