Weaver's Week 2021-05-30

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Eurovision Song Contest

Shut up and sit down.


The Eurovision Song Festival, Finalenacht

NPO/AVROTROS for EBU, 22 May 2021

Eurovision Song Contest Winners.†

"Zitti e buoni" won the Eurovision Song Contest final. The song was written and performed by Måneskin, and represented broadcaster RAI (shown on screen as "Italy"). It's the glam rock one with no shirts.

The group (singer Damiano David, guitarist Thomas Raggi, bassist Victoria De Angelis, drummer Ethan Torchio) formed in 2016 amongst friends from high school. Runners-up in The X Factor a year later, with two hit albums under their belt. Their song stormed the San Remo festival, and they accepted the opportunity to perform it at Eurovision.

What's the song about? The first line tells us "They don’t know what I’m talking about", which makes for a difficult analysis. Turns out the song is all about being alienated from society, the chorus revolves around the theme "We're out of our minds but different from them".

Eurovision Song Contest Måneskin performing.‡

There's a lot of words in this performance: Damiano delivers his lines like a shotgun, shooting bullets and barely drawing breath to reload. The riff is simple and repetitive, the staging is stark – flashing white lights, turning red at the guitar solo, with pyro and the winner's fire curtain to finish.

It's a complex performance, full of energy and vigour, it almost demands to be seen again. The composition is interesting but not unfamiliar: at 104bpm, the verse has a lolloping rhythm for 11 phrases, before going off to the twang-and-reset chorus. A brief bridge takes us into the second verse, the same lolloping rhythm but now with a difference at the end of every phrase, an extra piece of twang. The guitar solo repeats the same phrase three times, then shifts it a semi-tone higher, adds an extra flourish, before falling quieter for the final half-chorus and outro.

Eurovision Song Contest Yep, still winners.♠

Jurors liked the song, Måneskin were clearly highly competent, they believed what they were singing, and had that certain star quality to make a great show. While it's not to everyone's taste, even jurors who didn't like the style were forced to appreciate the composition, and Damiano's obvious vocal abilities. While we describe it as "glam rock", that's the superficial appearance – it's closer to funk rock, the sort of thing Manic Street Preachers did when they formed, or The Pigeon Detectives threaten to do.

Televoters loved it, throwing it to the top of the scoreboard by a good distance. Having done well enough amongst the juries, "Zitti e buoni" emerged as the winner.

Eurovision Song Contest The runner-up.‡

Second place went to "Voilà" by Barbara Pravi, the France Télévisions entry. The message is simple: here I am, take me as you find me. Barbara presents herself as someone coming out of the shadows, no longer content to be shamed by others. There's a combined crescendo and accelerando, as Barbara literally finds her own voice and then hurries out to be herself. A timeless chanson with a modern presentation, this found near-equal favour with the juries (2nd favourite) and televoters (3rd place).

Similar themes permeated the rest of the big scorers: "Tout l'univers" won with the juries for SRG/SSR ("Switzerland"), Gjon's Tears performed a song of destruction and renewal. "10 years" was a personal effort for Daði Freyr & Gagnamagnið, marking a decade for Daði with his wife Ámý; fourth place is great for RÚV ("Iceland").

"Shum" updated GoA's culture, a folk song calling up the springtime in a memorable and innovative way. Second in the televote, but too complex for the juries to vote for UA:PBC ("Ukraine"). Top six was rounded out by "Dark side", nu metal from Blind Channel, an ode to everyone who just shouts into the great beyond; again, most of the points came from the televote for YLE ("Finland").

Big Five by Big Five

We don't get to see six competitors in the semi-finals. The host broadcaster (NOS/AVROTROS) go straight through to Saturday's final, as do the five biggest broadcasters. Why is this, and is it good for the contest?

