The 61st Eurovision Song Contest takes place in Stockholm this Saturday night and promises to be bigger and better than ever. Superstar Justin Timberlake will perform at the event which this year features 26 countries as far afield as Israel, Azerbaijan and Australia.
With four of Europe’s traditionally strong countries – Greece, Denmark, Ireland and Norway – having already been eliminated, it should be an interesting night. Keep reading for my 2016 Eurovision Song Contest preview.
As ever, there are a number of factors which have to be taken into account when trying to pick a winner. A decent song is obviously key, but political considerations and their draw in the running order will also affect a nation’s chances.
The stars have aligned this year for Russia who go into the event as the clear odds-on favourite. For me, Sergey Lazarev’s You Are The Only One is far from the best song in this year’s competition but with eight ex-Soviet republics and countless more Eastern European countries getting a vote, they are guaranteed a good tally – whatever the song.
The favourites have also been drawn in an absolutely prime position. Eight of the last eleven winners have appeared between 17th and 22nd place on the night and their draw at 18th is a prime slot. Lazarev is certainly the one to beat at 8/13.
In the week leading up to the Contest it has been the Ukraine that looked to pose most threat to their neighbours although Jamala’s 1944 has drifted a little in the betting in recent days.
A dramatic and pointed ballad, 1944 concerns the deportation of the Crimean Tatars, in the 1940s, by the Soviet Union at the hands of Joseph Stalin. It opens with the rather un-Eurovision lines ‘when strangers are coming/they come to your house/they kill you all/and say ‘we’re not guilty”.
It’s an interesting song and with plenty of Western sympathy for the Ukraine’s plight it could go well at 7/1.
After making their debut in 2015, Australia return this year and they could outperform last year’s fifth place finish. Dami Im’s Sound of Silence is a classic Eurovision ballad and its 13th place draw shouldn’t scupper its chances considering the last two Contest winners have been drawn 10th and 11th.
The logistics of organising next year’s Contest in Sydney could be interesting but Australia are 4/1 to win.
One more win for Sweden would lift them to equal-top of the Eurovision success table and the reigning champions field 17 year-old Frans this year with his song If I Were Sorry. It’s a nice enough contemporary pop song and Sweden are traditionally one of the competition’s heavyweights. It is a 14/1 chance.
Some outsiders to watch
Over recent years the Netherlands have been one of the competition’s strongest entrants. Anouk’s underrated Birds came 9th in 2013 before The Common Linnets’ Calm After The Storm finished runner-up to Conchita in 2014.
Earlier this week I had high hopes for their entry Slow Down by Douwe Bob; a mid-paced and jaunty song which sounds a little like an American TV theme from the early 1980s. Catchy and different I thought it could go well at long odds but it has been drawn third on the night – far too early – which means it’s highly unlikely to win, even at 33/1.
The same goes for this year’s entry from Belgium. Laura Tesoro came through Thursday’s second semi-final with What’s The Pressure which mixes the bassline from Queen’s Another One Bites The Dust with the brass of Fleur East’s Sax to decent effect.
With groovy 70s staging and an energetic performance from the singer this would ordinarily be a contender, but it is up first and you have to go back to 1984 for the last time the opening tune won the Contest.
Italy came third in Vienna last year and their entry this year is the likeable and classy No Degree of Separation sung by Francesca Michielin. It may struggle because it is mainly in Italian (apart from one chorus) and fifteen of the last sixteen Eurovision winners have sung in English (Serbia in 2007 is the exception).
The staging is lovely and it is a nice song but drawn 6th it does go a little early and is a 33/1 chance.
Israel‘s Made Of Stars would be a dark horse if it was later in the running order while I think Poland‘s Colour Of Your Life will do much better than the 100/1 offered, mainly thanks to an overblown but anthemic chorus.
If you’re looking to back something totally different that’s in a prime place in the draw then Georgia‘s Midnight Gold could be a lively each-way chance. An indie-rock song featuring strobes and a dazzling, energetic light show, it is co-written by Eurovision legend Thomas G:son from Sweden.
It will certainly stand out between two female vocalists and may be a surprise contender for a top ten finish at 8/1.
And what of the United Kingdom? Joe and Jake go second last with their uptempo You’re Not Alone which is certainly not the worst song the UK has sent to the Contest. It’s 40/1 to win and 3/1 to finish in the top ten.
(Odds from Paddy Power were correct at the time of writing)