There are those to whom the word ‘volare’ means nothing. But for  us Eurovision enthusiasts, it’s all starting with the opening ceremony tonight. Two semi-finals this week, then the big one on Saturday. It’s transmitting live in China, New Zealand and Canada this year – making Eurovision the most-watched non-sporting television event on the planet.

The annual, spectacular clash of nations, cultures and politics is also becoming a major betting event. A friend of mine in Sweden (where Eurovision is not seen as a massive gay pride festival) usually makes a killing getting it right. To do so requires pretty good knowledge of music, European politics, trends in trading relationships, and popular (as opposed to governmental) opinion. And, of course, to judge trends better than bookmakers. This is getting harder, as bookies become more sophisticated.

The semi finals won’t matter to Britain. The BBC pays so much money to Eurovision that we’re guaranteed a place in the final. Nor does the BBC bother to run a contest to find a popular song – instead, its musical politburo decides. The BBC’s institutional snobbery and xenophobia has, hitherto, ensured the UK entry is so bad as to be an almost passive-aggressive insult to an entire continent. But this year, they’ve worked a bit harder and found a singer-songwriter: Molly Smitten-Downes, who has tried to game Eurovision formula with a varied-tempo, anthem-style number, ‘Children of the Universe’. And she’s actually in with a chance at 8/1. The others are below, with my thoughts-

1. Armenia – 13/8. The favourites, and look at the production values of the video. The Armenian broadcasters, unlike the BBC, have understood that the video makes a difference because so many voters make up their minds before the final. This tiny country is obviously out to win the whole contest, and the audacity could be self-fulfilling. 

2. Sweden – 11/4. A boringly safe option from Sweden – its ‘Melodifestivalen‘ primaries were not vintage this year, and they went for the kind of song that you hear played on Lugna Favoriter (its equivalent of Magic FM) all day. This is Sanna Neilsen’s seventh attempt at Eurovision, and listening to this, you kinda see why her first six failed. Sweden produces the best pop in the world, and I’m afraid this isn’t an example of it. Sounds like the boring bits from ‘Wrecking Ball’. That said, several bookies have Sanna as favourite to win, and the opening piano riff is catchy enough to be included in the general ESC promo material. I’m biased against her as I was rooting for another (Ace Wilder) in MelFest this year.

3. Denmark – 8/1 The hosts have laid on an upbeat number, with an easy-to-remember chorus that’ll work across nations where English isn’t widely understood. The Danes also understand the importance of choreography. Superb stage performance, and undeniably catchy tune. 

4. UK – 8/1 And here’s our Molly. This video shows the failure to think about choreography, which could deny her the prize. As Denmark found last year, songs that tell a story prosper. This needs to be done with actions, given that millions of voters won’t understand words. Basic choreography is essential. Even the Russian grannies had the bread-out-of-the-oven narrative going on (earning 3rd place). The BBC’s tendency to view the ESC as a bad taste contest will mean, I suspect, that they won’t bother with a stage narrative. That said, Molly will pick up points for having written the song herself, and for being a debutante when so many of her rivals are established performers. 

5. Norway – 10/1 Music to slit your wrists by

AND SOME OTHERS…

Austria. A great wee number. Melodic, well-produced, plenty drama. Bond-style major-minor-7 combo chords. You can imagine Shirley Bassey covering it well. It’s Conchita Wurst’s second attempt at ESC – s/he finished second in the Austrian primaries in 2012. Dana International taught us that a drag queen singer is no bar to victory. His upsetting the Russians is a bonus.

Russia – 40/1  Russia has chosen two butter-wouldn’t-melt twins, the Tolmachevy Sisters, to perform a number that is, if anything, a bit better than Sanna Neilsen’s (they have the same light-on-a-string stage design). But for as long as Putin has his foot on the gas pipes he can expect nul points from the entire Eastern bloc.

Poland –  It’s good of the Poles to enter – they haven’t for three years, after getting bored of being knocked out in the semis. But this rather tawdry video has missed the mark (if, as I hope, it was shooting for ironic). It looks more like an advert for a stag weekend in Wrocław. But they’re right to try the traditional costumes – there’s been a return to ethnicity recently in Eurovision. A version of this without the cleavages and women with milk dribbling from their mouths would have been stronger.