On Saturday, the Grand Final of Eurovision aired around the world, including in both China and the United States for the first time. After twenty-six performances, a Justin Timberlake interlude, and Sweden reminding us that they are perhaps the best Eurovision hosts working today, and that a vote for them this year is a vote for a very entertaining show next year, the votes were tallied, and Ukraine’s political statement against Russia’s annexation of Crimea somehow, impossibly, won.
Considering that Eurovision mostly disallows entrants with political statements, this is a decision not without controversy, especially since it occurred in the context of a brand new voting method–not that the voting itself had changed much, more as how it was presented to the audience.
Winner (2nd place both Jury Poll&Popular Vote): Ukraine: Jamala “1944”
Now, Ukraine’s song “1944” technically was a historical piece inspired by the experience of the Tartars who lived in the peninsula and were rounded up and send to workcamps by Stalin’s regime after they took the area back from the Nazis. But with Russia’s recent reannexing of the area, and the civil war that’s been mostly downplayed since, the context was impossible to ignore.
The performance was also impossible to ignore–it was the most emotionally moving of the evening, and easily one of the second best performances of the evening. Only one stood out better, which came in second: Australia.
First Runner Up (Winner: Jury Poll/4th in Popular Vote): Australia: Dami Im “Sound Of Silence”
This is where that new method of presenting the votes comes in, and why some felt that Ukraine stole the win from Australia.
One of the main reasons Eurovision exists is the idea of the whole of Europe coming together and engaging in this competition, with professional juries of music judges and those at home voting by phone as well to determine the winner. Up until this year, the popular vote and the jury votes were presented as a unit, by country. There is this long elaborate round robin of every nation calling into the venue to present their votes, which, if you can imagine back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, when making long distance phone calls was still hassle and expense, was a huge deal. It was as much the point of the show as the acts–each country calling in and announcing who their point spread went to.
In the last few years, with the internet making such long distance skype calls quick and painless, the reading off of the scores has been diminished–down to the top five vote getters, and last year only the top three. The problem in the last few years has also been a runaway winner. The long round robin that audiences were tuning out of became even more pointless when one country has clearly sealed the win, but the hosts still have another ten countries to get through–and those countries (who can see that the winner has sealed the deal) then has to stand there and say their majority of points goes to….a country who is mired in 37th place. You can see how this was not a tenable solution.
6th place (3rd in Jury Poll): France: Amir “J’ai Cherché”
So this year, with the show needing to impress brand new country’s worth of viewers, they changed thing up. Those calling in only gave the jury’s votes per country. The popular vote was then all dumped into a single monolith and added to each score. The results of this were interesting. For many years it has always been assumed that the juries lean towards favoring neighboring countries. This turned out to be false. There were a few political decisions (Russia got top points from some of it’s more subservient satellite neighbors, for instance.) But in all the juries voted purely based on the best acts, leading to a Top Three of Australia with 320, Ukraine with 211 and France (above) with 148. Russia was fourth with 130 and Sweden fifth with 122.
Taking the popular vote and treating it like a monolith removed all the political impact and neighbor favoring from the equation. Instead now, the jury’s votes were upended in places were the popular vote disagreed. Those sitting at home overwhelmingly voted, not for the best act overall, but the one that technically impressed them the most, followed by the one that emotionally moved them the most. In this case, that meant Russia took the top prize in the popular vote–proving that those sitting at home aren’t the ones caring about Putin’s regime policies.
3rd place (Winner: Popular Vote/4th in Jury Poll): Russia: Sergey Lazarev “You Are The Only One”
But because Russia had not impressed the juries with their over baked act which took everything that gave Sweden the win last year and then dialed it up to 11, the deficit they had going in was too much to overcome, even with a first place int he popular. Meanwhile, Australia, which had done impressively well with the juries did not fare that well with the Europeans at home. They only placed fourth, behind the hilariously terribad (but very eurostyle ballad) entered by Poland.
Poland, for the record, had been mired in second to last place in the jury votes, just ahead of Germany (who came dead last everywhere.) It spoke to how much this new system held the tension that its third place finish in the popular was the only “irrelevant” announcement of the evening, as it only got them to 8th place overall.
8th place (3rd in Popular Vote): Poland: Michał Szpak “Color Of Your Life”
So with Australia not having taken enough of a runway in the juries to override the popular vote, and Russia too low in the juries to make it farther than the Top Three with it, Ukraine split the difference of second place in both to combine points for the win.
Now, Australia may feel robbed, but second place in your first real year in the competition is nothing to sneeze at. (Last year they were a special guest no one took that seriously.) The fact is, if they could have gotten third place in the popular, they would have had enough to win. This is a case of learning the politics of the event–after all, Australia is *not in Europe.* That mattered in the popular vote. And though the BBC made sure to explain several times that if Australia won they would “partner” with another country so “Eurovision” would not find itself being hosted in Oceania, that was not emphasized by the main broadcast. I would not be surprised if next year, Australia comes back with another high-end performance, accompanied by a barrage of pre-show propaganda ensuring everyone is aware that a win for them will not cause the show to be held down under in 2018. They may even go so far as to announce who that partner country is, as a sway to that country’s voters that they could vote for Australia in lieu of voting for themselves.
