Recap of Eurovision Song Contest 2016

Well, that was interesting.

We think that as well as this year’s wildly entertaining Eurovision Song Contest went, the result may present EBU with more than a few headaches.

First, the EBU can no longer pretend that the Song Contest is apolitical. Its ham-fisted attempt to institute a restrictive flag policy backfired, and they ultimately scaled it back. Armenia and Azerbaijan’s strained relations were again on display in the first Eurovision Semifinal after the recent military actions over Nagorno-Karabakh. And Sweden as the host country made political points throughout the two Semifinals and the Final, most poignantly with The Gray People interval act.

Oh, and then there was this year’s winner. “1944” is a good song to be sure, and Jamala presented it with rich emotion. But it is the weight of the back story that propels it. While, yes, on the surface, this song is about Jamala’s grandmother during World War II, the parallels to the current conflict over Crimea are not at all subtle.

This year’s results, too, made it abundantly clear that the EBU is still struggling to find the right balance between jury and public vote in determining the outcome. Lest we forget, the jury vote was introduced in an effort to offset neighborly or political voting. The new Melodifestivalen-style voting presentation certainly made things more exciting at the end, but it also exposes that the national juries wield too much power. Even though the rules were changed this year to give more weight to the public vote, this is the second year in a row where the winner of the public vote finished third because of the juries. When the juries have such power to nullify their selections, it’s hard to sound credible when telling the people of Europe how much their votes count. Clearly, there is more work to be done.

All of which brings us to Russia. They won the televote but only placed fifth among the juries. Moreover, they lost to a song about Crimea. We can’t imagine that either of these things will sit well there. To be honest, we could see Russia sitting out next year’s Song Contest. (As has apparently already been suggested.) But beyond withdrawing in protest, the big question for Russia is this: Do they really want to send one of their performers into hostile territory? Not just a hostile crowd that could boo them, but a whole country that is quite hostile towards them. Then again, Russia has shown that they have chrome-plated balls and a complete disregard for what anyone says about them, so perhaps they’ll stick it out. Maybe they will be able to pick someone with broad appeal in Ukraine. You know, like Sergey Lazarev.

Given all of that, the EBU must be thanking their lucky stars that Australia didn’t win. We’ve never complained about Australia’s participation, but we also think that an Australia win would have made for an uncomfortable year of preparation. We wonder if the creation of an Asia-Pacific Song Contest marks the end of Australia’s participation. Then next year, the United States can take their place! (Just kidding)

You may have noticed that we haven’t discussed our predictions yet. Let’s get this over with:

Jen:

  1. Russia
  2. Australia
  3. Ukraine
  4. Latvia
  5. Armenia
  6. Austria
  7. Sweden
  8. Bulgaria
  9. Netherlands
  10. Georgia

Last place: Germany

Chris:

  1. Russia
  2. Ukraine
  3. Australia
  4. Sweden
  5. Bulgaria
  6. Latvia
  7. Armenia
  8. Netherlands
  9. Serbia
  10. Georgia

Last place: Spain

Europe:

  1. Ukraine
  2. Australia
  3. Russia
  4. Bulgaria
  5. Sweden
  6. France
  7. Armenia
  8. Poland
  9. Lithuania
  10. Belgium

Last place: Germany

We each got 6 of 10. We wildly overvalued Latvia and Georgia, and Chris overvalued Serbia as well. Netherlands finished 11, so we weren’t too far off on that pick. Jen would have nailed that Austria pick if it weren’t for those meddling juries, who placed it 24th.

Poland, too, should feel hard done by this year’s result. “Color of Your Life” finished 3rd with the public but was decimated by the jury vote, where they placed 25th. The same thing happened to them in 2014 when juries spiked “My Słowianie.” It seems that Poland are giving the people of Europe what they want, but the juries won’t let the public have it.

It was a disappointing night for most the Big Five: Jen was spot on about Germany, which finished in last place for the second year in a row. Spain and the United Kingdom finished in the bottom five as well, which is a bit gutting since the U.K. was actually pretty good this year. Even Italy, which is usually a top 10 finisher, landed on the right side of the leaderboard. The only good news was for France, which was seeing commercial success prior to the contest and got its first top 10 finish since 2009.

We were thrilled that Bulgaria finished 4th. Maybe a better draw and a better staging would have propelled them even further, but why complain about the best result in the country’s Eurovision history?

And how about that 9th place finish for Donny Montell? Again: whenever we doubt our faith in Donny, he pulls out a miracle. He truly is the patron saint of the Eurovision Lemurs.

