Well, that was fun wasn’t it? Eurovision has come to a close once again and Portugal, in our eyes, did a good job of hosting their first ever contest. Every year has difficulties to overcome, but we leave Lisbon pretty happy with how the whole contest was organised; we’ve been to both Kyiv and Stockholm on previous years to compare it to. But as Eurovision fans, there’s always a couple of observations and learnings to share post-Contest in those few weeks of recovery (filled with PED, post-Eurovision depression), and about six months of musical wilderness whilst we wait for the next year’s selection season!
Comeback Kid: Ireland
Let’s kick off with our home country. Full disclosure, in case you didn’t know, this year we were incredibly lucky to be working with our national broadcaster, RTÉ, to create new and different Eurovision content for their social media channels. We really got wrapped up in Irish fever but before departing last week, couldn’t help but notice how low down in the odds table we were – which we’ve become used to over the past few years as a nation.
But something happened. Our incredibly talented act, Ryan O’Shaughnessy, complete with his duo of dancers and trio of backing singers, captivated both juries and public. He squeezed into the final. He soared up the odds table and in a true case of the comeback kid, after a four-year non-qualifying streak, Ireland finally progressed to the final once again. So good was our performance and our entire participation, by the time the Grand Final was in sight we were third favourite to win the entire thing.
Though it was gut-wrenching to behold the points declaration at the Final where Ireland wasn’t awarded as much as the odds maybe suggested, we did come a respectable 16th place out of 26 in the Final. We wish it was at the very least a left side of the board result, but compared to previous years it was wonderful. Hopefully the momentum is on our side now for future years, because Ireland is truly back in the game.
Unexpected Result: United Kingdom
The UK and Ireland both face a huge issue when it comes to Eurovision, and that’s public perception – both across Europe and right here at home. As we’ve discussed in our thoughts on bloc-voting at Eurovision, we can admit that the quality of Eurovision was abysmally low, save for a couple of exceptions, in the mid-2000s. The British have been trying to reverse fortunes and ride on the back of a new lease of life in Eurovision by having a selection show and allow the public to choose the act after a few years of reality TV stars who fared not so well which came after the poor attempts by golden oldies like Engelbert Humperdink and Bonnie Tyler.
SuRie this year was a true superstar, and even though we hate using these words (mainly because we think fans say it every single year) she was a perfect ambassador for the UK at Eurovision. She was fun, polite, kind and loved by so many in the press and fan community, plus she spread the word at home in the UK about how important and worthy Eurovision is. The stage invasion that took place on Saturday was beyond unfortunate because of who it happened to, but ever a professional, SuRie carried on and did a wonderful job.
“They all hate us”, wail viewers in Britain. No, they don’t. SuRie gained more televotes from the public than Sweden (5th in the odds for the final and amongst the highest-awarded jury vote at the Final). SuRie doubled the UK’s televote points from last year. It just wasn’t a particularly strong song, and that’s fine. SuRie as a performer is the success story of the UK this year, carrying on and improving the legacy set by Lucie Jones in Kyiv in 2017. SuRie was a talented trooper – the UK was so lucky to have her as their competitor and we seriously hope this isn’t the last we see of her in Eurovision. We have a feeling it won’t be.
Shocks and Surprises….
The biggest surprise of the night were two countries in particular: Sweden and Austria.
Let’s start with Sweden, where we travelled to follow this year’s Melodifestivalen (their Eurovision selection show) during #6WeeksOfSweden. Benjamin Ingrosso was a popular choice within Sweden, though lots of the Swedish public we spoke to remarked in the very same breath how weak this year’s Melfest was in terms of songs and performers. So that’s telling. Interestingly, Benjamin’s performance on Swedish television back in March sounded quite different to that in Lisbon at Eurovision 2018. It seemed softer, higher pitched and less stand-out in May.
It was obvious that from the first performance of the song in Karlstad that the visual effect of the performance would impress the Eurovision voting audience if it won, but in fact it was the juries who ate this one up. There were moments we thought ‘this could go all the way for Sweden’. Considering they are only one win away from matching Ireland’s record of seven Eurovision wins, though, if you’re asking us this isn’t the song worthy of matching that. The public gave Sweden amongst the lowest points of the night, which led to a massive cheer in the arena. That was a shock. Of Sweden’s 274 points, only 21 of those were fan-awarded. Only 7.5% of their entire score.
