Hello Dear Readers!
As promised, the first of four posts in the series “Eurovision: More than just…”
The fallout from Ukraine’s victory last May is still resounding, particularly as the host broadcaster, The Public Broadcasting Company of Ukraine (UA:PBC) is struggling to complete preparations in a timely manner. The winning entry in Stockholm was 1944 performed by Jamala, who wrote the song based on the experiences of her great-grandmother who had to go through the forced migration of the Crimean Tatars by the USSR, even incorporating words from a Tatar folk song about the event as the chorus. Clearly, while this song is about a historical injustice, there are clear parallels to the 2014 invasion of Crimea by Russia. Despite Russia’s protest about the song being potentially political (which violates ESC rules), the argument made by NTU (UA:PBC’s former name) was that it was a song about history, not current politics. This was enough to allow the song to compete. There is also a history of other countries using Eurovision to send thinly veiled political messages, such as Armenia’s 2010 and 2015 entries that marked the 95th and 100th anniversaries of the Armenian genocide (and event that Turkey still denies). Many countries also send very blatant political songs about peace (Hungary 2015 is the first I think of) or saving the environment (Ukraine 2010 and Armenia 2013 both come to mind). And being political is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, a role of music within our society is to express the narratives that we actually live with day to day. And for smaller countries in particular, Eurovision can be the rare opportunity to express themselves in a wide-scale venue (hence, why microstates like San Marino continue to compete). The guys at Overthinking It did a good job of discussing this.
But, we’re not here to discuss the merits of politics at Eurovision, but the ways in which the Contest transcends them. I am going to focus predominantly on the voting and coordination of the event as opposed to the music. Music is art and can take any direction it pleases. The more important aspect is how the EBU enforces its rules against politics and actions it supposedly takes to convey a political message.
So often, people dismiss the results as being orchestrated by the EBU to favor Western countries or “friendly” Eastern nations. This is despite the fact that less liberal nations, such as Serbia, Azerbaijan, and Russia have all won and hosted the Contest over the past ten years. In 2016, countless fans put forward conspiracy theories that Western nations’ juries purposefully stiffed Russia to avoid a return to the nation in 2017 as they knew that it would win the televote. This is despite the fact that Russia still finished in the top five among the jury scores. And despite the fact that Poland, which finished third in the televote, garnered a mere 7 points from the juries. Poland is a West-friendly Slavic nation, it’s even in the EU, why wouldn’t the juries swing their support behind it if they truly wanted to sink Russia? Or why not swing that support behind one of their own, such as Germany or Spain? The answer, of course, is that juries remain independent from the EBU’s direct influence. There is no statistical evidence to support any concerted effort between juries.
From the beginning of the Contest there has been disputes over the allegedly political nature of votes. I have said it before (and I’ll say it again), there’s a difference between political votes and diaspora votes. Political votes implies a televote is actively moving in a direction to promote (or stop) a country for political reasons. It requires a conscious, concerted effort to do so. This is the reason why we don’t see votes between Armenia and Azerbaijan (though, Armenia gave Azerbaijan one point back in 2009). We don’t see this complete refusal to exchange points between any other countries, including between Russia and either Ukraine or Georgia, both of whom gave televoting points to the nation with whom they are at war.
The splitting of Yugoslavia was particularly bitter and there are very deep divides between the various former Yugoslav nations, particularly between Bosnia & Herzegovina and Serbia as well as between Slovenia and all of them. Yet, these countries routinely swap votes among themselves. Why? This is the effect of unconscious cultural bias — diaspora voting. Humans tend to like the familiar. While, politically, the countries that formerly comprised Yugoslavia may hate on another, they have strong cultural connections, they have overlapping music industries, and mostly mutually intelligible languages. It makes sense that they would naturally be attracted to the entries from the others. This is also why the Nordic nations tend to swap points, why Greece and Cyprus always swap points, and (to lesser extent) between the Netherlands-Belgium-France.
This may seem like a small difference but it’s important. There is a big difference between ascribing something to conscious effort and instinct/preference. Does this disadvantage smaller nations? Most definitely, and that’s why the EBU instituted things like the allocation pots and brought back the juries. The truth is, even if country names were removed from entries entirely, the diaspora effect would continue. It’s culture, it’s human nature, it’s comfortable — it’s not politics.
I would be remiss if I did not address the controversy around Russia and 2017. For those who need the step-by-step layout of events:
Russia internally selected Julia Sachenko to represent them with the song “Flame is Burning” mere days before the submission deadline.
