Eurovision 2019

The Eurovision Song Contest has come around again, and it’s the last one of the 2010s! It’s still quite a way off its 70th edition, but the contest is still going strong as we’re about to enter a new decade.

Israel won last year, so they hosted it this year, in Tel Aviv. There was the typically cheesy slogan, “Dare To Dream”, complete with an official logo, which looked a bit like the old The More You Know one, with a shooting star.

Ukraine pulled out of this year’s competition, which was a shame, as they are usually one of the best ones! I was also sorry that Ireland didn’t qualify past the semi-final, as I liked their representative, Sarah McTernan, and the whole comic book knickerbocker glory ’50s diner thing the staging had going on. Finland also didn’t qualify, which was a bit of a shock as they had someone quite well known, Darude, who I remember very well for the track ‘Sandstorm’ (and vaguely for another song, ‘Feel The Beat’). In fact, it turned out Ireland and Finland came last in their respective semi-finals!

[Edit – The jury for Belarus blabbed who they voted for in a semi-final, and the juries aren’t supposed to reveal that until after the Grand Final is over. This led to the Belarus jury being dismissed from the final, and the European Broadcasting Union replacing their vote with an “aggregated result”. But in the final, the wrong aggregated result was read out! The bottom ten of the result was read out instead of the top ten, and a few days later the EBU had to announce this embarrasing error and they gave the corrected score!  This whole mess was kind of funny, but it also means I’m going to have to alter some of this blog post with the corrected scores].

In the Grand Final my country, the United Kingdom came last. Yep, I’m getting this out of the way quickly! I don’t think we deserved to come last. The song, ‘Bigger Than Us’, was alright. It didn’t do much for me at first (I would have preferred ‘Sweet Lies’ by Kerrie-Anne to have represented us), but I warmed to ‘Bigger Than Us’ as we got towards the contest itself. It’s not a bad song by any means. Though it says a lot that John Lundvik, Sweden’s representative, wrote ‘Bigger Than Us’ and was considering entering with it himself, but changed his mind. So our song was another country’s cast-off to begin with!

Michael Rice, our singer, has a good voice, and he seems nice, so I felt bad for him with the end result. If it had been just on jury votes or just on televotes, we wouldn’t have come last, but it wasn’t, it was a combined score, and you can’t really complain about that too much, it’s just how the scoring system goes. But I can’t pretend it isn’t extremely disheartening as a British fan of Eurovision that we do so badly every year. It has been pointed out in several places that it’s been even longer since we won the World Cup, and nobody is saying we should quit that. But you can’t help but feel a bit despondent.

I think we tend to send in quite bland songs which get forgotten easily, and also we probably wouldn’t even have qualified some years if we weren’t part of the Big 5 that get to the final automatically because they provide the bigger financial contribution to the whole thing. So we’re competing against songs that have already proven themselves and have had to earn their place in the final. On the other hand, I don’t think we’re a popular country across Europe for whatever reason (whether or not that is to do with Brexit etc). The 2010s has been our worst performing decade for us in Eurovision, with the last time we made the top ten being ten years ago, with Jade Ewen (and Andrew Lloyd Webber), where we finished 5th. It’s not impossible for us to get a decent score again, but it does look very unlikely to happen anytime soon, which is kind of a downer, so let’s move on.

On a more positive note, my favourite entry this year was Australia! As much as I’d liked to have seen Courtney Act as a Eurovision contestant, I was pleased with who they got as the representative. I had heard of Kate Miller-Heidke before, as I loved her song ‘The Last Day On Earth’, which was released in 2009. Kate Miller-Heidke’s Eurovision song ‘Zero Gravity’ was written about her post-natal depression, and the staging for it was astounding! She wore a large white bridal-like dress and a spiky silver tiara with stars. She was with two women who were dressed in large black dresses, and all three were suspended on large swaying bendy poles high up in the air. Below them were some excellent light effects showing the Earth and the universe, the idea being that they were floating in outer space in zero gravity. Kate Miller-Heidke’s vocals were operatic, which gave the track a Kate Bush feel. It was certaily the most theatrical entry of the night! I suppose the staging might have been a Health and Safety nightmare, but I adored ‘Zero Gravity’! Australia have struggled with televotes in recent years, but they did decently this time as well as with the jury vote, giving them 9th place overall.