Austria though? Wow. César Sampson won the jury vote, but only halfway in the pack in the public votes (13th) so relegating it to 3rd place overall. Still, third place for a song we completely overlooked, didn’t even think would qualify and frankly found very vanilla and run-of-the-mill in terms of Eurovision. There was so little hype about this, and when we delved further it seems that this was allegedly rejected from BBC’s Eurovision, You Decide selection show for not being strong enough. As the 12’s started to creep in more and more for Austria, those around us in the Altice Arena were asking “which was Austria again?”, and started humming the track to no avail. How did everyone get this one so wrong is a question for another day, but it’s interesting to see how the professionals see the entries versus the public. (For the record, the jury’s watch the jury final which is on the Friday night, a perfect run through of the show barring the results that acts as a dress rehearsal for the Grand Final on the Saturday).
Plenty of people are saying that the juries are now incredibly out of touch but perhaps going forward the jury brief needs to be more transparent for the fans. We’re still questioning it ourselves: is the purpose of a jury and its select few members for every competing country to reflect their personal opinions and musical tastes or to project their country’s industry and represent the perceived tastes of its people. Should it should be a fair middle ground? Is that even possible? Small groups of “industry experts” in countries across Europe are awarding points on behalf of their whole nations which equal the amount available to the entirety of the voting public. That’s a massive amount of power. We know the Eurovision state that “jury members are asked to judge the vocal capacity of the singer, the performance on stage, the composition and originality of the song and the overall impression of the act” but in some cases, the inconsistencies are unnerving and stark.
We don’t mind a jury vote, because the public often make bad decisions too, and the variety not only adds excitement but also some variety where the points are concerned. But before we go through another year of outrage at their points, we’d like a little more clarity to understand their role a bit more, and maybe there needs to be a more significant shake-up on that side.
We’re not sure how this came across on TV, but the jury vote was all over the place. One result in particular gained a reaction that wasn’t warranted, and that was the 12-points to Serbia from Montenegro. The reaction in the arena was overwhelming – not helped by the confusing flip flopping of points across the board which proceeded it.
Plenty of people moaned that the Serbian jury only gave the points to their neighbour because of geography, but as we’ve said many times before, cultures are shared often beyond border lines. Listen to both the Serbian and Montenegrin entries – they’re similar in ways. The two countries were one for so long under Yugoslavia and then linked in Serbia & Montenegro, for Slavko’s sake! Of course they share a similar ear. High points given and received between neighbours is not ever guaranteed, but it does happen often, yet that’s not to say that that’s ‘bloc voting’ though, it’s just historically similar musical tastes.
Surely a lot of those booing were the same who moaned that Ireland didn’t give our 12 points to the United Kingdom… Also that the UK actually didn’t give 12 to Ireland or Finland, even though both Ryan O’Shaughnessy and Saara Alto are well-known to the British public through Britain’s Got Talent and The X Factor respectively.
The Winner 🐔
Israel snatched their fourth win in Eurovision history, and from the get-go, this had been the song to beat, however it tumbled in the odds ever so slightly in the final week. We are torn on the song itself – we appreciate its uniqueness, its energy and infectiousness. It’s an anthem, no doubt, but we had reservations about how the general public would receive it due to how bonkers it sounded on first listen. It’s very different for Eurovision. Happy to hold our hands up when we’re wrong and say on this occasion: we were.
An issue we had with this entry, which soured our enjoyment of it to a degree, was the reaction we got on our YouTube channel to our opinion of it. One of us rated it, the other didn’t initially – which is usually how our YouTube reaction videos go. We speak our minds upon first listen of the tracks. What comes up in YouTube comments more and more in modern Eurovision times is the idea that hits or views or even thumbs ups are a barometer for a song to win or not.
Remember 2017? Italy’s Francesco Gabbani had millions more views than Portugal’s Salvador Sobral last year, and guess who won? Not to mention other factors like Sobral did none of the preview ‘parties’ across Europe; Gabbani did most, if not all, of them. And that Sobral didn’t attend many of the rehearsals in Kyiv and also did very little press. Gabbani, the opposite, and yet Sobral was awarded over 700 points – the highest ever awarded in Eurovision history. Another point that annoyed us was how Netta’s team broadcast clear destination marketing videos ahead of the final showcasing Israel and proclaiming “this is what could be”, goading votes on a potential hosting destination rather than on a song. It’s a song contest, not a destination showcase.
