2022’s Big ESC Story: Collective Success for the Big Five?

After a pandemic curtailed 2020’s ESC for the first time in history and threatened to topple a significantly smaller, in-person outing in 2021, Eurovision Song Contest 2022 seems to be coming in to land smoothy in Turin. A collective sigh of relief that the ESC we know and love returns to some form of normality, but something potentially abnormal – at least in the last decade – is hovering this year. In an unprecedented turn, could 2022 be “The Year of ‘The Big Five’”, as they are known, in which the five ascend arm-in-arm to the top of the leaderboard?

Fans and sometimes-viewers alike know what the ‘Big Five’ is, but for those uninitiated here’s a reminder: Five countries, noted for being the biggest financial contributors to the EBU, are rewarded with automatic qualification to the ESC final in a rule first enacted in 2000. These countries are: Spain, Germany, France, United Kingdom and Italy. None have to compete in either semi-final to get a place in the Grand Final and ultimately a greater chance to win in a smaller pool. 

Big Five: Bigger Chance? Or Bigger Flop?

There’s long been debate about whether this upper hand has actually been a poisoned chalice. Sure, there’s extra risk in competing through the semi-finals that you crash out without qualifying, but there’s also an extra chance at exposure and making the viewers recognise your talent, revere the song and have resonance when voting again in the final. The EBU in more recent years has, to its credit, tried to make the airtime fairer and even out the playing field by including 2-3 of the Big Five in each Semi-Final broadcast in some form, including previews of songs and live performances.

However, since the introduction of the Big Five we often witness quite a few of these ‘Big Five’ languish towards the end of the leaderboard –– which has been a bit of a running joke and commentary aligning to a potential cursed position the Big Five are privy to. For context, in the last ten finals a Big Five country has finished in last place no less than six times out of ten. However coincidental or not, some seem to think landing in the bottom can often be -because- of being part of the Big Five.

But in recent years, this has shifted. In 2021, the tense final moments of televote delivery in the Grand Final saw a clear two-horse race between two acts, both part of the big five: Italy and France. Just 25 points between them at the final tally and over 60 points of a gap between them and the next-closest challenger, Switzerland. A chance encounter, perhaps? Well, let’s look closer… Italy has actually finished in the top ten for the last four contests consecutively. Germany had a serious chance in 2018 when they came fourth. France has improved its odds bit-by-bit since 2016 when Amir (predicted to potentially win) came just outside the top five as sixth placer. 

What’s in Store in 2022?

Now, in 2022, It’s the unlikely turn of the UK, which has gone from serial bottom-of-the-board to winning potential. But not on their own –– the rest of the Big Five are in contention –– with Spain, UK and host nation Italy all standing their ground in and around the top five in betting odds for Eurovision week. France and Germany started with fair odds and are now slipping down the table, so France may be in contention to sneak in to the top ten in the final leaderboard whilst at this point it would be a shock if Germany did.

In any case, let’s delve a little further into the past to understand what a rare phenomenon this year may be.

Italy’s Bark is Best in the past Decade

Italy has without a doubt been the best performer of the Big Five in the last 10-12 ESCs. The first Big Five to win and host within that time, and now with the highly likely chance of a back-to-back win and successive hosting, which only Ireland has ever done*. So it’s no major shock that they have won and are now in final preparations to host the contest. In fact, to add to this –– if the public got their way Il Volo would have won in 2015, and if the jury got their way Raphael Gualazzi would have brought victory to Italy way back in 2011 when they returned from their Eurovision hiatus.

But, let’s go by the book, and place ourselves back in time, the first time in a decade that a Big Five hosted after winning: 2011. Not only was this significant, as one of the biggest-contributing countries to the EBU hadn’t won and hosted since the UK over a decade prior, back in 1998. It was also the graduation of what was known as the “Big Four” to the “Big Five”, with Italy returning to Eurovision after a 13-year absence. Italy came back triumphantly, storming in at second but from 2011 to today there has been ten Eurovision Grand Finals, and taking stock of those ten, Italy has finished five times in ten within the top five of the leaderboard: one win (Måneskin, 2021) coming second twice (Raphael Gualazzi, 2011; Mahmood, 2019), third place once (Il Volo, 2015) and one fifth place finisher (Ermal Meta & Fabrizio Moro, 2018). Now, in 2022, Italy is once again the Big Five-r to beat, though UK and Spain are giving them chase…

