The LED screens, the holograms, feathery dresses, an historical mockumentary, Justin Timberlake’s interval act, and a new tension-filled voting system are what made the 2016 season of the Eurovision Song Contest, one of the most entertaining TV productions that you could ever experience. I had been watching the contest since 2003 and this war, by far, the best Eurovision show.
As you already know the rather-dark ethnic pop song “1944” by Ukraine’s Jamala won the competition. Without a catchy hook and a chorus in Crimean Tatar (the first time this language is heard on the Eurovision stage), “1944” is the least Eurovision-friendly songto have won the competition since Finland’s masked monsters won with “Hard Rock Hallelujah” ten years ago.
Jamala’s on-stage performance was pure artistry: She enters the stage with a frightening look and after she delivers the chorus a tree, displaying the colours of the Ukrainian flag, is formed from the floor to the background screen. Afterwards; Jamala appears to be in a prison cell made of lights.
Ukraine’s victory was not only shocking but also rather bittersweet as the country was the runner-up in both the jury and the public vote. Regardless, the combined system shows a balanced winner can be produced in a year without a clear favourite or runaway winner.
In 2011 after it was revealed that Azerbaijan had lost the jury voting, eurofans all over the Internet started to discuss the importance of the jury to balance the quality of the songs. However last year when Sweden lost the televoting, the discussion was to get rid off the jury. This year the runner-up of both systems won the contest: Australia won the jury votes with a 109-point lead over Ukraine. In the televoting, Russia led with a tighter 38-point margin.
But a victory from either country would not had been less controversial. Australia’s win would had looked bizzare; “a country far away from the Mediterranean, the Caucasus, or the Atlantic North winning an European contest”. On the other hand, Russia winning would had meant a withdrawal from the Ukraine. The Russian broadcaster is yet to make any statement regarding its participation next year.
A revamped voting system
My first time with Eurovision was in 2003 so I happened to experience one of the most exciting voting sequences ever, when Belgium was knocked out by Turkey after the last country, Slovenia, gave them ten points. The following years were somewhat exciting but since 2012, when there’s already a runaway winner halfway through the voting, watching the entire sequence seemed pointless. Gladly, the Eurovision producers took this to a whole new level.
Australia took an early lead and when it took a 93-point lead after the results of —ironically— the Ukrainian jury, it was clear they had won the jury voting. Australia’s leading margin so wide (109 points; the largest since Loreen’s 113 lead over Russia in 2012) that it’d became apparent Dami Inn was taking the prize.
The re-introduction of the jurors in 2009 clearly diminished the impact of bloc and diaspora voting. However presenting the jury results even erases the notion of biased voting. This year there were points given everywhere: Italy received a set of twelve from Norway, Malta from Montenegro, and Armenia finally reciprocated with France after the many douze points they received during the televoting-only era (2003-2008).
But it was the televoting part that made this year’s contest the best. It turned the results into an elimination game. When the points from the bottom 16 countries were announced, the scoreboard started moving around like never before. Malta, who was fourth, was rapidly “eliminated” after receiving only 16 points; for a brief moment The Netherlands entered the top three; and Spain and the UK, who were 16th and 17th respectively, dropped yet again to the bottom five.
After this, the top ten, from lowest to highest, was announced. To this point even then 12th-placed Sweden (with 122 points) could have won, had it received more than 340 points (less than last year’s 365) and Australia received only 100 points. Subsequently France was first “eliminated”, Austria jumped from 24th place to 8th, and then it became impossible for Armenia, Sweden, and Bulgaria to catch up.
The top four eventually revealed that Australia was fourth and its final points were 511. Though last-placed Poland was yet to receive points, it was mathematically impossible for them to receive the 504 points they needed to win (they ended up 8th with 229 points). However there was still a winning chance for Ukraine, then 6th, and Russia, who was 14th, as they could receive the usual 300+ points we’ve seen in this decade. Ukraine took the lead but the tension did not drop until it was revealed that Russia’s 361 points (this is the second largest set of points received from televoting after Norway’s 378 in 2009; the combined result was 387). In the end, Ukraine won with a 23-point lead over runner-up Australia, the smallest since Azerbaijan’s 32 points over Italy in 2011. Definitely, this voting sequence is here to stay.
- Ukraine won the contest for the second time. Their last win was in 2004 for Ruslana’s “Wild Dances”.
- Ukraine remains the only country to win with a bilingual entry. “Wild Dances” was partially sung in Ukrainian; the chorus of “1944” is in Crimean Tatar.
- “1944” is the first Eurovision winner since 2007’s “Molitva” from Serbia to contain non-English lyrics.
- This is the first time since Latvia in 2002 when a country wins after failing to participate the previous year.
- Australia achieved its best result ever. This is only their second participation.
- Russia finishes in the top three for the second year in a row. This is also their sixth top five finish in the last ten years.
- Bulgaria achieved its best result ever, a 4th place. Their previous record was 5th in 2007, it was also their only other final.
- Sweden placed in the top five for the third year in a row.
- France had its best placing since 2002, when they were 5th. It was also their first top ten placing since 2009.
- It is also the sixth year in a row that at least one Big Five country reaches the top ten.
- Poland reached the top ten for the first time since 2003 when they placed 7th. This is only their third time in the top ten.
- Lithuania achieved its second best result and second top ten placing. Their last placed 6th in 2006.
- Belgium placed in the top ten for the second year in a row. This hasn’t happened since 1978 when Belgium was 2nd after placing 7th the year before.
- Upon qualifying for the final, the Czech Republic achieved its best result ever: 25th (or second to last).
- Germany placed last for the second year in a row. This previously also happened in 1964 and 1965.