Fan or Foe?
‘Toy’ is set to the backdrop of Netta’s life spent not fitting in, being bullied and being different. Yet, for the first time within the Eurovision fan community, we got called every horrible name under the sun with our reaction to this song. That we can take, but then we got called things like “stupid faggots”, and we snapped. We’ve never been called anything like that in all the years we’ve been putting ourselves out there as Eurovision experts and passionate fans to try to promote and perpetuate the Eurovision story. Some factions of the Eurovision fandom need to take a serious look at themselves. The fact a personal opinion of one particular entry can warrant hateful vitriol like these threats and name-calling, especially within an incredibly pro-LGBTQ contest, makes us sad, angry and worried about the toxicity in some sectors of the fandom. Yes this is the internet and everyone has an opinion. No, we’re not snowflakes and can handle critique, but this is a friendly competitive song contest brought about to bring peace, humanity, belonging and integration, and the use of THAT word, in the context of Eurovision is unacceptable. Hungarian fans were similar in their comments to us, and last year in Kyiv we actually found some Portuguese fans in attendance aggressive and intimidating in their behaviour within the arena. This is not okay.
Whilst we’re excited for next year’s contest, we’re also worried about how factors around the Eurovision Song Contest will come into play into the build up and enjoyment of it. We try and consciously keep our website and social media a relatively politics-free zone, but we already know that our job of will be ten times harder throughout the next year in light of recent news events. We already know we’ll be dealing with a lot of difficult situations in terms of comments, critiques and abuse in covering a contest we love so much and a destination that we’ve wanted to visit for quite a long time. Opinions will fly from every angle and while the city hosting is still TBD at this point in time, we know it will upset and frustrate some, and for others (including us) it will cause anxiety over safety and the rest.
We had something akin to this with Kyiv ahead of their hosting in 2017 (though we know it’s wrong for us to compare like-for-like), and we can honestly say we felt safe, secure and happy the entire time we were there – but we know a lot of people had reservations beforehand, including ourselves. For instance, we didn’t book an Airbnb for Kyiv because we frankly didn’t want the awkwardness of being two men checking into a place, and as such having to come out again to a complete stranger in person or in a booking enquiry in a country where we weren’t 100% sure about their acceptance of gay people. We didn’t feel comfortable being overly animated or affectionate on the streets. A hosting city and destination does affect a fan’s experience of the contest, and the fans are such a vital component of the contest.
We just hope that whatever decision we make regarding next year, we hope our followers will understand and respectful towards us.
So above we mentioned about the fact we this year worked with RTÉ to create some social media content for the contest. In previous years we’ve taken over other accounts and contributed to websites and the likes, but this was a really big deal for us. The fact Ireland qualified made our job a lot more fun and exciting too. We ran a bit of a poll on our Instagram asking “if the fact Ireland was in the final would it make you more inclined to watch Eurovision this year?” and it was a resounding ‘YES’. Over 80% of respondents, in fact.
Even more so, on our own audience, we received so many messages, DMs and tweets saying that people tuned in for the first time or were inspired to engage with the Contest simply because of our content, our passion for it and us in general. People dressed up, they had parties, they sat in on a Saturday night and enjoyed a really great, enjoyable TV show for a couple of hours. And that, for us, is a job well done. Some haven’t watched the contest in years, and are noticing that it’s a far-cry from what it once was, so their opinions are changing but there’s still a long way to go – and we relish that challenge. The BBC had over 8M peak viewers on Saturday night (versus the much-hyped X Factor Final which had 4m, and beating Britain’s Got Talent on the other side). At one point on Saturday night, one quarter of the entire Irish population were watching this one show with huge audiences viewing too on the RTÉ Player (a 570% increase in fact compared to last year’s final). That. is. incredible. 1 million people fixated on a three-hour broadcast. It’s huge.
Artists, musicians and songwriters need to see the potential in Eurovision for it to flourish further in Ireland and the UK. No, being part of it doesn’t guarantee a career in music, or commercial success. But you’ll be known by a community of fans, in their thousands and thousands for years to come, who will – for a few weeks of the year – give intense support any fledgling artist would adore to have. Don’t diss it, Eurovision is on the up once again.