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Final Post-Mortem: The View from San Francisco

by | May 18, 2016 | 2016 Home Blog, Uncategorized

Final Post-Mortem: The View from San Francisco

by | May 18, 2016 | 2016 Home Blog, Uncategorized

Well, well, Sweden. What can I say. I know a lot of fans complain about your attempt to take over the Eurovision world, but I have to hand it to you – you are bloody good at it. That was some show.

I needed a few days to work out everything in my head. I have to admit that when I woke up on Saturday morning, a few hours before the final (yes, time difference. Eurovision at noon!), I was not feeling at all excited. I had spent much of the last weeks arguing why Russia wouldn’t win this year’s contest, and from the moment Australia took the stage on Thursday I instead found myself arguing why Australia wouldn’t win it. It occurred to me that I would have to be right about one of the two, but was also convinced that only meant the other one would win, and I just didn’t feel it. Even though I never really disliked either song, and always liked the artists, it didn’t feel to me like something I’d be able to spend 9 hours of broadcast truly rooting for.

I tried to tell myself that I was happy at least focusing on willing my favorites to do well enough – but not getting personally invested in the winner race, where’s the fun in that? In conversations with friends I was lectured for speaking like they had already won, and my excuse was that I was getting mentally prepared but always willing to be surprised. Elsewhere, though, I expressed my secret desire: I wanted to have a mathematical winner. I had my reasons to believe that Russia wouldn’t do that well with the juries, and that Australia wouldn’t do that well in televote, and was keeping a little tiny hope alive that something could take advantage of that disparity and win. But I knew it was just wishful thinking.

So yeah, as you can imagine, I had a few interesting minutes during the results.

Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start
The opening artist parade made sure to introduce us to the night’s theme in this installment of My Big Fat Swedish Wedding: Everything is Swedish! I’m going to make no comment on the visual aspect of this – mostly because I don’t know how – but I’d be lying if I said I don’t own every single track that was played during this best-of-Swedish DJs segment.

Oooh, fashion! | Anna Velikova (EBU)

Oooh, fashion! | Anna Velikova (EBU)

I’m still not a big fan of the stage, but it was utilized a lot better for the opening shows and the intervals than it was for many of the songs, and while I normally couldn’t care less for any part of the final that doesn’t include the actual songs or the voting sequence, I found myself really enjoying those parts, too. Writing a Eurovision script is a tough ask: It needs to address a wide audience whose grasp of the English language differs massively. So very often the scripts feel forced and uncomfortable, and it takes highly skilled hosts to convincingly sell even the weaker lines. But this time around, they got the hosts right, and they got the lines right. It was the right amount of humor and it had the ability to poke fun at Eurovision without really ridiculing it. The hosts and the writing of the show were one of the reasons the four-hour show never felt quite that long.

Once we were done with the necessary introductions and explanations (no, you can’t vote just yet), it was time for the songs.

The bottom 5 yet again played host to the Big Five Convention, with three (out of the four usual suspects) – the United Kingdom, Spain and Germany – not managing to go higher than 22nd. Germany‘s last place couldn’t have come as a surprise if you were paying attention, and hopefully – as much as I adore the song and Jamie-Lee – this will prompt the Germans to go back to the drawing board. The United Kingdom was another one that was expected to finish low, but their rehearsals made many of us – myself very much included – hope it could be noticed enough to finish higher than that. My main fear was that a low placing when they’ve done so many things right would lead to people drawing the wrong conclusions, again blaming every bloc and European conspiracy instead of realizing that they just need to do better and try harder. Spain can absolutely blame itself, having wasted a strong track and a good performer on an utterly useless staging.

No no never | Andres Putting (EBU)

No no never | Andres Putting (EBU)

Rounding out the bottom five were Croatia‘s Nina, who saw it unnecessary to sing in tune at any point of her performance, because she already did it once and twice was too much to ask for, and the Czech Republic. They did alright with the juries, everything considered, but managed what I thought wasn’t possible this year: a big fat zero in the televote. And this, kids, is what happens when you decide there’s absolutely no need to show your singer. “What do you mean, you need to see her face? Look at how pretty the stage is! What is this emotional connection you are talking about? Look at that gorgeous long shot! It has triangles! And falling flowers!” If any future Eurovision participants are reading this, pay attention now: NEVER have your entry shot like this. NEVER.

The raspy and growling male voices inhabited the next three places in the ranking. Cyprus, with the most accessible, catchy song out of the three, ended up the lowest – and a good few places below where it could have been if they’d bothered with a proper staging. Georgia, with an incredibly niche song but engaging visuals, finished above it, and Freddie with his beautiful face and an odd choice for a top got Hungary the highest spot of the trio. Perhaps what we really needed was Freddie singing “Alter Ego” with Georgia’s staging and camerawork. Maybe next time.

