Editorials & Opinion

XTRA Debate: The power of building and losing momentum

The Eurovision season is long. Some say it’s not long enough, but for others, it definitely seems it is way too long. Songs that receive praise at first lose momentum, multiple listens cause original ‘no hopers’ to climb the ranks of many fans. How does this phenomenon actually work? And what is the power of momentum at the Eurovision Song Contest?

Bilal Hassani’s crown is fading

One of those suffering from a season being way too long is French representative Bilal Hassani. When the French announced their line-up for Destination Eurovision, Bilal’s “Roi” was the one that stood out. Comments on (especially) Twitter suggested it could possibly be a contender for a victory in Tel Aviv, carrying out the strong LGBT message of hope and acceptance.

Now, we’re three months after the final of Destination Eurovision. The chances of France winning the Eurovision Song Contest this year are minimal. According to EurovisionWorld.com, Bilal Hassani now has a 2% chance of winning. He’s only just outside the bookmakers’ top ten. In the OGAE voting, “Roi” is in thirteenth place with just twenty points.

Back to Lisbon… but who and when?

The second prime example this year is Portugal. When the eccentric Conan Osíris took Festival da Canção by storm this year, there were thoughts of him being able to bring us all back to Lisbon next year. With his highly remarkable stage presence for “Telemóveis”, fans suggested it could become the one to beat come May.

But it’s not. In fact, its momentum has died out completely. With its loyal share of fans, the entry still receives a lot of praise on social media. At the same time, the hope of another contest in Lisbon are gone. Preview shows all over Europe have not helped the belief in the Portuguese entry. In Iceland, all panel members of Alla Leið scored “Telemóveis” a 1/10 and the result in the German Songcheck was a disappointing 24th. It seems the question is who is going back to Lisbon and when? Are we all going there in May for a contest or is Conan the only one to go back… perhaps even on Tuesday?

A late release

The focus seems to have shifted away from entries such as “Roi” and “Telemóveis”. Instead, we’re looking at other entries to take the crown. Later releases are doing better, it now seems. With the exception of Italy, the entire top five with bookmakers was released in March. None of these entries has had the time for its momentum to actually die out. With only a week to go until rehearsals start, it seems they’re safe of not losing momentum.

The entire season was this year very much focussed on March. The first two weeks of that month saw us get a whopping 22 entries. It has become apparent that countries have started to believe in later releases – perhaps rightfully so?

Now, there also is a danger about a late release. For that, I’d like to take you back to last year. EQUINOX were announced as Bulgaria’s entry rather late in the season. The project was massively hyped on Twitter. When the song eventually came out, the odds plummeted. From top three contender, the eventual reaction was predominantly negative. It picked back up later on, but Bulgaria ‘only’ finished in fifteenth in Lisbon.

Fiery rehearsals

My strongest stance here is that the loss of momentum is irreversible. EQUINOX are an example from last year, Jana Burčeska is one for 2017. After a rather unsuccessful performance at one of the preview parties, her hopes collapsed. In a matter of 24 hours, “Dance Alone” went from an outsider for a very decent result to a likely non-qualifier. With bookmakers alone, FYR Macedonia dropped from a top fifteen to outside the top 25. It piled on pressure for Jana and it didn’t end well: the praised “Dance Alone” failed to bring its country back to the final.

Macedonia Eurovision 2018
FYR Macedonia’s Jana Burceska performs the song “Dance Alone” during the Eurovision Song Contest 2017. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich

Over the past years, no act has completely lost momentum to then regain it. To some extent, Israel were victims of momentum loss last year when rehearsals kicked off. Cyprus, seen as a borderline qualifier up until the first rehearsal in Lisbon, impressed with a fiery performance for “Fuego”. Attention was taken away from Netta’s “Toy”, which eventually led Eleni Foureira to become the #1 favourite for Saturday’s final. Netta was never far away, though. Her momentum clearly stayed in place, albeit overshadowed by a Cypriot fire.

