Eurovision 2016

The world is becoming increasingly globalised, and Eurovision is being screened not just in Australia, who are back competing again, but in China and the US too. I wouldn’t be surprised if they start entering.

It was hosted in Sweden and presented by last year’s winner Måns Zelmerlöw, along with Swedish TV presenter Petra Mede. Sweden are Eurovision superfans. Right next door to the stadium the contest was hosted was another stadium full of fans watching it on a screen, and there was a moment, when we had three winners of previous Eurovisions who’ve represented Sweden, Måns (in 2015 with ‘Heroes’), Loreen (in 2012 with ‘Euphoria’) and Carola (in 1991 with ‘Fångad av en stormvind’).

Anyway, Sweden were thought to have a good chance of winning again, as their entry ‘If I Were Sorry’ by 17-year-old singer Frans was one of the favourites. It was one of the more modern sounding ones, sounded a bit like if a Swedish dance producer like Avicci or Swedish House Mafia had remixed an Ed Sheeran or Tom Odell track. Or like when DJ Robin Schulz remixed folk act Lily Wood’s ‘Prayer In C’. Or like when Belgium DJ Lost Frequencie’s remixed country singer Easton Corbin’s ‘Are You With Me’. Or maybe some combination of all those things. But my point is it kind of sounded like a singer-songwriter being remixed by a club-dance producer, which has been ‘in’ in the last few years. It ended up finishing in 5th place though.

If Sweden had won it this year, they would have equalised Ireland‘s record. Though Ireland’s Eurovision fortunes haven’t been so rosy of late. This year they entered Nicky Byrne from Westlife and failed to qualify. In fact, their most successful entrant this decade has been Jedward! Remember when everyone used to joke about Ireland always inevitably winning Eurovision and them deliberately sending a bad one in because it was becoming too expensive for them to host it again? That seems like another world now!

Still, being from the United Kingdom, I can hardly throw stones at any country for their recent Eurovision Song Contest performance. Our entry once again didn’t exactly set the competition alight.

We finished 24th overall. Only Czech Republic got fewer televotes than us. I’m not sure we deserved to do that badly. We finished 17th in the Jury vote, which I think was about right. The song ‘You’re Not Alone’ was just very, very mediocre. After the competition it was said that apparently it was a rejected The Wanted track. Given what songs The Wanted recorded and released as singles, that’s some rejection.

Joe & Jake, the act that entered for us this year were just two very bland and beige boys. I don’t want to slate them too much, they seem like nice enough lads and all that, but they are like the embodiment of a pop magazine interview of a boyband that never makes it. All shiny and paper-thin and how they like football and banter, love their families and what their favourite colour is and just so generically enthusiastic about everything. I think everyone kind of knew the song wasn’t going to do well, but we all were sort of rooting for Joe & Jake and wanted them to do OK, which unfortunately they didn’t. I wish them well in, well, whatever they do next.

As a side note, we have had a lot of J-names representing the UK at Eurovision in recent years. Jessica Garlick (I say it every year, but that was our last good one, and the last time we were top 3!), Jemini (at least with most who flop at Eurovision their embarrassment gets forgotten. Poor Jemini will forever be the time we got “nul points”), James Fox, Javine Hylton, Jade Ewen, Josh Dubovie and now Joe & Jake. I suppose Hercule Poirot had a point when he said how easy it can be for mediums to guess the first letter of a name of a dead relative, as there’s a good chance there will be a J name in an English speaking family, just like there’s a good chance there’ll be an M name in a French speaking family.

Opening the show were Belgium (Laura Tesoro – ‘What’s The Pressure?’). It was very retro. It sounded like the sort of ’90s dance pop Louise from Eternal did in her solo career, the yellow lights reminded me of Les Dennis era Family Fortunes, and there lots of orange, yellow and brown circles which looked like ’70s wallpaper. But it was still quite good! I mean, not great, but quite good.

But things took a sharp nosedive from there at the beginning of the show. We had a run of each song being worst than the last!

Czech Republic (Gabriela Guncíková – ‘I Stand’) ended up with the fewest televotes of them all. While they were in the notoriously cursed position of performing second
(NOBODY who has performed second in the final has ever won), it was still rubbish. The most forgettable of the boring, hammy, overwrought, melodramatic ballads we had this year, and we had A LOT of those this year.

Next was The Netherlands (Douwe Bob – ‘Slow Down’), continuing their habit of cod-Country & Western, this time performing on top of a giant clockface with Roman Numerals on. This was dull, with a smug-looking and sweaty performer.