It’s been a year of many fanfaves, but there are four in particular that were popular and ended up outside the top 10. Austria got the best result, finishing in the top half after getting a well-deserved 8th placing in the televote. Sadly, the juries didn’t fall in love with Zoe as much as I did, but she was happy to get the love of the audience. The juries did redeem themselves by placing Serbia 23rd, apparently getting it – the song, the facial expressions, the choice of styling and performance, take your pick – about as much as I did. I was surprised to see Italy finishing relatively low, but her nervousness was obvious and the magic of her voice dissipated, leaving us with a nice song, a silly stage, and a cute girl handing us an apple for some reason. I always thought Latvia could finish at least on the outskirts of the top 10, but in a line-up of 26 songs and coming right before Jamala, perhaps 15th is the best Justs could have hoped for.

Reach Out I'll Be There | Andres Putting (EBU)

Reach Out I’ll Be There | Andres Putting (EBU)

The audience agreed with me that “Slow Down” was pretty boring, but the juries placing Douwe Bob 11th was enough to make Netherlands finish there overall anyway. Thanks for nothing. Israel‘s song was always more of a jury song than a televote one and the gap between 8th and 22nd was no surprise, with 6 of the country’s 11 televote points coming from its voting best buddies Azerbaijan. Speaking of buddies, Hovi’s bestie, Ira, was ranked a staggering 4th by the juries, but Malta was only 21st in the televote. If we learned something from the Russian jurygate, it’s that the juries don’t really bother watching the performances, but the audience evidently does.

Because I'm happy | Thomas Hanses (EBU)

Because I’m happy | Thomas Hanses (EBU)

The 8th wonder of the world, AKA Azerbaijan‘s vocals, managed to dazzle juries and televoters enough for it to finish 17th overall, after finishing all the way up in 12th in the televote. It was also responsible for one of my personal highlights of watching the final – witnessing the facial expressions of my viewing partners, who were seeing (and hearing) it for the first time, as they realized the voice in the verses and the voice in the chorus were definitely not the same.

Ugh. Fine. Lithuania first. I can deal with Lithuania. I think. 10th in televote, but also 12th in the jury vote, so I can’t blame just one of the votes – instead I can blame both!

Poland I haven’t been dealing with quite as well. 3rd in the televote. Third! We’ve had this year of so many wonderful songs and the audience placed Poland above 23 of them! How? Was the European water supply poisoned? Did Polish hackers take over screens all over Europe threatening to play “Color of Your Life” in a neverending loop until they voted for it? What were you thinking, Europe? You too, Australia, you’re not getting off that easily!

My lovely Laura Tesoro managed to bring Belgium into the top 10 with a little help from the juries, who appreciated her equally lovely performance. Iveta from Armenia didn’t do quite as well as I hoped she would, but this performance – my personal visual highlight – actually made it into the top 10 of both votes, finishing in 7th and making sure my entire personal top 3 actually finished inside the top 7. More importantly, it serves as a good example of how to take an extremely difficult song and make people take notice.

May the Fourth be with you | Thomas Hanses (EBU)

May the Fourth be with you | Thomas Hanses (EBU)

And then there was Bulgaria. My wonderful, beloved, super awesome Poli Genova, who transcended her space dress and low-tech sci-fi staging by having a great song and great charisma, and finished fourth, an all-time best for Bulgaria. Seeing them so thrilled with their televote result was one of the happiest moments of the final for me.

Australia. Russia. Sweden. France. So many options, so little time. All finished in the top 6, all were expected to. French supporters might feel a bit let down by finishing 6th, but it is their best result in 15 years and the first time France managed to be top 10 with both the audience and the juries. Sweden did what I expected it to do – a great result, but never threatening the top.

Celebrate good times | Thomas Hanses (EBU)

Celebrate good times | Thomas Hanses (EBU)

Australia and Russia. Russia and Australia. The battle we’d been anticipating. Sergey finally looked slightly more comfortable while climbing his LED screen; it really was about time. Dami still screamed at me for the last minute of “Sound of Silence”, but many people find that kind of thing impressive and who am I to argue? I mostly spent the time of both entries trying to decide which of them I would prefer seeing as my winner, considering the real answer was “neither”. I never actually made a decision, so it was nice of the cosmos to make one for me.