But instead of focusing on what might be inevitable the closer we get to the Grand Final (Italy winning), we’d wager the bigger story is how the other four of the Big Five are veering towards success in Turin, because it’s an anomaly –– especially together. Let’s trace the trajectory of the Big Five in the last ten contests, 2011 – 2021…

Track Record: A decade of highs and lows 

2011 — Italy come second upon their return in Düsseldorf. Spain come third last whilst Germany, France and UK sit in the middle of the pack. (1/5 of the Big Five in the top 10)

Image (c) EBU

2012 – None of the big five land in the top five in Baku, though Germany, Spain and Italy are 8th, 9th and 10th respectively. However, France and the UK finish within the bottom five of the leaderboard, UK comes second-last. (3/5 in the top 10)

Image (c) EBU

2013 – Italy land just outside the top five at seventh place with Marco Mengoni in Malmö. UK, Germany, France and Spain all fall within the bottom ten of the leaderboard. (1/5 in the top ten)

Image (c) EBU

2014 — Spain just about clinches 10th spot in Copenhagen, but four of the five are within the bottom ten of the leaderboard. (1/5 in the top ten)

Photo: Albin Olsson License: CC BY-SA 3.0

2015  — This time Italy is the only Big Five in the top ten, coming third in Vienna. All four others find themselves in the bottom ten of the leaderboard. (1/5 in the top ten)

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Image (c) Andres Putting via Eurovision.tv

2016 — France’s Amir is the only Big Five in the top ten in Stockholm whilst Germany comes last. Germany, UK and Spain all in the bottom five of the leaderboard, Italy just outside the bottom ten. (1/5 in the top ten)

Image (c) EBU

2017 — Italy is again the only big five in the top ten with Francesco Gabbani in Kyiv while Germany and Spain second-last and last respectively. UK and France finish in the middle though both predicted pre-Grand Final to do better by bookmakers. (1/5 in the top ten)

Image (c) Gleb Garanich/Reuters

2018 — Germany and Italy fourth and fifth place respectively (Michal Schulte; Fabrizio Moro & Ermal Meta) in Lisbon. The UK and Spain finish within the bottom five of the leaderboard. France finds itself in the middle. Note: SuRie for UK had a stage invasion, and opted against performing again, even though offered, which likely affected her chances at a better score. (2/5 in the top ten) 

Image (c) EBU via Eurovision.tv

2019 — Italy come second in Tel Aviv with Mahmood (who is the same performer they have chosen for 2022) whilst the United Kingdom and Germany come last and second-last, respectively. Spain also falls within the bottom five of the leaderboard. France, again, comes within the lower part of the middle. (1/5 in the top ten)

Image (c) LaPresse

2020 – Eurovision cancelled, no contest, no Grand Final and thus no winner. [NOT COUNTED]

2021 – Italy and France finish first and second respectively in Rotterdam. At the other end of the table, the UK comes last with nul points (which is not supposed to really happen anymore because of points pooling and votes delivery) and Germany and Spain finish second-last and third-last. The Big Five is at polar opposites of the leaderboard with two at the top and the other three at the bottom three. (2/5 in the top ten)

Image (c) EBU / Andres Putting

You’ll see that in ten contests, more often than not only one of the Big Five found itself in the top ten, sometimes this was two, never more than three. So we make it to this year, and what’s so special or noteworthy? Well, this year there’s a slim chance that that ranking is turned on its head and all five of these countries land within the top ten. But in reality, the likelihood is that at least three of the five (Italy, UK, Spain) will finish in the top ten, in fact all in the top five maybe and a great chance one of them will win. Potentially four could finish in the top ten at a push. Sweden and Ukraine seem to be rounding out the top five, followed by Poland, Greece, Serbia, The Netherlands and Norway –– these are the ones who may be standing in the way of France getting into top ten territory. France could have the potential to pull in the surge vote that Go_A benefited from in 2021 for their Breton rave ‘Fulenn’ and Germany with its Dermot Kennedy-meets-Eminem style singer Malik Harris could surprise everyone with its jury vote. It’s all to play for…

Exactly ten years ago, 2012, was the best year for the Big Five –– could this year be even better?

*Israel has won back-to-back (1978, 1979) but hasn’t hosted back-to-back. Spain has only ever won back-to-back (1968, 1969) but the second in a four-way tie and didn’t host the next year. Luxembourg (1972, 1973) won on home soil but couldn’t host a second year. Ireland has won back-to-back twice (1992, 1993, 1994) and hosted all three years in a row (1992-1994).

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