Azerbaijan (Samra -‘Miracle’) was the kind of Eastern-tinged disposable mid-tempo pop that’s been done better in Eurovision about a trillion times before. I think I remember a tacky gold painted microphone and some backing dancers dressed a bit like the White/Gold Ranger from Power Rangers. Maybe it would have been improved by Samra dressing up as Rita Repulsa.

Hungary (Freddie -‘Pioneer’), looked a bit like The X Factor series 11 winner Ben Haenow, and sounded like Ben Haenow… if he had laryngitis, tonsillitis, smoked seventy packs of cigars a day and was an adolescent whose voice was breaking. Oh, there was a Tibetan monk on the stage as well for some reason.

None of those were the worst though. For me, the worst one was Latvia‘s entry. (Justs – ‘Heartbeat’), with Justs histrionic dance moves and straining for notes he had no hope of reaching. There is such a thing as trying too hard.

Germany had the unfortunate distinction of finishing in the bottom 2 two years in a row. Their entrant was Jamie-Lee with ‘Ghost’. She had been on the German version of The Voice. Nothing unusual about that, most of the contestants were from some reality TV singing contest or other, but apparently ‘Ghost’ was Jamie-Lee’s winner’s song! It didn’t do her much good here though, Germany finished in last place. The song wasn’t even that bad, but it wasn’t that memorable either. What people remember about it is Jamie-Lee’s outfit! Licorice Allsort blue and pink colours, striped socks and with hair clips, ribbon bows, trinkets and in her hair she had a tiny toy panda and what looked like polyps. It overall had the effect that she’d been coated with superglue and anything she picked up stuck to her.

Germany’s performance was followed by France (Amir – ‘J’ai cherché’). Jamie-Lee had a giant full moon in the background of her staging, Amir had a big purple full moon projected on the floor, with the background showing a whole galaxy of planets in outer space. ‘J’ai cherché’ was like Bulgaria and Sweden’s entries another fairly modern dance track which finished in the top ten, 6th in his case. Amir has something in common with Isreal‘s entrant Hovi Star apparently. Both were on Isreal’s version of Pop Idol.

Speaking of Hovi Star, I initially misread his name as “Hovis Tar”. Maybe there is some parallel universe where the famous bakery manufactures tar instead of bread and flour. Anyway, Hovi Star has a decent voice, but the song ‘Made Of Stars’ was far from the bombastic big ballad it wanted to be.

Croatia (Nina Kraljic – ‘Lighthouse’) which finished 23rd. It was a shrug of a song. It was called ‘Lighthouse’, but there was no lighthouse in the staging, rather Nina Kraljic being unwrapped like a present packaged in too much silver paper and cellophane. I think it had a similar problem to Germany’s entry. The dangers of entering a nondescript song and distracting costumes I guess.

Spain‘s entry (Barei -‘Say Yay!’) had a lot of problems. I found the song irritating in the official video version, and wasn’t sure about the “sports vest rolled around in glitter” outfit, and I’m not sure a lot of people got that the black-out lights and fall-over bit was a deliberate part of the performance, all of which might be why it didn’t do that well. It finished 22nd. But I kind of liked Barei’s crowd-pleasing performance of it.

Italy (Francesca Michielin- ‘No Degree of Separation’) was slightly dull, but was pleasant, had a nature theme with a tree growing in the background, a sort of raindrops on puddles lighting effect and Francesca Michielin holding up a bulb with a plant growing from it at the end, for some reason.

Austria‘s entry (Zoë – ‘Loin d’ici’) wasn’t performed in Austrian, or even in English like most songs are. It was actually performed in French! It was probably the sweetest song this year, kind of chocolate box-ish and a bit like a fairytale, with scenery like watercolour painting of a field. Zoe looked a lot like a pretty princess and there was a rainbow too. It had potential to be too saccharine, but I think it just about got away with it.

Serbia (Sanja Vucic ZAA – ‘Goodbye (Shelter)’) wore a black dress with leather, and was doing what I think lots were going for this year, but one of the few to actually hit their target. The song was dark and dramatic and she gave a powerful vocal delivery that came across as natural rather than straining and showing off. Similarly, Armenia‘s entry (Iveta Mukuchyan -‘LoveWave’) was a dramatic mix of rock, electronic and ethno-pop, featuring smoke, capes and flames and again she delivered a powerful vocal and made it sound effortless.