The case of Eleni Foureira is a prime example of a key moment when it comes to momentum: The first rehearsals. Of course, all delegations say the first one is ‘just a rehearsal’ and that there’s ‘a lot of work ahead of them in the remaining days’ when things don’t go quite as well, but it is impossible to deny the effect of these rehearsals.

The Netherlands know all too well how these things can go. The Common Linnets were nowhere to be found in terms of support. Hans Pannecoucke and Ilse DeLange however pulled out all stops in terms of staging and managed to build momentum for the Dutch entry. A year later, Trijntje Oosterhuis also hired Pannecoucke for her staging. However, her first rehearsal completely destroyed any chance it had of qualifying: All momentum was lost after all focus went to her remarkable dress.

What others had to say:

Oliver

Momentum is a strange phenomenon that has only really bubbled to the surface in the last decade or so. Eurovision is most definitely a marathon, and not a sprint. I think there is a distinction between momentum, hype and the bookies odds. Where there is normally a fair amount of fan hype for Sweden, Ukraine and in recent years Bulgaria… that often doesn’t usually equate to momentum. In fact, I can’t really remember the last time a Swedish song has had ‘momentum’… or at least an increase of momentum that is not usually there but for the fact it is Sweden? That said, I do wonder how introspective momentum is within the Eurovision bubble, as opposed to the casual viewer. 2017 is a great year for comparison.

Karma…

Upon winning San Remo, Italy was pretty much framed an automatic winner. Francesco Gabbani was all but untouchable. Charisma? Check. Good song? Check. Strong chart performance and Youtube views (reaching 200 million last year!)? Check. A stellar performance at LEP and even the skeptics were looking at hotels in Rome. But sadly for Italy, LEP seemed to be peak Gabbani. With each successive performance of the song, you could see a spark dull ever so slightly, the choreo grew a little tired. The dancing ape was sort of lost in translation and looked slightly (more) ridiculous on the big Kyiv stage, as did the colour vomit LED screens which clashed with… well EVERYTHING. Italy certainly had huge momentum and probably could have won, had the hype brigade slowed down just a little more.

Some songs have a set expiry date, where others feel more timeless. I wonder if performing at pre-parties have any impact on the role of momentum…

Danger zone?

Blanche had a few shaky performances during the pre-party events. She was often critiqued for being fairly static, the occasional bum note and generally a bit shy. She was also 17. The whole point of the pre-party season is to help acts prepare for the actual performance(s) for the semi/final. Did it make any difference to her result? Fourth place says ‘not at all’!

The media and commentators at large tend not to flood the casual viewer with stats and information. Only on a rare occasion do you hear a commentator mention a dodgy rehearsal or something from an interview. In the 40 second or so space between postcards, there frankly isn’t the time to outline the ups and downs of every single act. Someone may comment on the personality or demeanor of an act, but that comes across more through the performance than anything else. We should nurture acts, rather than see them all on a shifting chart of movers and shakers. Blanche gained confidence through the ESCXTRA live stream, which helped her connect with fans on her terms.

Acts should be encouraged to give their best performance possible, rather than scrutinized for any and every mistake. Belgium demonstrated how superficial ‘momentum’ is.

Nick’s conclusion:

The point of this article was to look at how momentum can affect Eurovision results. Judging by the examples we’ve had, I can’t help but conclude that momentum is a major factor. Momentum is an indication of how well-received a song or performance is.

At the same time, the loss of momentum is irreversible and unwanted. Acts like EQUINOX and Trijntje Oosterhuis could not overcome the negative reactions they received and that translated into their results. It does not bode well for acts currently losing momentum, such as Bilal Hassani and Conan Osíris. Once the way down has been set in, it is extremely hard, if not impossible, to get back up.

Having momentum is always a positive thing, as we can see from Eleni Foureira and The Common Linnets. The important factor is to hold on to the momentum you’ve built in the weeks before the contest. It is obviously easier to do so with a March release of your song than a January release.

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