Although a couple of weeks have now passed since the Eurovision Grand Final, I figured it’s still worthy of a few notes and opinions since, as always, it managed to provoke a few interesting reactions (and people are still asking me about it).
The winner was always likely to cause controversy this year. My personal favourite to win was Bulgaria, but it was always a long-shot that Poli Genova would take the trophy home. The early favourite, France, was never likely to do well in the televote. I also thought Sweden was over-rated.
The other favourites were Russia, Ukraine and Australia. Any of those three would have been controversial winners one way or another. Australia originally were meant to be a one-off entry for 2015, so many in Europe would have complained had Australia won. Russia will always be a controversial winner, and the nature of Ukraine’s song meant it would always to accused of being politically motivated, regardless of any truth.
Of the three, I thought the only bad winner would be Russia. Sergei performed his song very well, and the staging was very, very good, but the song itself was about eight years past its time. It would have been a victory for style over substance, which would have been a shame when up against a number of songs of good substance.
In contrast, Australia and Ukraine were great songs with simple staging. I probably would have preferred Australia to win, but Ukraine was a worthy winner. The song may not be uplifting, or a natual chart hit, but it struck a chord with people across Europe, and that cuts much deeper than a bunch of slick stage tricks.
I hope this results means more countries do what Australia and Ukraine did this year and pick a strong song and give it simple staging that keeps the focus on that – the song – in what is, after all, a song contest.
There’s a familiar and sadly predictable line, often spouted by the UK media, that Eurovision has an eastern bias and that western countries do badly at Eurovision because of that.
Let’s be clear. It’s nonsense. In the ten years before this year, Sweden won twice, with Norway, Finland and Denmark winning once. Germany and Austria won once too. The other winners in that time were Serbia, Russia and Azerbaijan. That makes it seven wins for countries in western or northern Europe, and three for countries outside of that. If anything, there’s a Scandinavian bias, and with Sweden winning twice, perhaps I could petition that it’s really just a bias towards decent music?
Of course, that doesn’t really fit with the fortunes of the UK and Ireland, who between them have an abysmal record. Ireland finished in the top ten twice, failing to qualify five times. The UK finished in the top ten once, finished bottom of the final twice, and all because of that pesky eastern bias.
The other accusation is that the rest of Europe don’t like us. Well, they don’t care much for Russia either. Russia’s record in those ten years? One win. Oh, and three second places, two third places and a fifth place.
Maybe we just send junk to Eurovision? Let’s face it, that’s the real story here. Eurovision winners include Loreen, Lena, Emmelie de Forest, Alexander Rybak, Mans Zelmerlow and Conchita Wurst (yes, a man in drag, I know – but a man in drag with an incredible voice).
Who have the UK and Ireland sent in that time?
- Daz Sampson, cavorting with teenage schoolkids
- Scooch, with a Ryanairesque entry, but less pleasant
- Josh Dubovie, who, it was universally agreed, didn’t sound as good as he thought
- Blue, out of music retirement
- Engelbert Humperdinck, out of a retirement home
- Bonnie Tyler, presumably from the same one
- Ryan Dolan, who didn’t survive a terrible perfomance in the jury final
- Jedward, nearly scraping the bottom of the barrel,
- Dustin the Turkey, which absolutely was the bottom of the barrel
Aside from Jade Ewen in 2009, there’s nothing memorable for anything other than glorious failure. There’s nothing that should have done really well, let alone win. Out of 20 entries, barely anything that registers better than mere indifference.
So what of this year’s entries? Nicky Byrne didn’t qualify from his semi final, and despite Graham Norton’s protestations, it was thoroughly deserved. Nicky is a good performer, but firstly, he’s not current, and the song’s chorus was very weak. The UK’s entry wasn’t terrible, but was let down by some terribly weak verses. The chorus may have been passable, but overall, the song had no realy presence.
Joe & Jake and Nicky Byrne may have been fine on The Voice, or XFactor, but it’s not good enough at Eurovision any more. You need confident performers, stage presence and a solid song. If you miss any of those, you won’t win. Other countries have the same issue – Germany suffer from picking weak performers and Spain often suffer from weak staging.
If the UK and Ireland want to do well at Eurovision, they need to invest more into the contest. We don’t need to go all-in Melodifestivalen style, but we do need to put more focus on good songs. We often look for the full package all at once, but we’d perhaps be better to commission song-writers to pen great songs, and then find a performer who can really pull it off – and that performer really needs to be someone confident on stage, not just an act that looks like it’s hired the stage for a three-minute impromptu garage session.
And Ireland, if you want to do better, ditch the Late Late Show and Louis Walsh. The UK and Ireland produce some fantastic music. The acts we send to Eurovision don’t reflect that.
Anyway, enough of that.
A Few Other Thoughts
The entrances worked very well, once it got going. I found the country introductions fairly tedious last year, with each country just waving their own flag. It was far more interesting this year with the catwalkers. My own gripe is that it wasn’t really introduced, so it was only after the first couple of counries had entered that you realised what was going on.
My personal favourite, Poli Genova (Bulgaria), was amazing. As was Dami Im (Australia), and Zoe (Austria). Poli and Zoe also worked the camera very well when Justin Timberlake was on screen.
Cyprus had some fairly wild strobing, but Georgia’s were something else. I have never experienced strobe lighting like that. When they called it “prolonged and extreme”, that wasn’t a lie.
Francesca Michielin (Italy) was probably disappointed with sixteenth, but she was a bit flat, which is a shame because it was a really beautiful song. Hovi Star (Israel), who went right after her, sang really well but ended up overshadowed by Bulgaria and Sweden, who went after him.
Germany finished last, again. I really like Jamie-Lee. She was quirky, and admittedly definitely an acquired taste. Unfortunately, she was just too weak. All the above criticisms of the UK and Ireland apply to Germany too.
I thought Spain deserved better. A fun song, sadly let down by mediocre staging.
Armenians have good genes, and they clearly want us to know that.
Petra Mede was incredible, as always, and her performance with Mans in the interval act was hilarious. But how did the man manage to climb on top of the hamster wheel?!
I loved the new voting system. However, it seemed to take everyone (Graham Norton aside) a while to realise Ukraine had won. It created a strange moment of suspense when there wasn’t really meant to be any.
This year’s production was phenomenal. The whole Eurovision team did an amazing job. Ukraine will have its work cut out next year, as Sweden always put everything into Eurovision, but with the contest away from northern, western and central Europe for the first time in six years, it may provide a very different experience to what we’ve seen in recent years – and that could be a good thing.