After a two-year absence from our screens, the 65th edition of the Eurovision Song Contest is finally underway. While COVID-19 means this fan-crazed music competition is operating under very different circumstances than previously, it still has the same amount of peculiarity that we have witnessed since its inception. When we think of Eurovision, we think of crazy costumes, neighbours voting for each other, out-of-this-world interval acts, and an edginess which verges on downright wrong.
However, the contest is more than this – it’s an arena for nations to come together through the talent of their artists, while also giving them a voice to throw subtle political jabs.
WHAT IS EUROVISION?
The Eurovision Song Contest is a regional music competition between European countries and, as of 2015, Australia. Based on the Sanremo Music Festival, it was first held in Lugano, Switzerland on 24 May 1956 with only seven Western and Central European countries participating. This has grown to 39 entries as of 2021, now including Eastern European countries and Israel.
The competition came to symbolise a united Europe. Until the early 1950s, European television was fragmented across borders. This made Europe seem further politically divided due to the technical barriers. When the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) was formed in 1950, it embarked on rectifying this perception by integrating European television. Of its early projects, Eurovision was the most ambitious – a live television broadcast across a large regional network in the aftermath of the Second World War.
Since its formation, Eurovision has mirrored the modern story of Europe. The growth of the competition has reflected the changing landscape of the continent and the countless attempts to further unify the region. After the disintegration of the USSR in 1991, Eastern European countries started to enter the competition, with Russia joining in 1994. Yet, this also evoked tensions that still remain today. When Ukraine hosted the competition in 2017, Russia withdrew as the Ukrainian Government banned their entrant, Julia Samoylova, from entering the country because of her visit to Crimea in 2015 after it was annexed by Russia.
This extends beyond the confines of Europe to the Middle East. While popular in the Arab world, broadcasters could not accept the participation and success of Israel, which has won four times. Many broadcasters would cut to advertisements during Israeli performances. In 1978 they went as far as to claim Belgium, the runner-up, won the contest while the Israeli song ‘A-Ba-Ni-Bi’ actually won. Israel’s presence in the competition is the reason that many Arab broadcasters decide not to participate in the contest, with Morocco only performing in 1980 when Israel decided not to take part.
Hence, Eurovision is more than a song contest. It is a semi-successful attempt by European broadcasters to unite the continent after the horrors of the Second World War, through a shared love of music and technological advancements. However, its cult following and quirky performances have given it worldwide renown, with the contest becoming more popular in larger markets such as China and the United States.
WHAT TO EXPECT AT THE GRAND FINAL?
Like other modern Eurovision grand finals, artists will passionately perform, the host country will reflect on the contest’s history, and past winners and participants will join in the festivities. There will also be some tech or security issue – be it a streaker, music starting early, stage/set mistakes – or in the case of Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, the singer’s dress getting caught in a giant hamster wheel.
So far we know, Mans Zelmerlow (2015 winner) will perform with Lordi (2006 winner), Sandra Kim (1986 winner), Teach-In (1975 winner), Lenny Kuhr (1967 winner) and others. Duncan Laurence, the reigning champion, was originally set to perform but has since tested positive for COVID-19. This is in addition to a member of the Icelandic group Dadi og Gagnamagnid also testing positive. This group has since had to withdraw from the live shows and will need to rely on a recording from their rehearsals in moving forward with the competition. This is a stark warning to Eurovision organisers and contestants that COVID-19 still has the potential to upend the competition.
But the most important part of the grand final is not the antics or the interval acts: it is the music. 26 of the 39 entries have qualified – 10 from each semi-final, the ‘Big Five’ (United Kingdom, France, Italy, Spain and Germany), and the Netherlands as the host country. We will see punk rock from Italy, electro-pop from Lithuania, nouvelle chanson from France, along with a wealth of languages – English, French, Spanish, Ukrainian, Russian, Serbian, Italian, Albanian, and even Sranan Tongo. Everyone’s tastes will be accounted for and no one will go away disappointed.
WHO WILL WIN?
With some of the competitors waiting two years to perform, there are so many fantastic acts. There are also many lousy ones but, as we were all taught as children – if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything… cough cough WTF were you thinking Australia!?!
The current betting odds put Italy’s Maneskin as the frontrunner, followed by Barbara Pravi from France and then Destiny from Malta. Should Italy win, it will be the first time in 31 years a song in the Italian-language has won the competition, the last being ‘Insieme: 1992’ in 1990 – I know, a confusing title. However, if France is triumphant, it will be the first time since Celine Dion performed for Switzerland in 1988 that a French-language song will win. It would also be France’s first win since 1977, with their 1991 entry tying for first place but losing under EBU rules which gave the win to Sweden.
But betting odds are not always right. Since 2015, betting agencies have only correctly predicted two winners – Mans Zelmerlow in 2015 and Duncan Laurence in 2019. Another guiding beacon comes in the form of the Organisation Generale des Amateurs de l’Eurovision (General Organisation of Eurovision Fans – OGAE) annual Eurovision poll. If the OGAE is correct, Malta’s Destiny will win the contest. If she succeeds, Destiny will be Malta’s first winner and the first Junior Eurovision Champion to win the main Eurovision Song Contest.
Yet, even this poll isn’t always accurate. Since its inception in 2007, it has correctly guessed the winner on five occasions. So the poll too doesn’t necessarily mean it’s Destiny’s destiny to win, although her song is fantastic and she is deserving.
The only way we will know the winner for sure is to patiently wait for the results to be verified by Eurovision’s new Executive Supervisor Martin Osterdahl. Anything can happen before and during the grand final which can have a major impact on the outcome, so waiting is the best measure.
Who do I want to win… well, I will keep that to myself. Sorry, but also not sorry, for the anti-climax!
WHAT TO WATCH OUT FOR
In concluding, this Eurovision fanatic is going to give you a few things to watch out for:
- The rude finger mascot surrounded by ukuleles in the Germany’s entry;
- The star-studded interval performances;
- Flo Rida making an appearance in the San Marino act;
- Graham Norton’s commentary (if you can get BBC coverage or follow his Twitter);
- Tix’s angel wings and quite lovely story behind his entry;
- A Ukrainian folk-techno entry which will leave many both in awe and terrified;
- The hosts trying to make awkward small talk with the contestants; and
- Iceland’s somewhat bizarre costume choice.
There is much more to comment on, but I will let you go ahead and watch. You can watch it live from 5am Sunday morning on SBS or the Eurovision YouTube channel. Otherwise, SBS will repeat it at 7.30pm. You also have the power to vote either via phone or the Eurovision app. Don’t miss your chance to join in the Eurovision fun!