Meanwhile, Sweden did itself proud as this year’s host country. The self-awareness brought on by America and China watching led to not only the meta-number on “What is Eurovision” in the semis, but “Love Love Peace Peace” a parody number based on all the clichés that win the show on a regular basis. Between that, allowing last year’s winner to sing a new number instead of reprising last year’s win “Heroes” every 20 minutes (and at least letting him change it up when he did), and Justin Timberlake, it was quite possibly the most entertaining interact period between acts and voting results in recent memory.
Speaking of Justin Timberlake! The shadow of America hung heavy over the proceedings this year, as our music business sent one of the best ambassadors they had to convince the production they want to extend the US a special guest invite before the end of the decade. Not only was JT utterly charming and sincere to the other acts, he also blew the roof off the place, impressing those watching on TV to the point that jokes started everywhere that those at home were trying to figure out what number to text to vote for him. (You could see the sea change of anti-“American coming on our show” to “Holy crap He’s Amazing” in the space of two songs.)
It was not lost on me that Timberlake, when asked, said he’d only become aware of Eurovision two years ago. Despite some of us being aware of it for a while (I first learned of it when my dad walked in on me watching American Idol, and exclaimed “Americans have their own version of Eurovision now!”), it seems that Conchita Wurst’s win in 2014 was not just a win for trans acceptance, but raised the profile of it to the point that Americans sat up and took notice of a show that we just discovered has been going since the 1950s and no one bothered to tell us existed. Though this year it aired on the LBGT channel Logo (probably also part of Wurst’s legacy that those who noticed it think it’s “a gay show,) Timberlake’s presence will only raise the profile higher. I wouldn’t be surprised to see it land on Network TV (or at least high-profile cable) the moment Eurovision decides to face the inevitable and accept that since they let Israel and Australia in, there’s no logic reason to keep the US out.
Here are the rest of the finale acts, in the order they placed in the final voting:
4th place: Bulgaria: Poli Genova “If Love Was A Crime”
Europeans like women in reflecting bike wear.
5th place: Sweden: Frans “If I Were Sorry”
They’d have done better letting Måns sing his new single instead.
7th place: Armenia: Iveta Mukuchyan “LoveWave”
Europeans like the old style of Marvel women’s superhero costume.
9th place: Lithuania: Donny Montell “I’ve Been Waiting For This Night”
10th place: Belgium: Laura Tesoro “What’s The Pressure”
As the most Americanized act, she opened the show. It may have kept the viewers across the pond, but it doomed her showing to 10th overall.
11th place: The Netherlands: Douwe Bob “Slow Down”
What Europeans think American country sounds like, so they were also early in the line up.
12th place: Malta: Ira Losco “Walk on Water”
I didn’t realize she was in maternity wear until Graham Norton pointed it out.
13th place: Austria: ZOË “Loin d’ici”
Another place where European and American taste largely diverge.
14th place: Israel: Hovi Star “Made Of Stars”
It’s made of stars and hoops and sparkly gauntlets.
15th place: Latvia: Justs “Heartbeat”
I really liked Latvia, even if the singer gave off a “too cool for you” vibe.
16th place: Italy: Francesca Michielin “No Degree Of Separation”
The UK people thought she was a favorite. They were wrong.
17th place: Azerbaijan: Samra “Miracle”
The only miracle was the hilarity of the costumes.
18th place: Serbia: Sanja Vučić ZAA “Goodbye (Shelter)”
Like the Ukraine, but without the emotional connection.
19th place: Hungary: Freddie “Pioneer”
I’ll take the LED string section and leave Freddie.
20th place: Georgia: Nika Kocharov&Young Georgian Lolitaz “Midnight Gold”
Considering they were doing rock at a pop contest, 20th place is high.
21st place: Cyprus: Minus One “Alter Ego”
The other rock act at a pop show basically tied them.
22nd place: Spain: Barei “SayYay!”
Three of the Big Five find themselves all clustered at the bottom. As usual.
23rd place: Croatia: Nina Kraljić “Lighthouse”
The costume wasn’t enough.
24th place: The UK: Joe & Jake “You’re Not Alone”
The UK were actually almost at a respectable score, until the popular vote kicked them in the teeth.
25th place: Czech Republic: Gabriela Gunčíková “I Stand”
And that’s why they call going second in a singing contest “the death slot.”
Dead Last: Germany: Jamie-Lee “Ghost”
Poor Germany. Maybe next year don’t kick Romania out for being in debt, and there’ll be a 27th place finish to hide behind.