Bulgaria ended up finishing in a respectable 4th place with the quite sassy R&B-dance-pop track ‘If Love Were A Crime’ and a hell of lot more cool and sophisticated than it could have been. It was performed by the very likeable Poli Genova. This was my mum’s favourite entrant this year by the way.

Malta (Ira Losco – ‘Walk on Water’) was one of the better ones, quite soul diva-ish and classy, and reminded me of a ’90s dance track, and to be honest I think those were better than most dance music we’ve had in the 21st century. There, I’ve said it.

I don’t know if Cyprus (Minus One – ‘Alter Ego’) thought they had to redress the balance and represent testosterone almost single-handedly, but they looked like they were going for that, with a rock song with had a lot of hair, stubble, beards, baldness, piercings and the band performing in metal cages. Joking aside, I really liked it. It always good when Eurovision gives you a change of pace and you get a rock song.

I was a bit more in touch with UK tastes this year, as while the jury vote and the public televote didn’t see eye to eye on many things, I agreed with both of their top choices!

My favourite entry in the competion was Georgia (Nika Kocharov & Young Georgian Lolitaz- ‘Midnight Gold’). The performance showing split screens and two shots of the band performing side by side wasn’t the best idea admittedly. They should have gone more for Halloween party-ish theme the official video had, where they appear as a Mad Scientist, a devil and a spaceman among other things. ‘Midnight Gold’ though was refreshingly different from the other songs in the competition, not yet another power ballad or like it was taken from the same cheap dance-pop compilation album that’s kept playing on a constant loop. It was very Britpop-ish, which might be why it scored the highest with the UK jury vote. Nika Kocharov wished his mum happy birthday after the performance, which was an unexpectedly nice moment to end the song on.

In contrast, the UK public televote favourite was Lithuania (Donny Montell – ‘I’ve Been Waiting For This Night’). Donny Montell is a very pretty blond guy, but that’s not the only reason I like him, honest. He has a good voice and a soaring electro-dance track that definitely could be a song that is in the charts. I was surprised at how much just removing a white jacket going to black t-shirt and jeans looked like a full costume change! It finished 9th overall.

When it came to announcing the votes, Poland (Michal Szpak -‘Colour of Your Life’) turned out to be an interesting ones. Not the song itself, it was just yet another mournful ballad to add to the pile. Nor the costume or staging, though like Petra Mede the thing I noticed most about it was Michal Szpak’s bright red jacket with shiny brass buttons. No, what was interesting was how it scored, how there was a huge difference between how the juries responded to it and how the televoters responded to it. If it had been jury votes alone, it would have been in last place. But it received loads of televotes, the 3rd highest in fact, giving it an 8th place overall.

The top three were all somewhat controversial. One was the runner-up silver medalist, Australia. It was mostly controversial because there are a lot of Eurovision purists who don’t like the idea of Australia been in when they are nowhere near Europe let alone a part of it. Honestly, I don’t mind them being there, and I wouldn’t have minded them winning, because Dami Im – ‘Sound Of Silence’ was one of the best entrants this year. By far the best of ballads entered, and she gave an excellent vocal performance. I had heard of Dami Im before. I knew about her winning the Australian version of The X Factor, but hadn’t seen that as, frankly, one The X Factor a year is more than enough for me. I’d heard of her from a track she released afterwards, the cheery ‘Smile’. You have to feel a bit sorry for her and Australia, flying ahead of all the other contestants in the jury vote and doing OK in televote, but only 4th highest, so was pipped to the post at the last minute. Dami Im seemed good-natured about the whole thing though.

It would have been kind of funny if Australia had won, as they wouldn’t be able to host it. A shame, as I quite liked the idea of them hosting it, but they’d need to get another country to host on their behalf. Apparently they wanted Germany to host it, which would have been a bit ironic considering Germany finished in last place!

While you might have sympathy for Dami Im and Joe & Jake, the contestant you really have to feel sorry for Romania‘s entrant Anton Ovidiu, who was kicked out of the
contest through no fault of his own. Romania weren’t allowed to take part as their Eurovision broadcaster TVR hadn’t paid debts to the Eurovision Broadcasting Union, which produces the contest.

Anyway, having put the final two off longer than even the contest themselves did, let’s get to that.

The end became a showdown between Russia and Ukraine, who were the top two in the televote. Let’s be honest, there was probably political voting on both sides here.