The "big five" arose in 1996, when the ARD "Germany" entry "Planet of blue" failed to get through a pre-selection round for the grand final. A run of poor performances meant ARD only scraped into the 1998 edition after RAI "Italy" withdrew. A similar run of results would then have seen France Télévisions miss the 2000 contest. The EBU said this would damage the contest, and gave the biggest contributors a direct path to the final.

Eurovision Song Contest Blas Canto performed under a huge moon.†

Eurovision isn't just a song contest. It's a broadcasting union. The broadcasters share what they know, and a lot is known by the Big Five broadcasters (ARD, BBC, France Télévisions, RAI, TVE). They regularly handle a squillion live feeds, 39 jury spokespeople on 39 different lines isn't such a daunting prospect. Representatives of the big broadcasters can network with their counterparts at smaller broadcasters, establish relationships to help make better telly for years to come.

The Big Five guarantees diverse music: we're bound to get something quintessentially French, we're bound to see the German sense of humour, we're certain to get something quality from the Italians. The scheme might encourage larger acts, Bonnie Tyler committed to 10 days in the venue to get her music into 200 million people's ears: would she have committed to 14 days and risk only being seen by 10 million?

Eurovision Song Contest The Big Five's previous success.♣

On the other hand, the results aren't brilliant. Prior to this year, it produced only one winner, "Satellite" in 2010. Nor do they have a huge collection of minor places: only about one-and-a-half of the Big Five gets into the top half in any given year. Is that because the songs are less familiar than those from the semi-finals, or is it because they're not very good? We fear it's more the latter explanation.

The Big Five was a scheme to solve a particular problem. It's not particularly fair, though rarely affects the result: great songs still rise to the top. It may be the price we have to pay for the contest continuing.

And the rest of the automatic qualifiers..?

"And the Unitedkingdom gets, from the public, zero points. I'm sorry."
"We move on to Germany, and Germany has received from the public, zero points. I'm sorry."
"Moving on to Spain, and the public points going to Spain are, another zero points."
"We move on to the Netherlands. The Netherlands, you have received from the public, zero points. I'm sorry."

And with the Pointless jackpot swelling by €1000 in four answers, we ask: what went wrong?

For the hosts, it appeared to be a case of wanting someone else to take on the host's duty. Planning this year's contest – and last year's broadcast – has been a lot of work for AVROTROS. The producers chose to let "Birth of a new age" be followed by "Zitti e buoni", ensuring that their worthy entry would be forgotten. If you're going to memory-hole something, let it be your own entry.

Eurovision Song Contest We warned you about the German sense of humour.†

The other auto-qualifiers, quite simply, weren't good enough. "I don't feel hate" (ARD/NDR "Germany") will be shown on clip shows until the end of time: it's the one with the dancing fingers. While the song has some merit – it's simple and infectious – the combination of song and staging was an end-of-the-pier show. If we wanted that, we'd watch Stephen Mulhern, because Stephen does gaudy far better.

We recall one thing about "Voy a quedarme" (TVE "Spain"): it's the one with the big moon. (Checks the tapes) Oh yeah, it's the pretty and sensitive ballad where a pretty young man sings about the love of his life, underneath a giant moon. It's not the greatest sensitive boy ballad in the contest, and the major key effort somehow sounds wrong in this context. It's not a terrible surprise that it failed to trouble the televoters, and not a huge surprise that some of the soppier juries gave it a small place.

Our back-of-the-envelope calculation this year answers this question: If the automatic qualifiers had to qualify through the semi-final in which they voted, would they have gone through?

Eurovision Song Contest Would have just missed qualifying on Tuesday.♠

The answer is simple. Only "Zitti e bueno" and "Voilà" would have made it. The hosts would have fallen on Tuesday, "Birth of a new age" finished 14th, one place behind the final qualifier "Amnesia"; "I don't feel hate" would have ceded its spot to "Tick tock". Great news for those cheering for TVR and HRT ("Romania" and "Croatia"); terrible news for ARD's entry, which might not have squeaked past Vasil's disco shirt and finish bottom of the pile.

