Eurovision 2016

The controversial change this year was separating the public vote from the jury vote, essentially each country awarding two sets of scores from 1 to 12. Up front, there was a lot of ‘hmpf, we’ll wait and see’, but with the nail biting finish, Australia winning the jury vote by a landslide, Russia winning the public vote by a landslide, and Ukraine taking overall first place, this change has already proven to be a huge win for Eurovision.
Political voting still exists, but is less influential. The contest can now be more about songs that are both of quality and popular.
How it should be. 

The first semi opening, with Mans reprising last year’s win, together with a bunch of kids, has been done before, but was no less enjoyable for it. Afterwards, quickly changing into a suit and hosting the show together with Petra Mede, the hosts were not nearly as funny as Mede herself was in 2013, but plenty of chuckles were had, still. The best part probably being the mockumentary The Nerd Nation, on how Sweden found his niche in taking over the world by becoming the best in… Eurovision.

The switch to English in presenting is all but complete, token use of French and German only underscores the fact that English is the only language that really matters on the international stage.
Similarly, the big five, all historically singing in their own language, have all but moved to English. Germany did so years ago, but Spain also relented this year, and, now, both France and Italy sang parts of their songs in English as well.

After the two semifinals, it seemed obvious that the two countries to beat were Russia, with a good performance, if not as energetic as Sergey Lazarev put up in his video and Australia, which saw Dami Im, coached by Dannii Minogue, put down an excellent performance in the semis. Her performance of the final was not as good, yet, still, the Jury vote overwhelmingly went to Australia.
Though, all of that didn’t matter, as Ukraine took away the crown, performing well in the Jury vote, coming in second, as well as the public vote, coming in third. Jamala’s performance in the finals was her best yet, which, combined with her rather prominent political message, must have been what carried her to the finish line.

Outsiders were thought to be all women, including Bulgaria’s Poli Genova, who’s underproduced video clip didn’t nearly capture the energy and appeal of her live show, the future Czechia’s Gabriela Gunčíková, Serbia’s Sanja Vučić, Belgium’s Laura Tesoro and Armenia’s Iveta Mukuchyan.
Yet, when the final tally was up, Sweden’s Frans and France’s Amir were fifth and sixth, after Ukraine, Australia, Russia and Bulgaria.  The Czech Republic came in second to last, only beating Germany, with Belgium coming in at a respectable 10th place.
Amir, representing France, was a favourite with the bookies, but his performance missed a few notes too many, even though that had apparently little effect on his overall scoring. It was good to see that, for a change, this did mean that France did not, like often in the last few years, end up near the bottom of the table.
Iveta, representing Armenia, was dressed nearly like super girl, but in black.

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Sanja, for Serbia, should have fired her make up artist as well as the person in charge of her wardrobe. She looked decidedly less attractive on stage as she did in her introductory video. Yet, her song, not unlike something Amy Winehouse would have done, was great, but only enough for an 18th place.

Belgium only just beat the Netherlands into 11th place, which again showed that Douwe Bob’s crooner, not completely unlike the entry from the Dutch The Common Linnets a few years ago, which ended up taking second place in 2014, is the type of music I can’t make heads nor tails of.
Sure, the break in the middle, a full silence for a good number of seconds was innovative, but not worth such a prominent result.
Belgium did show that disco is not dead, even though San Marino’s performance, changed from a ballad to disco, surprisingly written by a Turk and performed by another Turk (come back, Turkey!), did not stand a chance to make it to the finals.

Malta’s Ira Losco, returning to the contest after also representing Malta in 2002, was an early outside contender with a catchy and powerful song and, on stage, a good performance, perhaps even channeling Mariah Carey, though, if that, a four-month pregnant Mariah Carey. She came in 12th, a downer after coming in second in 2002.

But, what’s up with Germany? Jamie-Lee’s cosplay inspired Ghost, straight from Tokyo’s Harajuku, was catchy, somewhat ominous, and offbeat, and a decent performance. But, like last year’s also rather pleasant Black Smoke, did not meet expectations.
Where Ann Sophie last year scored a total of zero points, Jamie-Lee still scrabbled together eleven, but both ended up dead last.

Italy’s Francesca missed a few notes but looked much less bored on stage than she did in her video clip. Yet, her constant averting her gaze held the middle between shyness and perhaps being ashamed of being Italy’s worst submission since their return to Eurovision in 2011.

Spain’s backing vocalists should have been booted off stage. Backing vocalists are supposed to be the ones able to sing. Now, it was Spain’s Barei that sang well and put down a very catchy and energetic song. But, perhaps after the viewers having seen her awfully catchy video clip, the stage show was just too middle of the road, the jury and public awarding her with a lacklustre 22nd position. And that while singing in English.

Frans, singing for Sweden, did reasonably well, grabbing fifth place, even though his performance in the finals left to be desired. Perhaps it was related to him being the only representative of a Scandinavian country, which is pretty unique. Even weirder, the Norwegian jury didn’t award a single point to Sweden. If that ain’t the absence of politics, I don’t know what is. Or is that the exact definition of politics?

