So it’s finally here – I can’t believe we waited a year, and now once again it’s nearly over. Yes, the Eurovision Song Contest truly is like Christmas. I suspect you already know what happened tonight; that doesn’t mean we can’t join millions of others in enjoying it (and tearing our hair out over it) once again.
We return tonight to Stockholm, to our hosts Petra and Mans, and thousands of screaming Eurofans. The intro is basically a catwalk, featuring models dressed in what look like cotton wool balls, and each country’s singer has to stride on with them, looking uncomfortable. But OK.
To remind you, 20 countries qualified via the semi-finals on Tuesday and Thursday; they’re joining five who’ve already qualified by virtue of funding a lot of the contest. And of that five, we have several very big songs this year. In fact, many (me included) think the winner will lie amongst this group – France, Sweden and Italy all have strong entries, and you know what, it’s highly unlikely to win but the UK hasn’t disgraced itself in 2016. A fun little song and a much, much better job all round.
I also have to warn you, there’s a new voting system in place tonight – each country will now award two sets of votes, one from a jury made up of music professionals, and one from the public. The idea is to up the tension. It will do just that; but I wonder if it will be deemed a success when the dust has settled.
The songs have been drawn in an order I would love to say was random, but if memory serves it’s down to some sort of weird entertainment-value algorithm.
Anyways, kicking us off is an old favourite, it’s Laura Tesoro from Belgium, with What’s The Pressure? A fine fine way to get the party started.
This is the first time the Czech Republic has qualified for the grand final since the system of two semis was introduced in 2008. They’re proud to be here – what can Gabriela Guncikova do with I Stand tonight?
Literally anything could happen if The Netherlands’ entrant Doewe Bob decides to do another one of his long pauses mid-song. Here he is with Slow Down – and Slow Down he does, holding that pause for what felt like 10 minutes. I think this could do surprisingly well.
Azerbaijan up next, with Samra, and Miracle. Suspect she’ll need one to win? But this is a very popular tune, and she looks great.
Raspy bloke time, as Hungarian entrant Freddie tries his hand with Pioneer – and I think he did it very well, this is a grower. Someone started throwing stones, quite literally, at our party at this point, and fearing we were about to be shut down, we panicked. But it was just more guests and the doorbell wasn’t working! High drama in North London.
Now it’s time for the first of the so-called Big Five, it’s Italy. This is Francesca Michielin, with No Degree of Separation. This is interesting because originally it was sung entirely in Italian, and called Nessun Grado Di Separazione, but apparently Francesca felt it was important to sing in English. It seems half-and-half was the compromise. I prefer the full Italian, but either way, it’s beautiful (even if the staging does make it look like a late 90s B*Witched video)
Israel have a tough job following that – but I suspect Hovi Star will up his game after the semi-final. He’s singing Made of Stars, and you know what, he does so much better than during the week. Well done Hovi!
Bringing it next are Bulgaria, it’s Poli Genova and If Love Was A Crime. Well, if it was, we’d all be going to Love Jail (a very good idea for a song title for next year, if any national delegations are reading this) This is a tune though.
We’re now heading into a run of three songs we haven’t seen performed yet. Sweden get through automatically of course, as hosts, and their young entrant is Frans, with If I Were Sorry. I think we can all agree Justin Bieber has a lot to answer for here!
You know what, it’s a pleasant song. It will place well, even if I’m not sure it has the chops to win outright. And it shows that there’s a place for every tempo of song in this contest.
Germany next. Um, I don’t know. I have such a bad feeling about this one, though it gives me no pleasure to write that. Jamie-Lee is performing Ghost.
It’s really not bad, not bad at all, but something, I can’t put my finger on it, something tells me it will do atrociously. That could just be past form, it’s certainly not Jamie-Lee’s fault as she seems adorable and performs a very cute version of this song.
Let’s have something more positive, so now to one of the favourites to win, France. It’s Amir, with J’ai Cherche. I just love it. I love it. I want it to win, and I want to book my tickets to Eurovision 2017 in Paris already.
I was so worried about how this would come across, high notes and all, but he’s done so well. Good luck Amir!
Poland was a surprise qualifier for me, but we’ll see how it goes down tonight in the final – it’s Michal Szpak, his lovely ringmaster jacket, and Color of Your Life.
Definitely no surprise that Australia qualified – can Dami Im’s Sound of Silence win the crown? And if it does, will the contest go down under? Well, the answer to that second one is, no, because apparently the rules say that if Australia does win, the second-placed nation will take on hosting duties, which seems a little bit unfair – “you didn’t get the glory of winning, but please take on all the hassle and expense of staging the show”. Anyways yes, Dami totally nails it. Definitely top five with this performance.
A very big change of tone next, as Cyprus return with Minus One and their song Alter Ego, and do you know what, I think it was just what we needed at this halfway point in the show.