On Thursday, "Øve os på hinanden" for DR ("Denmark") and "Amen (ÖRF)" ("Austria") would have made it through , eliminating "Voy a quedarme" and "Embers". James Newman wouldn't have been utterly humiliated: we reckon he'd have 14 points, all from the juries, and would rank ahead of both "The moon is rising" and "You". LRT ("Latvia") tend to bomb, but we expect better of GPB ("Georgia").

Would the show have been better with "Amnesia" and the Danish song? Probably. Would we have had such a memorable evening? And so much to talk about this week? Perhaps not.

(On a slight tangent: going into contest week, the received wisdom was that Tuesday's semi-final was the stronger. This didn't turn out to be the case, songs from Thursday performed better in the final. Tuesday's semi was more unpredictable, and the songs on the cusp of qualifying were better, but Thursday was place-for-place stronger. This could have been revealed in a very dramatic way in the final. More on this later.)

Addressing the "United Kingdom: no points" thing

Eurovision Song Contest Oh dear.†

A large jury vote was never on the cards for "Embers", the BBC entry ("United Kingdom" on screen). As we noted a couple of months ago, James Newman isn't a great singer. His range is limited, he relies a lot on the backing vocals. The presentation was rotten: two giant trumpets dominate the stage, James stands on a podium bathed in unflattering red and green lights, as four dancers go around him.

The stage-hands have left their stepladders on the stage, and Chekhov's decorating job is completed: from the right angle, it looks like dancers are standing near the buttons on the trumpets. Instead, James descends some steps at the back of his podium – to keep these steps out of shot, James is out of vision while we look at the dancers, Who's the star of this performance: James, or his trombonist?

In a normal year, there are not quite enough great songs to fill the final, and adequate performances like "Embers" will get a few morsels. This year, something like 26 great songs jostled for the 20 places in the final, and automatic qualifiers that weren't up to snuff would be exposed with cruel brutality.

Eurovision Song Contest James puts a brave face on a poor result.◊

What does the BBC need to do to improve this situation? The problem is not wholly with the song: in a more-trained throat, and with less cringeworthy staging, "Embers" could have done something. Not very much, but it could have picked up some points. James Newman had the wrong vocals for this song: he was better fitted to last year's song "My last breath". Eurovision requires both technical merit and an emotional response: "Embers" delivered neither.

Huge stars like Ed Sheeran, Adele, Amy MacDonald, Annie Lennox might not want to sing at Eurovision – it's a campaign of at least two months, with the prospect of a very different career afterwards, and a fair chance of ridicule. The big stars might write with the performer, and mentor them, and record a quick message as Jo Newstar does a promo tour of every chat show in Europe.

Or the BBC could go for something more authentic. Ever since the Eurovision Song Contest began, the BBC has sent entries in a Western pop idiom. One of the contest's original aims was to showcase European talent and culture, as distinct from American culture. The BBC has never quite got the hang of this, and always sent a basic pop song sung in English. This year, we didn't want a basic pop song, we wanted honesty, some sort of recognition that everything we thought we knew has changed.

There are other cultures. The annual Can i Gymru shows off the strengths and weaknesses of Welsh song. Dare the BBC ask Radio Cymru for their contacts book? Is there a new Runrig, a band melding a profoundly Scottish worldview with accessible and contemporary sounds? What of the scenes in Ulster? Cornwall? Next year will be full of rock-ish bands, so how's about some sunny reggae, or bhangra, or contemporary R&B. Might Jorja Smith be interested? Raye?

Eurovision Song Contest GoA, profoundly ethnic sounds went top five.†

We wonder if the BBC might be a bit less hands-on. Let the performer have a say in their staging: so much potential has been lost with a gimmicky staging (we think particularly of the seashell behind "I will never give up on you" in 2017, and the diamonds behind "Storm" in 2018).