Ukraine announced that they were launching an investigation into Sachenko, as they had suspicion to believe that she illegally entered the country to perform in Crimea without passing through a Ukrainian checkpoint back in 2015.
Sachenko confirms that she did, in fact, perform in Crimea in 2015.
Ukraine officials announced in mid-March (with fewer than eight weeks to go before Eurovision) that Sachenko had indeed entered the country illegally and that she was prohibited from returning for five years – no exception.
The EBU expresses dismay over this decision. Initially, they offer to find a way to allow Sachenko to perform in Moscow and have it telecasted in the arena. Both Russia and Ukraine scoff at this. Russia, because the rules state performances must be live in the arena AND that telecasting denies them full participation benefits. Ukraine, because showing Sachenko on Ukrainian television would violate the law and circumvent the punishment of banning her entry.
The EBU reaffirms that Ukrainian law must be respected and that it will work with the host nation to find a solution.
One of the highest ranking administrators at the EBU issued an ultimatum to Ukraine: provide an exception for Sachenko or risk being banned from Eurovision events (ESC, JESC, Eurovision Young Musicians, and all its entertainment content one imagines) for several years (a punishment that was doled out to Lebanon after it said that it would not broadcast the Israeli entry in 2005, forcing it to remove itself from the Contest – where it was set to debut – and drop any expectation of receiving a refund of its participation fee as well as received a five year ban from Eurovision competitions).
Russia is offered the solution of replacing the artist of the song (which is the most sensible solution and consistent with past situations of similar natures, in my opinion).
Again, Russia scoffs at this solution while Ukraine refuses to budge.
Russia ultimately decides to withdraw and refuses to broadcast EC 2017.
This just goes to show you that, try as they might, the EBU cannot prevent politics from creeping into the Contest. Of course, this all could have been avoided if they had made Jamala change the lyrics of 1944 last year. Or if Russia decided to be the bigger man and choose an artist that did not break the law.
So, is this whole post moot? Doesn’t this just prove that my arguments against the political nature of Eurovision are wrong? No. One example, even one as big as this, does not unravel my argument. Nor does it prove the Contest as a whole is political. In fact, it can be said that the EBU was trying its best to mitigate a political event to avoid politics entering the Contest.
Hello Dear Readers!
It has been about a month and a half since the Grand Final in Stockholm, yet, I have still been Eurovisioning every day since as best I can – I’ve become quite active on Twitter and Instagram (both @escobsession). Typically, I like to watch the full Contest a time or two more before making this wrap up. I particularly like to rewatch the Final. Unfortunately, both the official Eurovision website and the official YouTube still have this year’s Contest blocked in the US (and, as I am told, Canada). Eventually, I was able to find a decent, fan uploaded version of the Contest on YouTube, but I shouldn’t have to go through these lengths. The beauty of the Contest in the modern era is that it stretches globally. Yes, the US had its first ever live broadcast of ESC this year (on the cable network Logo, which is dedicated to broadcasting LGBTQ+ themed content, my thoughts on this in a later post this summer), why would the EBU not want to build upon this by continuing to allow access to the Contest to fans in North America beyond May? Logo does not have the Contest streaming online. This needs to be rectified. With all the fuss being made over Russia losing, people have all but ignored this issue — and the EBU is shooting itself in the foot in the very markets that into which it is trying to expand.
With that said, let’s recap some of my thoughts from this year’s Contest!
I already hit the historical markers in my initial post after the Final. So these are just some of my thoughts and opinions.
I was incredibly skeptical about the new voting system. However, I actually really like it (for the most part)! Yes, Ukraine won neither the juries nor the televote, but it did come second with both a feat that neither Australia nor Russia matched (Australia was fourth in the televote, Russia was sixth with the juries). Furthermore, it made the voting sequence that much more exciting. It went from a clear Australian victory to a nailbiter of a finish! Particularly in the arena where we could barely see the screens and the scores. We had no idea who won until Ukraine was announced as the winner. And, the most exciting move of the night, Poland’s jump from last to eighth!
Truly, the best song won. Russia had an amazing stage show and Australia had a powerful performance, but neither You Are the Only One nor Sound of Silence matched 1944 in originality of composition nor in lyrical strength. As such, Ukraine emerged victorious.
Also, it’s nice that the winning song was not entirely in English. While it mostly was, it’s still nice to know that non-English can still do well. This was further reinforced by the success of France and Austria.
