For many fans, the question surrounding Australia’s participation at Eurovision 2016 was not ‘if’ but ‘how’. After making an excellent first impression on their debut the previous year, the likelihood of the EBU closing the door to SBS was always going to be close to zero. But would they once again get a free pass to the finals, thereby joining a ‘big six’? It turns out the answer is no, and this year Australia must brave the semi finals for their chance to take part in the Saturday night show.
The artist chosen to carry that responsibility is one Dami Im, a former X Factor Australia winner who has been a fan favourite ever since the first whisperings of an Australian participation in the contest started to gather pace with Jessica Mauboy’s guest slot two years ago. It’s refreshing but not altogether surprising to see Australia sending another genuine star name to Stockholm. Securing Guy Sebastian last year sent a clear message to the Australian public about how seriously they were taking the contest, and SBS doubtless felt the pressure to deliver on that early display of confidence. Missing the finals at this early stage in building the Eurovision brand would be nothing short of a disaster.
The stakes are also high for Im’s record label Sony, who invested a lot in her 2014 album Heart Beats, but didn’t quite see the returns they must have been hoping for. With a new album due out later this month – albeit one consisting of Carpenters covers rather than original pop material – Eurovision represents an opportunity to gain a timely boost to her stock and to remind the Australian public why they fell in love with her in the first place. That is, if she does well.
In structure and production, Im’s Sound of Silence takes no chances. If you’ve heard one of the many recent pop hits written by her countrywoman Sia, you’ll know what to expect. A brooding verse gives way to an explosive, percussion heavy chorus built around a single key phrase that gets repeated enough times to virtually guarantee that it lodges firmly in the listener’s brain. Like Tonight Again, it’s a song that would sound as comfortable on commercial radio as it will on the Globen stage, an impressive sign of Australia’s willingness to elevate the Eurovision format rather than pandering to it.
With all of these elements in place, it’s little surprise to see Australia fairly secure in the top five of the betting markets at time of writing. If Russia and Sweden fail to make the expected impression, and nobody else really emerges from the pack during rehearsals, this could win. If it feels like I’m saying this in a lot of my reviews, it’s because I do feel that it’s potentially a very open year – I can think of convincing reasons why all of the big favourites could miss the mark.
In Dami’s case, her biggest hurdle is a rather prosaic one. The song is very good, but something about it falls short of being truly outstanding. The chorus feels oddly undercooked, as though it’s missing a second half or post-chorus that nobody remembered to write. Giving the creatives the benefit of the doubt, this unresolved tension may well be a conscious choice that reflects the lyrics of the song, but it doesn’t make for a particularly satisfying listening experience. With no middle eight to speak of either, the song starts running out of steam long before it ends, which is never a good sign when you have three minutes to grab and retain the audience’s attention.
For this reason, I don’t think Australia are especially likely to win, but the fact that I’m not willing to write them off completely comes down to the wildcard factor in the performance – Dami herself. This girl can really sing, and one benefit about the simplicity of the song’s structure is that it gives her plenty of room to take the vocals to the next level in the live performance, much like Ruth Lorenzo was able to do with the similarly half-baked Dancing in the Rain in 2014. Ruth didn’t come close to winning, of course, but Sound of Silence is a stronger number in a weaker field for straightforward ballads – Ruth was, after all, competing with Undo and Rise Like a Phoenix, where the only other big power ballads in the running this year come from Czech Republic and Macedonia, neither of which look like serious threats at this stage.
More or less locked on, unless something goes very, very wrong on the night. I see this fighting with Latvia and possibly Bulgaria or Ukraine to win the second and considerably weaker of the two semi finals. Once in the finals, there should be enough consensus among the public and the jurors to see this place comfortably within the top ten, with a podium place very much within reach under the right set of circumstances.
She and her record company should be very happy with that, and unless Australia now exit the competition to focus their energies on the recently announced AsiaVision spin-off – which I think is more likely than the EBU actively asking them to leave – they should be one step closer to establishing themselves as a serious Eurovision heavyweight for whom the question of future victory becomes not ‘if’ or ‘how’ but ‘when’.