This year, we've noticed less of the entitlement from the mainstream media. There aren't so many people complaining that the "United Kingdom" entry has to do well, just because of its label. We're pleased to see some more realism creep into the debate. We were incensed but not surprised to see Amanda Holden's greeting to Rotterdam, proving only that she was ignorant and couldn't distinguish Français tegen Nederlands. Lul! Lomperd! Wat een pannenkoek!

Eurovision Song Contest If you must import a vocalist, make sure they're doing it for love (like Katrina) and not money.†

And let's get one thing clear. Whatever the BBC send, we want it to be a success. Nothing would give us greater pleasure than to headline one of these pieces, "BBC wins it all!" The song has got to be a peak of excellence, and it's got to be staged well. Sadly, nothing the Beeb has sent lately covers both of these points; this year's covered neither.

These points might sound familiar: we made most of them when the BBC last finished in 26th place, in the (er) last contest.

Eurovision Song Contest There will be a lot of rock from other broadcasters. Counter-programme.‡

The BBC has – rightly – defended its show from the banal complaints that they should withdraw from the contest because the writer is a xenophobic bigot who wants to spoil other people's fun. Amongst their lines of defence: Eurovision Song Contest represents good value. An average of 7.4 million viewers across the four-hour show.

A few weeks ago, we idly wondered which shows gave excellent value for the BBC. We understand that the BBC's direct entry fee for the contest is around £350,000. Let's add on the costs of flying the delegation over to Rotterdam, putting them up in hotels for 10 days, doing the staging, and liaising with the record company. We'll assume that the televote is cost-neutral (if it isn't, it jolly well should be), also add Graham Norton's talent fee, and the budget for whatever they did on BBC4. We can't get the total budget much above £800,000.

And for that, they get 7.4 million viewers for four hours, plus another 600,000 for the semi-finals. 8 million viewers per hour, for the price of twelve Mastermind episodes. That's not just good value, that's not just great value, that's stupendous and exceptional value. Move over Victoria Coren Mitchell, we have a new Best Value Show in town.

Running order matters

Eurovision Song Contest Who's going to fill this stage?◊

Since 2013, the running order at the contest has been chosen by the producers. The aim is to maintain interest throughout the show, and ensure they'll never again repeat 2012 – a grand and high-octane opening followed by a run of slow songs. The producers tend to go for a "sawtooth" effect, ramping up excitement, mixing up slow numbers and fast ones. They separate those with similar staging – all of this year's purple-and-pink lights were kept as far apart as possible. And they appear to keep the perceived favourites apart from each other, perhaps ensuring there will never be a surprise winner again.

Generally, the running order works well. There are failures – the third quarter of 2015 was duller than anything, and there's a long run of dull in the 2018 second semi-final. We don't get the tremendous juxtapositions of a random draw, but nor do we get the bunching of favourites. Overall, the producer-led running order tends to be a net positive.

Eurovision Song Contest The hosts were beloved: Edsilia Rombley and Nikkie de Jager.◊

For the first time in the era, this year's running order invited and encouraged direct comparisons between songs. In the semi-finals, we had "El diablo" and "Fallen angel" next to each other; in the final, "El diablo" was followed by "Karma". There were juxtapositions of similar content – "Love is on my side" and "Growing up is getting old" covered near-identical themes, albeit from very different positions.

In the final, "Russian woman" and "Je me casse" were next to each other, two very different essays on modern feminism. Tix and Efendi were put next to each other, rumours that they had been dating swept the press centre all week. "Shum" and "Voilà" used a similar technique of speeding up, while "Zitti e buoni" and "Voices" both spoke about how to fit into society.

Eurovision Song Contest The Swiss were all black and white and dizzyating.†

The jury votes are organised to maximise the tension, to make it look like there are lots of songs in the running. EBU scrutineer Martin Österdahl knew the result before sunrise on Saturday.

The televote isn't susceptible to such Österdahl dealings, seeing as how it's compiled on the night. The big block voting makes for fascinating television, and the idea is sound. But they do have a choice about how to present this element: from the bottom of the jury scoreboard to the top, or from the bottom of the televote to the top?