Not my favourite, many apologies, but here’s Serbia’s Sanja Vucic ZAA, she’s singing Goodbye (Shelter). The fringing remains a thing of wonder though.
Let’s hear it: DONNY! DONNY! DONNY! Montell’s here, he’s repping Lithuania with I’ve Been Waiting For This Night. I actually think he’s improved on his semi-final showing, and I think this could do better than many are predicting, mostly because Euro loves a trier, and anyone’s who’s already had a crack at winning is often treated very well the second time they enter. Or third. Or fourth…
Now it’s Croatia. Nina Kraljic has another crack at Lighthouse. All I can say is, fine.
I can’t work out what’s going to happen with our next entrant. Of course it’s Russia, it’s Sergey Lazarev with You Are The Only One.
He’s the hot favourite to win, despite almost no one really seeming to want him to win. And let’s be honest, he absolutely smashed that performance. It comes down to the utter desperation, I think: it’s so obvious how badly Russia wants this, and I think sometimes that’s off-putting in a performer (there’s something else that’s quite off-putting too, but we’ve chatted about that in the past)
Another of the Big Five now, Spain. This might be getting lost in translation, but singer Barei is coming across as very serious in interviews, which is in direct contradiction to her song title, Say Yay! I’m ashamed to say I took a bathroom break here, and remember basically nothing of her song, but let’s remind ourselves here:
Don’t worry! She’s fine! She didn’t fall over! That was ACTING.
A lot of love in the room for Latvia, here’s Justs and Heartbeat once again, and I think this is a blooming tune, written, I believe, by their entrant from last year. Latvia’s pop is on the up.
Now – what will happen with our next act, Jamala? She is, of course, performing for Ukraine with the song 1944. It’s very different to anything else here, and you’d say there’s also sympathy for what has happened to their country, both in the times she’s singing about and in more recent years.
Aw, bless Malta! Ira Losco is performing Walk on Water. Let’s hope she doesn’t go into labour, or else she might find herself doing exactly that.
Just four more songs to go, and now it’s time to ROCK. Georgia have sent Nika Kocharov and Young Georgian Lolitaz, with Midnight Gold. I think, again, this will do better than expected.
Quite the change of gear for our next act, Austria, here’s ZOE and Loin d’Ici. It’s not for me, but it’s a big improvement for Austria on last year’s fiery piano, so well done them.
Now, what can our next entrants do? Yes, it’s the United Kingdom. Joe & Jake were chosen by a public vote, which I have to say, is a big step forward for us. And they’re building on it. It’s a catchy little tune, they’re cute lads and they have a great place in the draw, coming on as they do penultimately, with You’re Not Alone.
I think they did as well as could have been asked of them. They’re sweet and earnest, and it’s such a monumental improvement on last year’s shitshow, that even though it won’t win, it has to be a step in the right direction for the UK.
Armenia bring up the rear, last but not least it’s Iveta Mukuchyan with LoveWave. LET THE VOTING COMMENCE!
As you know, we’re trying something totally different for this year’s interval act – it’s an international superstar, it’s also an American – it’s Justin Timberlake. But before that, we have another wonderful set of songs from our hosts. First they remind us how bloody great at music Sweden is, with a medley that takes in everything from Abba to Ace of Base to Swedish House Mafia. And then we get a wonderful song performed by our hosts Petra and Mans, that takes us through what makes a winning Eurovision song:
It’s very funny and it’s very knowing, and it’s even got Alexander Rybak and his violin in it. Good job all round.
Mans is allowed to sing his new single too (I liked it!), but what you all really want to know is, JT – was he any good? And of course he was, he was marvellous. Could have done without the slightly stunted chat beforehand, where he praised all the Eurovision performers (I have no doubt he was 100% sincere, but it was a little bit awkward nonetheless), but the Rock Your Body / Can’t Stop The Feeling double-header was cool.
And so to the results, which will come in two halves – firstly the jury scores, then the public phone votes. So we traipse round Europe taking points in the standard way that we’ve been doing since day one, and it leaves things looking very interesting. It leaves us looking like Eurovision might be becoming Australiavision too!
This is where the whole night, which was already whatever the polite word for batshit crazy is, turns absolutely upside down. Because Petra and Mans now have to add the scores that the public from each country have awarded each song. And it turns vast swathes of the scoreboard on its head. Terrible news for the UK, who did pretty well technically, but get very little from the phone votes and end up third from last. Great news for Poland, who jumped from basically the bottom five to eighth.
Here’s the top 10 in reverse order:
But stop! Because now we have three countries left, and each could get enough of the remaining public votes to win outright. I have ZERO idea how this is working, but it’s between Australia, Russia and Ukraine. Australia are next out, leaving the final decision between Russia and Ukraine – and Ukraine takes it, leaving the Aussies second and Russia in third. There’ll be repercussions for sure, but I’m thrilled for Jamala, a worthy winner, a very very different song, it won’t be for everyone, but it all made Eurovision 2016 a break from the norm.