All 43 songs have now been selected for the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest. It’s the time of the season where we fans listen, re-listen and overanalyse the entries in our quest to work out just who’s going to win the contest this year – and who’s going to crash and burn. But as we do so, one big piece of the jigsaw is still missing: the running order for the semi-finals.
The European Broadcasting Union and their ESC team are pretty good at feeding fans with teasers and trailers – they understand the value of a good social media buzz. However, this tends to be less true of the running order announcement, which has a habit of suddenly arriving without much in the way of a fanfare. This may be because it’s genuinely quite important to the fate of those countries with borderline qualification chances, so they don’t want to be seen as being too playful about it.
Or perhaps they understand that there’s still a good amount of ill feeling about the producer-determined running order, which replaced the previous random draw in 2013 and was seen by many as a further step in the “Melodifestival-isation” of the contest. The idea behind the change was ostensibly to help create a more entertaining show with a better “flow” and to avoid the obvious flaws arising from randomly selected draws in the past, from the similar Dutch and German entries being drawn back-to-back in 2004 through to the dumpster fire that was the entire first section of the 2006 grand final.
Whatever your feelings about the running order being decided by humans instead of being drawn randomly, what it does mean is we get to speculate about what might happen when the reveal finally takes place. And there’s nothing fans love more than a bit of speculation! So while we wait for the real deal – and looking at the announcement dates for recent years (31 March 2017, 8 April 2016, 23 March 2015), there’s no obvious pattern to when that might be – let’s take this opportunity to put on our thinking caps and figure out how the line-up for the semi-finals of ESC 2018 could look.
Of course, one draw has already taken place – the allocation draw, which placed the countries in each of the semi-finals and then in the first or second half of that semi-final. As such, the room for speculation (or, if you will, manipulation) is naturally limited. Which is probably a good thing – we could be here all day otherwise!
Luna moon me up
There’s a feeling that the producers like to open the first semi-final with something upbeat – take the examples of “I Can’t Go On” in 2017, “Sing It Away” in 2016 or “I Want Your Love” in 2015. However, the nature of this year’s line-up means there aren’t actually all that many up-tempo options available in the first half of semi 1. The two obvious candidates would be the Czech Republic and Israel. Netta’s “Toy” is perhaps too quirky to open proceedings and might be better suited to a later spot in the draw on account of being one of the more anticipated entries this year (although the producers aren’t afraid to put a bookmakers’ favourite on first, as they demonstrated with Aram mp3 in 2014). Mikolas Josef’s “Lie To Me” would certainly open the show with a bang, but the perenially underperforming Czechs could be disadvantaged by such an early spot in the running order, and would the producers really want to risk jeopardising their qualification in a year when they finally seem to have “got it”?
It seems more likely that something slower but still engaging will get the nod. Belarus would be a logical contender if Alekseev’s national final performance had been more convincing – would they really want to risk the opener being a vocal car crash? – while “Mall” by Eugent Bushpepa, the entry from Albania, certainly fits the “engaging” criterion but could provide useful stylistic variety later in the running order instead. Could we then make a case for Bulgaria? Recent form suggests the staging of “Bones” by Equinox will be visually spectacular, and the country seems to know exactly what it takes to qualify these days. The other obvious contender would be Azerbaijan: Aisel’s “X My Heart” is a straight-down-the-middle piece of mainstream pop, although the EBU may already know that the performance will involve a man on a ladder wearing a horse’s head (say), in which case they might prefer to avoid the opening spot.
Whichever entry gets the nod to open the show, it seems near-inevitable that Ari Ólafsson from Iceland will be placed second in the running order. The relentlessly useless “Our Choice” is pure cannon fodder, but Ari is probably the best thing about it and will at least keep Europe’s grandmothers watching and cooing for three minutes.