Eurovision Song Contest Once again, Martin is Österdahling!◊

As in 2019, they've chosen to go from the bottom of the televote to the top. By going up the jury rankings, they buried at least three massive "oof!" moments. Run with us, through the televote points.

"Three points to Belgium." After the shock of the nulls, Hooverphonic were expected to do tolerably well. But no. "The wrong place" finished bottom five pretty much everywhere, VRT scored from the band's pockets of support in the east Baltic. Tipped as a potential top-five finisher, and coming straight after the quadruple-nothing, this would have continued the atmosphere of gobsmackery.

"13 points to San Marino." Six songs down, and another pre-contest fave falls flat on its face. Turns out that "featuring Flo Rida" isn't enough to buy SMRTV a hit, though there were an awful lot of near misses, both in the jury and the televote.

Eurovision Song Contest 11th place in the televote sinks high hopes.†

A little later, "30 points go to Bulgaria." While points to Israel and Portugal were perhaps unlikely, BRT's emotional ballad got crushed under the weight of its rocky prop. And it was so close to so much more. The song was cursed into mid-table in the televote – its nine placings of 11th or 12th converted to precisely zero points. We didn't find this out until late in the televote presentation, the juries had loved it.

Half-way through the voting, and "We have 47 points, those 47 points go to Malta." Well! The pre-contest fave, top five amongst the juries. Second and third in almost every televote amongst the Tuesday semi-final, where "Je me casse" went on last. But 8th to 14th in the televote on Saturday, where viewers had to remember the song for more than an hour before phonelines opened.

Eurovision Song Contest Destiny gives it her all (2021).‡

Was this a reaction to the place in the running order, or the song, or something else? We suspect a combination of factors. Performing at song 6 is a poor draw; the producers could have swapped the run of songs 5, 6, 7, 8 ("Russian woman", "Je me casse", the jazzy "Love is on my side", and girl group "Loco loco") with songs 10-13 (video effects "Last dance", "Tous l'univers", "10 years", and "Voy a quedarme"). Would that have helped Destiny? A little, but only a little. It would have helped the show more, putting more than one male vocal in the first eight performances.

No, the main fact is that all the big televote points went elsewhere. The auto-qualifiers bagged two big points almost everywhere, "Shum" remained above, "Discotheque" somewhere around, and all the other big televote songs – "10 years", "Dark side", "Tous l'univers" – came from Thursday. "Je me casse" was still the second or third top song from Tuesday's semi-final, but it was now scrabbling for minor points.

We hope we've not seen the last of Destiny, she's got a huge amount of star quality. We understand that she's going to concentrate on her studies, which is perfectly understandable. If this is the end of the road, then we can only thank her for all the fun and enjoyment over the last six years. It's been a pleasure to follow Destiny's career, the biggest star to come out of Junior Eurovision, a credit to PBS, and a credit to Malta.

Junior Eurovision Song Contest Destiny gives it her all (2015).†

Back to the scoreboard. In our hypothetical, where they're reading up the televote, the Swiss broadcasters only know they'd lost when they heard their mark. After the Finnish finished, France Télévisions were still on for the win, until they finished third. Had we been reading up the scoreboard, and if anyone was capable of doing the mental arithmetic at 11.50pm, that would have confirmed RAI's win with two scores still to announce. In our reality, RAI's win was only confirmed after the penultimate votes, for France Télévisions.

Field Labs

The audience in the Ahoy Theatre was seated in two blocks, at the rear of the arena. And that's a story in itself. The Eurovision Song Contest events were part of the local government's "Fieldlab" programme of tests. The aim is to provide real-world data on health and safety, and make evidence-based decisions on the future of events and hospitality. Policy arising from actual evidence and scientific facts, another thing they have in Europe.