The runner-up takes it all
I wasn’t particularly enthusiastic about hearing Jamala’s “1944” when it was first published prior to the Ukrainian national final. I remembered the hype around Jamala’s previous preselection entry, “Smile”, and that one I could not stand. When I finally heard it, it was nothing like I was expecting. It was the polar opposite of “Smile” in every way: dark, somber, depressing, complex, morbid… and I loved it. The first live performance of it took my feelings about it to a new level, being so enchanted with the intensity of emotions that Jamala put into it. Seeing her throughout rehearsals, dress rehearsals and the competition nights, Jamala’s commitment to that was unwavering. I can’t imagine how much it takes out of a performer to put that much emotion into a performance every single time, and even more impressive is that even after seeing her doing it over and over again, it’s still just as convincing and real.

The Yanks are coming
They promised us Justin Timberlake. They gave us Justin Timberlake. Justin Timberlake was actually pretty great, and fulfilled his role as background music while the food and drink supply was replenished very well.

The real highlight of the interval was a lot more local, though. Petra and Måns took the stage with the ultimate Eurovision winner. Justin who? There’s nothing more attractive than knowing how to make fun of yourself, and this was such an unapologetic take on the craziness that is Eurovision, that I couldn’t help but love the crazy little thing called Eurovision a little more.

Down to the wire
Ever since I was a kid, the voting was my favorite part. Sure, I enjoyed the songs, but it was the voting that I would replay over and over again. But it’s been a while since we had a voting sequence that was really worth that many replays. I have been enjoying watching the qualifier announcements, but it’s not quite the same as actually winning Eurovision.

You might recall that about five years ago, at the beginning of this post, I shared my relative lack of excitement for the Saturday show, anticipating it would be all about Russia and Australia. I had discussed the possibility of a mathematical winner – someone taking advantage of what I saw as the potential voting weaknesses of both entries – but I knew it was wishful thinking. Careful what you wish for? Not today.

We almost had it all | Thomas Hanses (EBU)

We almost had it all | Thomas Hanses (EBU)

I was sure it was Australia’s though. I did like being shown the jury vote and not always being able to guess where the 12 points will go, but with Australia getting such a head start, I didn’t think anyone could catch up. And I really didn’t fully grasp that someone could until the moment Ukraine’s televote score was announced.

Kirkorov was always easy to make fun of, but Sergey kept being a good guy until the end, reacting gracefully even in the moment of realization. Not that I noticed it because I was too busy dying, but I did go back and rewatch it later.

It felt wonderful. Not just because Ukraine was one of my favorites, but because I missed this. I missed not knowing the winner until the last moment. I missed seeing the emotions at the moment of victory being so raw.

A moment like this | Thomas Hanses (EBU)

A moment like this | Thomas Hanses (EBU)

And I loved having Ukraine as a winner, and again, not only because it was one of my favorites. I loved seeing that not only does Eurovision really have room for everything, but anything can win Eurovision when done well. Even songs with lines like “they kill you all” and “everyone dies”. And I was glad to see that my wish from my preview did come true: Emotion is indeed universal.

Which is also why one of my favorite things to rewatch since the final has been the Ukrainian commentators in their booth. I speak no Ukrainian whatsoever, but you don’t need to understand the language as you go through the voting with them until the end of the show.

Let me talk about the elephant in the room for a second. Why not? It’s a very friendly elephant. Yes, Ukraine was second in both votes. And there’s nothing wrong with that. While no system is perfect, the split system has always been designed so that to win, you need to be popular across the board. That means with both juries and televoters, everywhere across Europe. A song that was second with pretty much everyone is clearly a standout and a popular choice, and it won because everyone appreciated it, while its competitors didn’t do enough to convince everyone. It was always possible to win Eurovision without finishing first in either vote, and all the participants involved knew that.

Either way, in a year that had so many great songs, this was the voting the competition deserved. Tense, tight, and fascinating until the very end. And I hope the delegations will learn that variety is good, because for all I loved the songs this year, this is the one thing that could have been a little better.

It will not be easy for future hosting nations to measure up to this year’s edition, but at least now there is a standard for them to try and reach, while still making it their own.

The last word
The past few weeks have been a blast. Truly. We again learned that unless you are a direct qualifier, your spot in the final isn’t certain. We got to see some classic costume changes. We had delegations sabotaging themselves and artists giving it all. We had hologram wolves, and we also had San Marino. We had a little bit of everything, and you definitely had more than a few words from me, so it’s time to sign off for 2016. See you next year. Maybe. Thank you all for keeping up with me, and I wish you love, sex, happy birthday Marlena, an easy time with your Post-Eurovision Depression, and – of course – Love Love Peace Peace.

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