Russia (Sergey Lazarev – ‘You Are the Only One’) topped the televote, but their jury vote was more mixed, they were 5th highest there, so in their overall score they ended up having to settle for bronze in 3rd place. Personally, I didn’t really care for it. It was too much of a cheesefest. The staging was certainly, erm, “inspired by” last year’s winner ‘Heroes’ with things like projected effects of wings on screen. To be fair, Russia took the concept further, and I did quite like the blocks which Sergey Lazarev stepped on and crumbled away as he did. It looked like the sort of puzzle video games you used to get on Sega Mega Drive, and when I think about it the song sounded like it could be the soundtrack to a final boss fight from the even older video games you’d find in a seaside arcade. But despite it giving me some pointless nostalgia, I’m glad it didn’t win.

The winner was Ukraine, and was probably the most controversial of the controversials. ‘1944’ by Jamala is about in 1944 when Stalin ordered the Soviet Union to deport Tatars from the Crimea. It was a form of ethnic cleansing, and the conditions that the Crimean Tatars were kept in were horrific. They were deported miles away to desolate areas, and many of them died on the way there. It is also a personal song for the singer Jamala, as her great-grandmother was one of the people who was deported in this way. The backing track is sparse, and Jamala gave a very emotional performance. It likely struck a chord with people whose families would have been affected by it, and countries where similar things happened, and those who didn’t know much about the incidents before.

I think the staging of it was one of the best of the night too. Some gorgeous light effects, beautiful colours and intricate patterns, the water background, blood-red ice-crack effect and a tree of bright light at the end.

I guess in a way it’s strange that runner-up in both the televoting and the jury vote won the whole thing, but that’s kind of the point. Australia came top of the jury vote, but only 4th in the televote, and Russia came top of the televote but only 5th in the jury vote. Ukraine being 2nd in both the jury and televote means it scored very highly in both, that’s why it won.

With Ukraine hosting next year, let’s hope we get an appearance from Verka Serduchka, who was runner-up for the Ukraine in Eurovision 2007. Verka Serduchka did make an appearance this year though, revealing the votes from Ukranian jury. It would be great to see previous winner Ruslana again, won in 2004 with ‘Wild Dances’.

Sweden did a great job hosting it this year, especially considering that it was a bit of a weak year as far as entrants go. Not everything worked, like the brief bit of them trying to flog cheap Eurovision merchandise like caps and t-shirts, and a straight-jacket (LOLZ, geddit cos Eurovision is so crazy!1!1). There was a rather pointless cameo from Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi as their Vicious characters.

There was also the not as pointless but equally like those gratuitous celeb cameos you get in comedy movies, with Justin Timberlake dropping by to plug his new single. With the US taking notice of Eurovision and the fact it broadcasts to millions of viewers across Europe and the world, it looks like big American stars might start using it as a platform now. Justin Timberlake’s track ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’ didn’t spark my interest to be honest. In fact, I liked Måns Zelmerlöw’s new song ‘Fire In The Room’ a lot better which he performed later. And Måns is much fitter than Justin anyway. Erm, let’s move on.

The two best bits were a 4 minute video compilation of Swedish pop classics which became worldwide hits, including ABBA, Europe (the band of ‘The Final Countdown’ fame obviously, not the whole continent), Neneh Cherry, Roxette, Ace of Base, Robyn, The Cardigans, The Hives, Swedish House Mafia, Tove Lo, Zara Larsson and many more.

Then there was the self-parody song ‘Love Love Peace Peace’ on all the elements that make a good Eurovision track, songs about love, world peace, often being decades behind current pop music, and referencing some memorable entrants like the Russian grannies (from 2012) and Polish milkmaids (from 2014). You know when The X Factor do that thing of bringing back their past joke acts for a final, and it’s always a bit rubbish and kind of smug? This was something like that, but about ten thousand times better, and more enjoyable, and with more interesting acts, and done with more affection, and with more of a sense of humour and, well you get the picture. Oh yeah, it also featured former winner Alexander Rybak who won with ‘Fairytale’ for Norway back in 2009.

The revealing of the vote was good too. They did the usual going to every country to announce points, but from jury vote only, then did the televote from bottom to top. As the televote counted for 50% of the score it changed things dramatically, and the final 2 being Russia and Ukraine made it all the more intense and compelling.

Eurovision 2016’s Grand Final turned out to be quite a pleasant surprise. I wasn’t expecting it to be that great from what I’d heard, but it was decent, and a lot of the credit for that has to go to Sweden for putting it on. It’s not my favourite Eurovision final ever, that was when Denmark hosted in 2014 and Conchita Wurst won, but still, well done Sweden.

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