The show’s production was great, but, once again, the Swede’s gave us an overly crowded show. Love Love Peace Peace, the highlight of the infinite interval acts for many, would have been great as during the vote entertainment. The mockmentary Nerd Nation should have been a two-parter just for the semi-finals; if you didn’t watch the first two parts, you would have been lost for the conclusion. I also would have brought the Eurovision by Numbers to the Final, since so many people were watching the Contest for the first time across the world. Lastly, I would have moved Måns to the opening act (scrap the parade of nations, or, at least, the fashion show element that made it drag out forever) and let Justin Timberlake stand alone as the Interval Act as the votes were being verified.
Lastly, while I agree with the winner, I am overall surprised and disappointed in most of the results otherwise. The Czech Republic, the United Kingdom, Spain, and Germany all deserved much better placings than they got. Likewise, Lithuania, Sweden, and Malta all overperformed and finished higher than they should have.
So, now that you know my general reactions, let’s move on to the Annual Eurovision Obsession Awards!
For new readers, I hand out awards every year to noteworthy entries and their performers. A few things to keep in mind 1) this is my personal opinion, 2) I look at all the entries, not just the finalists, 3) this is all in good fun and sparks from my love of the Contest. One more note — all photos that appear are mine – I took those!
Best Lyrics Award
“I thought that it was supposed to hurt me
I thought that it was love,
I put my hands up but I won’t surrender
Don’t need what doesn’t serve me anymore
I lick my wounds
So that I can keep on fighting”
Throughout Goodbye (Shelter) we see a singer transform from abused partner to strong woman as she realizes that she deserves more than what she is getting from her relationship. This transition is beautifully mirrored in the composition as well as the performance.
“When strangers are coming
They come to your house
They kill you all and say
We’re not guilty, not guilty
Where is your mind? Humanity cries
You think you are gods but everyone dies
Don’t swallow my soul
I have talked about this song many times on this blog, so I will keep it brief: powerful song with lyrics that highlight the parallels between the past and the present.
Honorable Mention: Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Germany
The “Huh?” Award
Given to the country the most questionable, lazy, or just plain nonsensical lyrics.
“Just touch who you wanna, kiss who you gotta
Fight like we’re winners, love like beginners
Dance like you mean it, sing like you feel it
Everything’s better standing out in the sun”
Aside from advocating sexual assault (you should NEVER touch or kiss whoever you want without consent), the lyrics are otherwise a trite mess of cliché optimism and hollow saying.
“The sky is tumbling
It’s coming down, coming down
The wildest fire
Is burning out, out
And when our fall torn us to pieces
All of our love turned into dust
We’re the brightest falling stars”
Essentially, the main argument of the song is that the relationship is ending – so why not go out in a blaze of glory? This is not a healthy relationship goal. If things are over, just let them end. That is that.
Honorable Mention: Sweden, The Netherlands, Montenegro
Best Dressed Award
She almost looks like an award statue, doesn’t she? Just an utterly gorgeous dress that fits her well. Too bad the majority of the act was against a gold background so you barely saw it (I took this photo during some of the brief blue moments).
At first, I wasn’t sure what to make of Dami Im’s dress. But it’s elegant and distinctive, much like Dami Im herself.
Honorable Mention: Estonia, The Netherlands, Slovenia, Israel
Most in Need of a Costume Change Award
So many awful outfits this year, sadly. This was probably the hardest category to choose a winner for.
Sparkly, brown overalls. Need I say more? Italy got my vote for the Barbara Dex Award this year.
So…much…gold… Honestly, what the heck are they wearing? In the music video, Samra has on this really nice black gown. This glittery, gold catsuit is just…awful. And, to make matters worse, it doesn’t even fit the tone or message of the song.
Honorable Mention: Croatia (Barbara Dex Award winner), Spain, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Hungary, Belarus, Lithuania
Best Staging Award
Come on, was there ever any doubt? This staging was incredible! The first time we saw him walk on the screen during the First Semi-Final dress rehearsal, we all gasped. And each time, it was equally as amazing. The staging was just stunning; so much so, it inspired hoards of angry fans to complain when Russia lost.
Talk about doing a lot with a little! Armenia had a solo performer by herself on stage and created a dazzling show that seamlessly incorporated pyrotechnics, slick camera angles, quick-cutting shots, and nifty image overlaying. Who needs an LED screen when you can work magic with cameras?
Honorable Mention: Belarus, Georgia, Belgium, Spain, The Netherlands, Iceland, Ukraine
Worst Staging Award
Yeah, you have a sexy, Bond-esque song with a very attractive, young singer. This should have been a great stage show. Instead, we are left with this, seemingly casino-inspired act that makes Juri seem more creepy than alluring. Also, he was lost in the staging; he was this little man on this giant red stage.
