Eurovision 2014: A Primer for Saturday Night Viewing

Every year we host a Eurovision viewing party with a dedicated group of friends, and we got a request for a Cliff Notes summary about this year’s Contest to get everyone prepared to watch the Grand Final.

The 2014 Eurovision Song Contest is shaping up to be a wide-open competition. Going into tomorrow’s Final, there really isn’t a clear front runner. Armenia spent most of the weeks leading into the Contest as the bookies’ odds leader, and Aram Mp3’s “You’re Not Alone” is still a strong contender. There are two knocks on his chances: One, the song has an unconventional structure that is entirely dependent on how well Aram sells it, and he didn’t quite land it in the first Semifinal. Two, he will be performing 7th on the night, and it is a hard ask to win a 26-song Grand Prix from early in the running order.

The other odds leader coming into this week is Sweden. They are being represented by Sanna Nielsen and the ballad “Undo.” This outing was Sanna’s 7th attempt to represent her country at the Eurovision Song Contest. The song has been a fan favorite in polls leading up to this year’s shows, and her strong performance in the Semis indicates that Sweden is heading toward another good finish. However, Sanna also received an earlier draw, and it’s unclear whether her calculated ballad will resonate with a broader audience.

Both The Netherlands and Hungary are coming off of strong performances in the Semifinals. The Netherlands are represented by the Common Linnets, a country duo performing the Nashville-ready ballad “Calm After the Storm.” It rose up iTunes charts after their performance on Tuesday, and thus far it’s the only entry to have made a dent on the international pop charts. The Netherlands comes into Saturday with an ideal draw and a lot of momentum.

Hungary, meanwhile, offer Hungarian-American singer András Kállay-Saunders, whose “Running” deals with child abuse. It has darker subject matter than your usual Eurovision entry, but the staging is harrowing without being overwhelming. Hungary have done an excellent job of getting the point across.

The wildcard contenders this year are Austria and The United Kingdom. The UK entered this year with a newfound commitment to the contest, and Molly’s “Children of the Universe” is easily the best entry they’ve had for years. Molly is closing the show, and while performing last may not necessarily be an advantage, she may be able to land the UK in the top 10 for the first time since 2009.

Then there is Austria’s Conchita Wurst, who is singing a Shirley Bassey-influenced faux Bond theme called “Rise Like a Phoenix.” Conchita is a drag artist whose gimmick is that she sports a meticulously manicured beard while in drag. She was clearly the fan favorite in the hall during the second Semifinal: when the hosts were revealing the 10 finalists, a loud chat of “AUS-TRI-A! AUS-TRI-A!” broke out.

Other story lines:

  • We didn’t even mention Basim from Denmark or Ruth Lorenzo from Spain as contenders. It really feels like a tight contest this year!
  • Poland returned to Eurovision this year after an extended absence. Donatan and Cleo’s saucy “My Slowianie” is a massive hit in Poland and it delivered Poland its first appearance in the Final since 2008.
  • It’s been a good year for the underdog. Montenegro qualified for the first time with a big Balkan ballad, Sergej Ćetković’s “Moj Svijet.” Meanwhile, San Marino finally made it to the Grand Prix round on its fifth try, represented for the third year in a row by Valentina Monetta.
  • There has been a lot of interest in how Russia was going to do in this year’s Contest, given its role in the current situation in Ukraine. They are being represented by past Junior Eurovision winners the Tolmachevy Twins, and while the crowd gave them a good reception when they performed, Russia was roundly booed when they were announced as finalists. We’ll see how much of the real world bleeds into the voting on Saturday.