Malta‘s entry was another favourite of mine. Michela was the first contestant to perform in the final, and got it off to a great start. The song, ‘Chameleon’, saw the lighting background change from a bedroom set to blue with ocean scenery, yellow with desert scenery, green with jungle scenery and pink with a city scenery. As Michela’s outfit was white she blended in, like a chameleon. OK, I know that technically her appearance didn’t actually change the way a chameleon changes its appearance, but you get the idea, and it got it across. It is also a fun pop song. A lot of people rooted for Michela, as apparently she struggled in rehearsals, but she did well in her semi-final/grand final performances, and burst into tears of joy when she got through the semi-final. In the end, Malta finished 16th 14th in the final.

I also really liked the Czech Republic‘s entry, Lake Malawi with ‘Friend Of A Friend’. Lake Malawi are a smiley indie-pop band, and in Eurovision they had colour coded jumpers – the lead singer in yellow, the guitarist in red and the drummer in black. The “friend of a friend of a friend” lyric was an earworm! It got stuck in your head for ages afterwards! The song was popular with juries, getting a lot of 12 points (150 points in total), but not so much in the televotes, where it only got 7 in total, but it scored better on televotes in its semi-final, so it may have been partly due to it being on so early in the running order in the final. Overall, it ended up in 11th place.

I thought Azerbaijan‘s entry, Chingiz‘Truth’, was the best of the uptempo ones. It had industrial robots shooting lasers at him, and the song was a catchy electro-pop dance track. It was popular with both the juries and the televote, and it finished 7th 8th overall. On a more superficial note, Chingiz was very handsome, I thought he was the best looking guy in the contest.

Iceland were represented by Hatari with ‘Hatrið mun sigra’ (which in English translates to ‘Hatred Will Prevail’). They are an anti-capitalist BDSM techno-punk group,
and were definitely the most interesting act in this year’s contest! The performance had lots of leather, spikes, fire, chains, a metal cage and a hammer. It was also one of the few not to be performed in English, it was in Icelandic. They did better in the televote (6th place) than the jury vote (14th) (15th). It is interesting how the more leftfield Eurovision acts often do better in the public televote than with the professional music industry juries, isn’t it?

As for ones I didn’t like, Germany‘s entry was a particular lowlight, a duo called S!sters with the song ‘Sister’. Not to be confused with short lived Australian vocal duo Sister2Sister, and their song ‘Sister’, or the theme tune to ’90s kids sitcom Sister, Sister. Unlike those two examples, S!sters aren’t actually sisters. They didn’t even know each other before this year! But either way, their voices were grating, and the song was so incredibly mediocre. Given how uninspiring it was, it wasn’t that much of a surprise that it got no televote points at all! I mean, even we managed to scrape more than that! (Granted, they were from our next door neighbours Ireland. All three points). Luckily for Germany, the jury votes nudged them up to 24th place. Unluckily for Germany, after the corrected score they were down a position to 25th place!

Denmark (Leonora‘Love Is Forever’) had a drip drop sound, children’s painting style drawings of fluffy clouds and rainbows, and most memorably a GIANT chair. It
finished 12th. It was far too sickly, sappy and saccharine for me.

I didn’t like the host country Israel‘s entry (Kobi Marini‘Home’) either. I just found it…. very, very, very boring. It finished in 23rd place, with the juries giving it no points at all!

San Marino were represented by Serhat‘Say Na Na Na’. It was awful! A sleazy, bald middle aged bloke with a cheap track made for trashy, grotty nightclubs. If you can imagine Pitbull, but a version of him from the mid-’90s. Admittedly, tacky tracks like this do tend to be popular in the televote (where it got 10th place!), and somewhat less popular in the jury vote (23rd place), meaning that overall it ended up 20th 19th.

My least favorite though has to be Russia (Serghey Lazarev with ‘Scream‘). I couldn’t stand it! It was so overbearingly pompous! That bit where it looked like multiple Sergheys were singing in showers fully clothed was unintentionally hilarious! I have some slight sympathy for Serghey though. There’s talk of contestants who are “born runner-up”, poor Serghey looks like he’s “born third place”, as in both this year and in 2016 when he last did Eurovision he ended up in 3rd place!

Serbia were represented by Nevena Božovic‘Kruna’ (‘Crown’). I quite liked this one! Nevena Božovic has a powerful voice, and she looked gorgeous! I liked her black dress, though the jewelly made her look magnetic – as in, like metal is attracted to her and sticks to her! But I enjoyed the staging, with it being all shattered glass, ice, mist and smoke.