Eurovision Song Contest Who are these people?◊

Each show accommodated 3500 people, all of them local to the area. Every attendee had to have three applications on their mobile telephone: one to schedule a sneltest in the 24 hours before the concert, and the Corona Check to provide follow-up data. Flockey follows individual people while in the arena. The audience had reserved seating, and everyone must wear a mask while not in their seat.

The result: A veneer of normality. It's a wafer-thin covering, it doesn't last ten seconds after leaving the arena. But the television show looks like it's a normal year... except for the absences. Montaigne, stayed at home, because her local government uses the advantage of being an island. Daði Freyr, stuck in the hotel, after one of the band had an adverse test. Duncan Laurence, also had an adverse test and appeared in the final through the magic of editing.

Eurovision Song Contest Of course we weren't going to ignore Daði.†

Update: Results were published a few weeks later, showing that infections amongst the audience were about one-third as many as in the Dutch population as a whole.

Winners and winners

Our takeaways from the show?

Eurovision Song Contest The hosts were solid: Chantal Jensen and Jan Smit.◊

The AVROTROS production team did superbly well. The tone was spot on: none of the forced and unfunny attempts at humour, no expensive and inappropriate guest stars for the interval. The efforts were fronted by four exceptionally competent presenters, having fun and making superb television. Chantal, in particular, was the Phillip Schofield of the show: we can throw anything at her and she'd take it in her stride.

The group choreography surrounding "Amnesia", the entry from TVR ("Romania"). Roxen is dragged around by her demons, occasionally gets reminded of who she really is, and finishes by slaying the baddies. It rewards full attention.

Eurovision Song Contest Does benefit from a second watch.†

James Newman, whose response to the final score was to stand up and accept the heartfelt and sympathetic cheers from contestants and the audience. We'd rather he not been in that position, but James did himself a lot of credit in that moment.

GoA, whose "Shum" almost topped the televote, and who threw the most traditional style of white singing into Europe's face, expecting it to be thrown back at them with interest. Europe loved it, embraced the different.

And the winners, dedicated to their cause for years and years.

Eurovision Song Contest Let's rock.♠

In other news

The EBU has suspended BTRC (Belarus), saying the broadcaster has failed to "uphold our core values of freedom of expression, independence and accountability. BTRC's entry for the Eurovision Song Contest was not allowed to compete, as it's blatant propaganda on behalf of the unelected regime.

Longlists for the ITV Television Awards have come out. We will cover the shortlists when they emerge in due course, and the good people at All Things Quiz have a video looking at some of the categories in our mutual sphere. There's one other big show missing from the longlists: does nobody at all have a good thing to say about the BBC1 primetime smash from a few months ago? Have we all forgotten about Gordon Ramsay's Bank Balance?

Eurovision Song Contest This is what Bank Balance needed.†

We're going to take next week off, and plan to return on 13 June explaining just how good Channel 4's Quizness is. We intend to look at The Answer Trap and Unbeatable in the following weeks.

A spin off from everyone's favourite pastime: it's All Day Popmaster (Radio 2, Mon), preceded by One Year Out, a documentary (Radio 2, Sun). There's also The Masked Dancer (VM1 and ITV, daily), and Celebability With The Fabulous Iain Stirling (ITV2, Thu). We've even got a new series of The 3rd Degree (Radio 4, Mon).

Next Saturday has The Wall, Su Pollard and Laura Hamilton on Pointless Celebrities, and the final of The Masked Dancer. After that, things look quite quiet. Do note how 11 June is the start of Mark Pougatch's European World Cup of Last Year This Year, so expect changes to the daytime schedule, and probably some clickbait articles in the yellow press about how The Chase has been axed for this experimental format nobody's watching, and can we have Rylan and the dolls back again.

EBU copyrights require us to give credits for each photo:
† - EBU/Thomas Hanses, also header image
‡ - EBU/Andres Putting
♠ - NPO/NOS/AVROTROS Nathan Reinds
♣ - from tx EBU/ARD/NDR

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