I am starting to feel bad with just how critical I am being with Moldova’s entry this year. Unfortunately, they took a poor song with a poor message, gave it to a singer who was a poor fit for the composition, and staged it with few visuals and a random astronaut. This is a dance number – why were there no dancers? This is a song literally called “Falling Stars” why were there no spark curtains or other pyrotechnics? Just…so many things done wrong this year, Moldova.
Honorable Mention: Slovenia, San Marino, France, Croatia
“This is DC Calling” Award: Given to the most American sounding entry. This in NO way counts as an endorsement for the US entering the Contest, an idea which I staunchly oppose.
It feels like a hipster anthem, doesn’t it? From Frans’ look to his sarcastic tone – the song is just one big “screw you” to whoever he’s singing to. This wins the DC Calling Award because so many young people today have this kind of attitude and I could totally imagine a random American high school student saying these words.
Runner-Up: Czech Republic
It is my understanding that, to most Europeans, Americans are a religious bunch who often work their faith into everything, including our pop music. I Stand is vague in who the target of the song is, but, at least to me, it is a song about the power of faith – ironic, since the Czech Republic has the highest percentage of atheists of any nation.
Honorable Mention: Azerbaijan, Denmark, Slovenia, Israel
Pond Leaper Award
While I think each song would find a niche here in the USA, I think this song would be the most popular
This is a passionate, yet innocent, love song that is just the perfect tempo for a first dance. If No Degree of Separation made its way across the Atlantic, it would quickly ascend the list of most popular wedding songs, without a doubt.
Runner-Up: The Netherlands
Douwe Bob has perfectly captured the contemporary, country sound that is ever-so-popular in the US. I think that Slow Down would be considered a welcome change to the “stadium country” that has swept the genre over the past decade. This would quickly climb the country, and pop, charts.
Honorable Mention: Australia, Finland, United Kingdom, Bulgaria
The “Spirit of ABBA” Award
Given to the most stereotypical and/or traditional ESC entry
A happy dance tune? Check! Lyrics that make you feel good about yourself and the world? Check! Some cool choreography that you can try to mimic in your living room? Check! Belgium checked all the right boxes to carry the spirit of schlager that typifies the Eurovision genre.
Runner-Up: United Kingdom
A fun song about the uplifting power of friendship performed by a duo that looks like they are genuinely friends off-stage. A fun song that got the audience, both at home and in the arena, involved. That’s definitely bringing the continent, and world, together!
Honorable Mention: Finland, Spain, Croatia
The “Shiri Maimon Travesty of the Year” Award
In 2005, a true work of art was entered into the ESC; Israel was represented by Shiri Maimon with the song Hasheket Shinish’Ar. Not only did this song not win, but the winning song that year was not even worthy to be performed on the same stage as the Israeli entry. For me, that was the biggest travesty in Eurovision history. Each year, I hand out this award to the biggest disappointment of the Contest.
Winner: United Kingdom getting 24th place
After years of dubious entries, songs that I liked, but left most of Europe cold, the BBC finally put real effort in finding the British entry. They used a public vote, got artists and songwriters that captured modern British pop music, and selected a song that was catchy, fun, contemporary, and even had two attractive boys – just for good measure. Joe & Jake (and their backing singers) gave outstanding performances for both the juries (Grand Final dress rehearsal) and the televoting public, yet still somehow finished third last. I am still miffed as to how this happened. I know Electro Velvet was devastated by their finish last year, I can only hope that Joe & Jake continue to perform together and eventually return and finish higher up the scoreboard.
Runner-Up: Romania’s Disqualification
This is less about Romania not being able to participate (TVR should have to pay their debts, they have owned up to this fact), but the fashion in which it was done. These debts are years old. The EBU could have penalized them in December (when they paid their entry fee and the list of participants was finalized), in March (when the heads of delegations met and entries had to be formally submitted), or in May (after the Contest). But no, the EBU instead opted to discipline Romania in the most humiliating way possible. Waiting for the deadzone that is April to ensure maximum exposure of the event so that it could publicly shame Romania and TVR.
Honorable Mention: Iceland failing to qualify, Czech Republic getting 25th, Lithuania getting 9th
Well, another Contest is in the books. It was utterly amazing to be there in person, though, Standing Right sucked. And I am still bitter about how much I had to pay and how long I queued to have such a subpar – particularly since it was a great financial burden. Speaking of which, going to Eurovision this year contributed to what has been my worst time financially – though, it brought something to light for me.