Greece‘s representative was Greek-Canandian singer-songwriter Katerine Duska, with a song called ‘Better Love’. The songwriting credits for that are Katerine Duska herself, plus another singer-songwriter who’s credited as Leon of Athens, and David Sneddon, who won Fame Accademy what seems like a billion years ago! I found Katerine Duska’s voice a bit too nasally, and I didn’t like the song at first, but it grew on me during the final. I thought the staging looked a bit like a novelty clock! It had fencers (with their swords being like clock hands), everyone in frilly outfits, flowery potpourri stuff in the background. Then there was an enourmous white balloon which ended up getting thrown into the audience.

Slovenia were represented by Zala Kralj & Gašper Šantl. They are a in a relationship, they met on Instagram apparently. The song, ‘Sebi’, was sung in Slovene, and the title translates in English to ‘Oneself’. It featured a starry galactic backdrop with the two performers lit in blue. They were intensely – and I mean intensely – staring at one another. It all gave the feel of two theme park androids coming alive and falling in love. But the minimalist electronica of the song made it one of the more intriguing entries. It finished in 13th 15th place.

Cyprus were represented by Tamta with a track called ‘Replay’. You might think it’s too obvious to say that just replayed ‘Fuego’, their entry last year which earned them silver medal, but ‘Fuego’ and ‘Replay’ not only sound similar, they share some of the same writers, and Tamta was asked to sing ‘Fuego’ last year, but turned the offer down! They literally were trying to redo ‘Fuego’! It didn’t end up in 2nd place though, it ended up 15th 13th!

Switzerland‘s entry (Luca Hänni ‘She Got Me’) could have been any Latin pop song in the charts in the last couple of years, but it was a reasonably good one, and he was generically good looking, and it ended up with a respectably good finishing postion of 4th place.

Albania‘s entry was Jonida Maliqui‘Ktheju tokës’ (‘Return To Your Land’), and saw Jonida singing a ballad and wearing an elaborate black and gold dress. There was also a ring of fire and lots of people in what I think was a bird’s nest projected on the floor? Presumably, the nest belonged to the eagle on the screen in the background.

Estonia‘s one was Victor Crone with a song called ‘Storm’. We entered a song called ‘Storm’ last year, performed by SuRie, and both songs not only have the same title, but the same central metaphor, (of storms being tough times to get through). Still, at least Estonia’s staging actually had storms in it, unlike ours!

Belarus were represented by ZENA with ‘Like It’. It was all quite pink, with the light effects and ZENA’s outfit and earrings. The song was a catchy dance-pop track, and with video game staging, with Sonic The Hedgehog style rings and Crash Bandicoot style crystals. It only got 25th 24th place, which was a bit harsh really.

I also felt Spain got a bit of a raw deal! They finished 22nd overall, due to being bottom of getting 25th in the jury vote and 14th in the televote. But their entry was fine! ‘La Venda’ (‘The Blindfold’) was a fun song, Miki performed it well enough. The staging wasn’t brilliant, I suppose with a house set looking like it was an enlarged version of a plastic prop from a board game, and there was a Wicker Man lit up with electric lights for some reason, and multicoloured dust and fingerprints. Yep, multicoloured fingerprints! I think it might have actually suffered from being the last to perform. Usually the “pimp slot” is beneficial, but also by the last song a lot of people have already decided which one they like best and zoned out a bit, and I think in this case it was following two favourites (Australia and Switzerland), and might have looked a bit lightweight in comparison.

Representing France was Bilal Hassani with ‘Roi’ (‘King’). As an LGBT+ French singer of Moroccan descent, he wanted to do a song about overcoming prejudice and bigotry, and finding that message to resonate with lots of different and varied groups of people, he was joined on stage by a plus-sized ballet dancer and a deaf dancer. It might have an admirable message, but the song itself was generic “be yourself”, “never give up” stuff, and I get that they were trying to make it something which could be applied broadly, but, still.

Italy ended up being this year’s overall runners-up. They were represented by Mahmood with ‘Soldi’ (‘Money’). The background screen showed money burning, but it’s not about having “money to burn”, if it is like any saying it’s “money is the root of all evil”, in this case about a father who cared about money more than his family, and is partly based on Mahmood’s own father and how that effected him while growing up.