Monsters scare me up
If the producers have kept the hotly-fancied Czech and Israeli entries until late in the first half, there’s every chance the second half could open with Armenia‘s “Qami” or Greece‘s “Oneiro mou”, for a bit of tempo contrast. The placement of Saara Aalto’s “Monsters” for Finland will be interesting to observe – as one of the fan favourites, she might find herself near the end of the running order, while a place nearer the middle could suggest the producers have less faith in her than the wider fanbase.
While there isn’t any obvious trend of ending the show on a slower note, it wouldn’t be a total surprise to see Ireland concluding the first semi-final: Ryan O’Shaughnessy’s “Together” could make a big impact as a sweet and unassuming closer after all the drama and theatrics that proceed it. In any case, expect the wobbly vocals of Eleni Foureira from Cyprus and the three-songs-in-one epic from Macedonia‘s Eye Cue to be kept well away from the final spot in the line-up unless the producers know something about the performances that we don’t.
Contradictions abound when it comes to the first half of the second semi-final. The mainstream, easily digestible entry from Romania, for example, is an obvious candidate to open the show; thematically, though, a song called “Goodbye” is surely the last thing you’d want in that position. In that respect, Norway is a clear contender – what better way to start a show like this than an up-tempo number about the very act of writing a song? – but the return of Alexander Rybak feels like a trump card for the contest organisers and something the producers will be keen to keep in reserve for later in the show.
Could we see the EBU’s pet project, Australia, being given the opening slot? Assuming she can bring a performance to match the song, Jessica Mauboy should be a safe qualifier from anywhere in the running order, and “We Got Love” would be an engaging and inclusive opener in full thematic compliance with the aspirational slogans that are attached to the contest every year (“All Aboard!” indeed). A similar case could be made for the DoReDos trio from Moldova – they may be cheesier than the gift shop at an artisanal Swiss dairy, but “My Lucky Day” is catchy in all the best and worst ways, and could easily get the crowd going.
One country to keep an eye on here is Russia. There was speculation last year that Julia Samoylova was given an unfavourable starting position for “Flame Is Burning” because the EBU were already sick of the games being played around her participation. Will the producers be more forgiving now that she’s back with something that at least resembles an actual song, or will they still be out for blood? A starting position of 2 or 3 for Russia would certainly suggest the latter.
Ladder lift me up
The sheer diversity in the second half of the line-up should make it easy for the producers to come up with an entertaining running order. It would be wonderful if they decide to put the entries from Georgia and Hungary back to back – have there ever been two more contrasting songs in ESC than “For You” and “Viszlát nyár”? Then again, both are sung in their native language, and that is an aspect we haven’t considered yet – the producers may prefer to use non-English entries sparingly as a way of breaking up the flow of meaningless English lyrics the competition is blessed with these days.
If Mélovin from Ukraine comes to Lisbon with another pyro-and-props stage show, he can expect to be “drawn” either directly after a mini-commercial break or right at the very end of the semi-final; either way, this would buy the stage crew a bit of extra time to get things set up or cleared away.
How else to close the second semi-final if not with “Under The Ladder”? The aforementioned Georgian entry could be an unexpected highlight in that slot – think “Questa notte” (Latvia 2007) but with an actual soul – or Hungary could be put there on account of not really fitting anywhere else! Alternatively, Benjamin Ingrosso from Sweden might benefit from his countrymate Robin Bengtsson being chosen to open the first semi-final last year and end up in the mirror-image slot this year as “compensation”. We can be fairly sure it won’t be the more downbeat tones from Latvia, Malta or Montenegro, in any case. Maybe the friendly unthreatening pop number from Poland would do the job?
But we really just want to see Georgia and Hungary together in the running order and enjoying a green room love-in. Anything else is secondary.
Viszlát nyár me up
Those are just a few of the near-endless permutations, anyway. It’s all just speculation, and the criteria applied by Christer Björkman and his team might be entirely different. Until then, we fans will just have to make do with our own theories – listening to the songs in alphabetical order gets boring after a while! – and see how accurate they ultimately prove to be.
Let us know your predictions for the semi-final running orders in the comments or on social media!
All artist images from the official ESC YouTube account