By my age (28), my parents were married with two kids, my eldest sibling had been married for several years, my next oldest sibling had just gotten married, and my last sibling (also older) had just gotten engaged. And then there’s me. Single. No kids. Just my education and Eurovision. Being there in Sweden, seeing the “Eurovision by Numbers” video, the “What’s Eurovision?” opening act from the second semi-final, the “Peace Peace Love Love” interval act, and having Ukraine win – a song which I loved from the start and truly thought was the best entry – it all reminded me just how much I love Eurovision and the role it plays in uniting all kinds of people.
I always say that the combination pop music, geography, and competition is what drew me to Eurovision – and that’s true – but what keeps me there is the genuine community that the Contest breeds. When else can one be connected to over 200 million other people worldwide? When else can one lose themselves in music that transcends boundaries, that is as much visual as it is auditory, and allows you to participate in the realized dreams of 42+ performing artists?
Is Eurovision perfect? No! Of course not (and I’ll be going into its various shortcomings throughout the summer in a series of blog posts), but it is awesome. Eurovision is so much more than a song contest, it’s a community – it’s the people, the culture, the forums, the traditions, the opportunities, the dreams — the connections that it makes possible between all of these things and more. Eurovision connects countries, people groups, generations, allies & enemies, strangers & friends. Attending ESC, watching it, engaging with it – it allows me to be a part of that intricate web human connection.
I don’t currently have a family of my own, but I hope to some day. And when I do, I know that Eurovision will be there – allowing me to share an integral part of myself with those I love and for them to join in my passion. Indeed, it will help us all “come together.”
Hello Dear Readers!
Wow wow wow! What a show! My favorite song won, the voting was incredibly exciting, and each entry was performed amazingly. I wanted to put out a reaction post for you all and then my normal recap post with my Annual EO Awards towards the end of this week or next (depending on how quickly I can process my photos without my computer).
So, we have a top ten, of which, I predicted only 6. Sad, as I was batting with 80% accuracy with the semi-finals, but you can’t with them all.
Some historic markers of note from this year’s Grand Final:
-For only the second time, a country that was neither an automatic qualifier nor won its semi-final, was victorious. Just like in 2004, Ukraine was second in the semi-final but won the Contest.
-With 534 points and 17 sets of twelve, Ukraine has set the bar for this new voting system. We’ll see how long this record stands. FICongratulations to Norway 2009, that will eternally be enshrined as the highest point total under the previous system (1975-2015). And Sweden 2012, which will always hold the record for most sets of 12 points.
-This year, we also saw the best finish for a host nation since 2012.
-Russia extends its Top Ten streak to five, Ukraine and Sweden take theirs to three, and Australia and Belgium start streaks with their second consecutive Top Ten finishes. Norway’s streak ended (though, that happened with its elimination on Thursday night).
Individual Country Historical Markers:
-Bulgaria reached its highest place ever, besting their 2007 finish by one spot. Australia also reached its highest position, beating last year’s finish by three places.
-Poland and Lithuania get their second best finishes ever. Armenia tied its second best finish (after getting seventh in 2010).
-France was the top Big Five country for the first time since 2001.
-Croatia, Georgia, and Serbia all had their lowest finish ever in a Final.
Some of my reactions to the Grand Final:
-I was rather skeptical of the new voting system. While it needs greater transparency, it definitely made things quite exciting! This had to have gone better than they could’ve imagined.
-I’m shocked Ukraine won, but incredibly happy that it did! It was my favorite song this year and, I think, one of the most significant, meaningful, and artistic entries in the Contest ever.
-I’m equally shocked by the success of Lithuania and Israel, as I find both songs to be generic and underwhelming. On the flip side, I’m shock and disappointed by Spain, UK, and Czech Republic’s finish. They all had fantastic entries that deserved more points. In the case of Spain and UK, great running order positions and very memorable, catchy pop tunes. Spain had a legitimate chance of winning after amazing performances Friday and Saturday; I just don’t get it.
-Finally, while I loved each aspect of the voting entertainment and the interval acts, there was just too much! “Love Love Peace Peace” could’ve been the voting entertainment after the interview with Justin Timberlake. JT’s performance should’ve been moved to the Interval Act alongside Måns. The “Nerd Documentary” should have just been for the semi-finals. This year’s show could’ve easily stayed under three and half hours (if not three) if SVT didn’t go overboard with everything.
Congratulations to Ukraine!! 1944 earned its victory through telling a meaningful story through a captivating composition and an emotional performance. I look forward to its impact on next year’s Contest and the show that Ukraine will give us!
Check back soon for my end of Eurovision wrap-up!