North Macedonia (previously known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) were represented by Tamara Todevska with ‘Proud’. It turned out to be very popular
with the jury vote, finishing in 2nd place on that. In fact, it won the jury vote! I did not see that coming at all! Nor did I understand it, to be honest. To me, their entry was just yet another overwrought ballad. I did, however, expect it to be more popular on the jury vote than on the televote, which turned out to be the case. In the latter it was 12th place, making it 8th 7th overall.

In contrast, the top of the jury vote, Sweden‘s high jury vote, was expected. They were represented by former sprinter John Lundvik with ‘Too Late For Love’. The song had a polished production, John Lundvik and his backing singers the Mamas had soulful voices and it was a slick performance. It’s exactly the sort of thing juries will rate highly. However, in the televote it only finished in 9th place, giving an overall position of 6th 5th. I think people can tell that it’s “good quality”, but it doesn’t really connect with them, they don’t enjoy it or aren’t moved or interested in it as much as other songs.

Norway, represented by a trio called KEiiNO, and they topped the televote, but coming 15th 18th in the jury vote pulled them all the way down to  5th 6th place overall. Their song was ‘Sprit In The Sky’ – no, not a cover of the Norman Greenbaum/Doctor and The Medics/Gareth Gates and The Kumars track. KEiiNo’s ‘Spirit In The Sky’ was very Europop. Of the trio, rapper Fred Buljo, who performed in Sámi language in a traditonal folk style called joik, stood out the most, with many viewers saying he looked a bit like René Dif from Aqua. I guess that it was so Europop is why it was a Eurovision televote favourite.

The Netherlands were the bookies favourite, and in the end they won. They were 2nd in the televote, and 3rd in the jury vote, giving them an overall win! They benefited from the scoring system. They were not the top in either the jury vote or the televote, but (unlike Sweden North Macedonia and Norway’s entries) they were very popular in both the jury vote and the televote. The track, ‘Arcade’, was a piano ballad with the main hook being the line “loving you is a losing game”, and the singer Duncan Laurence has a nice voice. I really liked the song, it sounded both epic and personal. The swirly dark blue cloud effects in the background looked pretty as well, which might not have made much of a difference, but I think complimented the song. I was pleased with ‘Arcade’ as a winner, in fact I think it’s one of the best 2010s winners.

Israel hosting it proved controversial from the moment they won last year, mostly due to the ongoing conflicts between them and Palestine, and there were calls for people to boycott the contest, plus a lot of protests against it. So this was always likely to come through in the final itself.

Madonna made a political statement, by including a Palestinian flag and an Israeli flag in her performance of ‘Future’, which was something she saved for the big night – she didn’t do it in rehearsals! Obviously, the producers wouldn’t have approved it. Hatari also waved a Palestinian flag while they were onscreen as their results were read out.

Putting aside the wider political issues, to be honest Israel did a good job of hosting Eurovision. The production values were high, the presenters were capable, and the way the contest was hosted very much got into the spirit of Eurovision.

The introduction involved last year’s winner Netta piloting a plane containing all 26 finalists. Not literally, of course, but it helped set a tone for a campy fun worldwide party/holiday.

The extra-long interval included Madonna performing ‘Like A Prayer’, and ‘Future’ (featuring Quavo), The Indan Raichel Project, and Netta with her new single ‘Nana
Banana’ (Netta’s single was…, well, let’s just say it was A LOT). The interval was as “the bit you make a cup a tea/get more booze in/go for a piss” as much as it usually is, BUT it did include a very entertaining part with a relay of previous contestants covering each others songs!

Conchita Wurst did ‘Heroes‘.
Måns Zelmerlöw did ‘Fuego’.
Eleni Foureira did ‘Dancing Lasha Tumbai’.
Verka Serduchka did ‘Toy’.
Then they all sang ‘Hallelujah’ with Gali Atari.

I think this part was the best example of a Eurovision interval celebrating the contest and having fun with it since the affectionate ‘Love Love, Peace Peace’ parody when Sweden hosted in 2016.

I enjoyed Eurovision 2019. The songs were a decent and varied selection, the relay mix and switch part was a highlight, and despite the contest overrunning, it didn’t feel too long. And, despite the fact we don’t do well in it these days, it continues to get high viewing figures in the UK too, and is still a big talking point.

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