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The new voting system, however, showed little love for the UK. The country hasn’t performed well for ages. After last winning in 1997, they came in second in 1998, third in 2002 and fifth in 2009. All other years since 1997, they saw themselves pretty much near the bottom, even with Engelbert Humperdinck’s excellent Love Will Set You Free in 2012, and Bonnie Tyler’s very decent Believe in Me. This year, Joe and Jake, performing much better than in their winning bid in the national finals, still only came in 24th, even though the public rewarded them noticeably better than the jury.

The second big upset in the finals, after Ukraine winning the competition, was Poland. Barely getting any points from the juries, dangling in second-to-last place, the public vote propelled the country to 8th place overall. The song got a lot of love online before the show, but I though it rather boring, while the performance was mediocre, at best, though better than what Michał Szpak put down when he was selected to represent his country.

Austria stood out for being the only country in the finals not singing in English, at all, but, surprisingly, in French. A good voice on Zoë saw her end up in 13th position. Was she behind, or ahead of the curve? Judging from the list of participants, with only France’s Amir singing mostly in French, Italy’s Francesca singing mostly in Italian, and some bits and pieces in their own languages from Ukraine’s Jamala and Bulgaria’s Poli Genova, the trend seems obvious.
It would be great if Zoë is heralding a trend back to indigenous languages, though.
Interestingly, both Iceland’s Greta Salóme and Albania’s Eneda Tarifa switched from their native language to English, between their national selection and the Eurovision semifinals, but both didn’t progress their initial trials. If both had stuck with singing in their original language, I would have given them a stronger chance in making it, both languages being amongst the most exotic in Europe.

Israel also made changes to their song after first selecting it. The resulting piano ballad was a huge improvement, and Hovi Star did make it the finals, but he ended up being an also ran, together with finalists Cyprus, who showed that the band Minus One can do a good rock song, but that they need autotune in their list of instruments.
Also in the finals, Lithuania’s Donny Montell did some catchy power pop, Latvia showed a powerful performance, Croatia’s Nina Kraljić did a Cranberries impression and Hungary’s hunk Freddie, together with his construction worker nerd backing vocals, tried to sway the gay vote.

Countries that surprisingly didn’t make it to the finals included Bosnia, which I think had the most interesting song this year, combining some Balkan powerpop, rap and cello, and Denmark, from the second semifinal, which had a male trio doing a cute poppy song that felt like it should have been submitted perhaps twenty years ago, as it was also quite sugary and retro.
Conversely, besides Poland as a surprise inclusion, with a mediocre performance and a rather boring ballad, Georgia, aspiring to be Oasis, and Azerbaijan, for whom the reasonably attractive Samra Rahimli showed off a body suit more interesting than her song, also clawed their ways into the finals.

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Meanwhile, Estonia’s Play, by Jüri Pootsmann sounded like an ominous Bond song, which, judging form the past, could have scored well, but also wasn’t considered good enough.

I would also have liked to see Finland in the finals, which submitted a very upbeat song, though leaving a few things to be desired in Sandhja’s performance, as well as Belarus’ Ivan, whose performance started off with a video of him, nude, serenading a wolf.

There were some less traditional entries that didn’t make it to the finals. Greece submitted a cross between Balkan and Hellenic power pop, with some spoken word thrown in, but also lacked a climax. Montenegro’s rock resembled Georgia’s, but wasn’t considered good enough by Europe, and rightly so. Norway threw in some tempo changes in a very nice piece, but the performance wasn’t good enough to see Agnete march on to the finals.

It meant that Sweden, automatically qualifying as the host nation, was the only one representing the Nordic countries.

Then there were the entries that not surprisingly did not make it to the finals. Ireland’s Nicky Byrne, formerly of Westlife, missed a few notes and sang a middle of the road formulaic pop song. Slovenia’s ManuElla, like Albania, Iceland and Israel, adjusted her song after first being selected. And here, both her song and stage show vastly improved with the changes, making the song not horrible, but a few steps up from bearable.

Switzerland’s Rykka, who I suspect might actually be a collective of women taking turns performing, considering how she changes her looks from week to week, missed a few notes too many, even if the song itself was nice enough.

Moldova’s Lidia Isac knows how to sing, but her Falling Stars was just too middle of the road. More interestingly, when Romania was booted out of participating for being years overdue with their payments to the EBU, Isac offered the Romanian performer Ovidiu Anton to sing Falling Stars as a duet, which Anton politely declined. 

On stage, Isac’s only companion was a dancing astronaut. So Montenegro.

Overall, a year with a lot of contenders and a mildly deserved win.
Also interesting were the many subdued stage shows, just one person on stage, though perhaps with backing vocals hiding in the wings.

Next year will be Ukraine. I’m hoping for Lviv. Though Kiev would of course be awesome.