The Sweden-hosted show seemed a good entry point for the first American telecast, as it offered humor, good hosts, and high production value. Sweden is really good at this. Away from home, Jen caught the show at a bar in Austin (thanks Russian House!). The Justin Timberlake performance was blacked out this side of the Atlantic, but folks in the crowd were moved by the Gray People number that was broadcast instead. Unfortunately, there were issues with the Logo.tv web feed.

As for Logo’s first attempt at presenting Eurovision to the United States, it went okay. Instead of proper commentary, what we got was Americans React to Eurovision. Michelle Collins and Carson Kressley were too chatty at the start of the show, obsessing over fashion choices at the expense of explaining what we were seeing. Also, they both messed up their facts here and there. (For example, Donny Montell competed in Azerbaijan, not for Azerbaijan. And, as a note for next time, never suggest that someone from Azerbaijan looks like a Kardashian.) Instead of muttering about not knowing what was going on, Carson could have asked thoughtful questions that would have prompted Michelle to offer context or background, as she is more than capable of doing. That said, they both got off some choice quips and were particularly fun during the voting presentation. An acceptable freshman effort, but there’s plenty of room for improvement.

4 thoughts on “Recap of Eurovision Song Contest 2016

  1. Hi Jen and Chris,

    Excellent piece as always, I always check your website during Eurovision, I love it. Totally agree with your analysis of the new voting system, except for one thing. You write:

    “Poland, too, should feel hard done by this year’s result. “Color of Your Life” finished 3rd with the public but was decimated by the jury vote, where they placed 25th. The same thing happened to them in 2014 when juries spiked “My Słowianie.” It seems that Poland are giving the people of Europe what they want, but the juries won’t let the public have it.”

    Poland is not giving the people of Europe what they want at all, and the jury votes reflect that. I also thing they should not feel robbed, but lucky because of the voting system change. The huge televote success from Poland comes from the very large Polish migrant communities that are spread all over Europe, especially Western Europe and Scandinavia. As you can see in the detailed results practically every country in those two regions have given their televote 10s and 12s to Poland, thus making Poland leap halfway accross the score board. The same used to happen with Turkey (although not visable at the time because voting details where not disclosed yet), and still does, to a lesser extend, with Romania. (Go back and watch Romanias televote results from Spain and Italy over the past years). The jury vote was introduced to lessen the impact for this advantage over other countries, but this years rules change, partially brings that impact back, although still not as much as with televoting alone. I am suspecting Turkey, that withdrew out of disagreement with the jury system, to reenter the contest somewhere in the coming years now that diaspora televoting will automatically seal them a spot in the top 10 again.

  2. Lisa has hit the nail on the head. Poland in the last 3 finals has done way better in the televote than the juries precisely because of their huge diaspora. Add Lithuania to that too. My county – again – had Lithuania and Poland at the top of its televote but these songs are nowhere on the UK iTunes charts, always the mark of a diaspora driven ‘success’. These migrants will vote like crazy 20 times for their ‘old country’ but they never bother to buy these songs. The new system is a real step back to ten years ago; it won’t last for long.

  3. You’ve probably seen them by now, but when I laid eyes on the results of the public vote it was abundantly clear that something needs to have power over it. It’s ridiculous really, just last night I was thinking “Well, it wouldn’t be all that bad if they’d just switch back to public vote only.” And then I downloaded the full results, looked at the televote points and wept. All three of the major voting blocks (Nordic, ex-Yugoslav and ex-Soviet) reared their big ugly heads, as well as some smaller instances of highly predictable voting. I’m kind of glad we had the jury votes to offset it, but I definitely agree with what you said. This voting system isn’t the perfect solution and I honestly haven’t a clue what is or whether it even exists at all. Going of on a bit of a semi-related tangent, but I feel like Eurovision is in a really weird place where it’s not taken seriously at all (the general opinion of it as cheap kitchy fun, the “will this do?” attitude of many countries when it comes to song selection) and being taken WAY too seriously (furor over song A winning and song B not, boycotts over nation A winning), both at the same time. Maybe that tug of war is part of why it’s so hard to find a voting system that works. Or maybe not. Either way, I shared my non-elicited opinion.

    Let me just conclude with: love the blog, love your writing style, keep up the awesome work. Best wishes from Serbia.

  4. Why do you say the changes to the voting system this year were made in an effort to give more weight to the televote? The changes don’t in fact have that effect, do they?

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