Stockholm 2016 – Grand Final – Review

15 May 2016

What a ride! For my first every live Eurovision experience, I could not have asked for more – except if Dami Im’s Sound Of Silence had snuck the win for Australia. Instead, Ukraine’s Jamala with 1944 leap-frogged past Dami during the televote phase of the voting. It’s ironic that the Grand Final was decided by the two most technically proficient vocalists in this year’s event when the trend was for bigger, bolder and more spectacular as a result of last year’s winner, Sweden. Both were flawless in their vocals, managing to relegate hot favourite, Russia, to third.

The Eurovision Song Contest is notorious for the copycat mentality of following the successful formula of the previous year, and equally notorious for voters not to reward it. Safe to say Russia fell victim to this, particularly from the juries. While they loved Sweden last year, they snubbed Russia this year – who brought a better song and transformed the interactive graphics to a whole a new level. Maybe 2015 was an aberration for the juries, because they typically go for artistry over gimmicks. Let’s hope there’s also no copycat mentality with Ukraine, because the last thing we need is a Eurovision hall filled with the sound of feral cats fighting.

Dami Im, second for Australia at the Eurovision Song Contest of 2016 (source: eurovision.tv)

Dami Im, second for Australia at the Eurovision Song Contest of 2016 (source: eurovision.tv)

The new voting system, in which the jury and televote results were not combined into one and were read separately, did its job of retaining the suspense until the very end. There’s also a downside to it that, because the expectation of a potential massive change to the leaderboard later means there’s a state of limbo while the jury votes are read. This is also manifested by the fact each jury only reads the 12 points. The other 9 allocations appear on the screen for perusal while the representative babbles. Compare that to the traditional method, where this year could have been a really exciting three-way race. If we presume the margins are halved under the old system (because jury and televote are combined before converting to ESC points), Ukraine win by 12 points with Russia 10 more points behind in third, making every vote so crucial. Instead it became one of false hopes. That a country can lose a 100 point lead in the blink of an eye does not make good television. The other piece of bad television was the “zero points to the Czech Republic” from the televote. That was a cruel moment.

This is also the second year the public didn’t get their winner. Last year it was Italy winning the televote, this year it was Russia. In fact, Ukraine didn’t win the jury vote, Australia did – by 109 points. Ukraine won the contest by coming second in both. Australia only ranked fourth on televote, while Russia was a lowly fifth – 190 points behind Australia and 81 behind Ukraine. The televote phase was always about whether Ukraine would be called before Australia, and if not, would Ukraine’s televote margin over Australia be less than 109 points for Australia to win. They got 323 points compared to 191 for a 132 point margin, with Russia getting 361 points.

It’s too early to throw away a new voting system after just one year. It needs time to settle. The real problem I envisage is the growing unease of the jury deciding the winner or, at least, halting the public’s preferred option. The solution to this would be the “super final” concept that I mentioned in the Pros & Cons of Eurovision’s New Voting Procedure. Here, the top 3 places are never revealed. Instead, those 3 countries are split by televote alone, meaning a Russian victory this year. This gives a good balance of public winner versus the need for juries to keep the competition diverse and fair.

What about if the old system was in use this year? According to a British website, Australia wins with 320 points. Next is Ukraine on 279 and Russia on 240, then Bulgaria on 182 and France on 166. Even if these figures are correct, personally the old system was flawed. Combining votes meant countries only getting moderate scores from either jury or televote would typically end with nothing, and the margins are bigger. For instance, Poland drops from 7th to 19th despite being the third most popular country with the public, and there’s an 80 point gap between the top 3 compared to 43 under the new system despite it having double the points in play.

There’s been so much internet chatter about a conspiracy at play, that the jury did not want Russia to win. Realistically, if there is a conspiracy, it’s that the public did not want Australia to win. The jury result seems typical, whereas there’s a huge number of Europeans critical of Australia’s place in the contest. For such a popular entry, fourth on televote is low. Russia and their gimmicky prop, you expect the jury not to be seduced by that and prefer the more artistic Australia and Ukraine.

Putting conspiracy theories side, the real reason Australia just failed to win is because there were two incredibly strong songs from the ex-Soviet region. Russia and Ukraine hogged the 12 and 10 points from so many countries, that it left Australia fighting for scraps.

The Top 10

1) Ukraine – Jamala 1944 – 534 (1)

I’ve been diplomatic about this recently out of respect for the artist. While technically good, sorry, not holding back here, I hate it. It’s so whiny, wailing and the voice shrieks like an alley cat. I again found myself thinking “oh, shut the hell up” like I did when I first heard the song. While I’m happy for Jamala and Ukraine, for me, Eurovision is about the music. Winning Eurovision is mostly the curiosity at the end of week of great music and shows than something to become obsessive about. A particular song, at a particular time, at a particular venue. Other years it could just as easily fail.

2) Australia – Dami Im – Sound Of Silence – 511 (9)

This song was always about Dami Im live, and she was stunning. The vocal flourishes worked, especially that blistering final note to make sure you don’t forget her. Then there’s Dami herself. So humble and dignified. That she’d celebrate with a lemonade says it all. The tone in her voice is so nice, being quite sweet at lower ranges and then full body at higher ranges without shrieking. Typically Asian voices are so squeaky, sounding more like dolls. Growing up in Australia, learning and singing in English, this might have led her to develop more rounded and powerful vocal muscles to really make her shine.

3) Russia – Sergey Lazarev – You Are The Only One – 491 (8)

Sergey did nothing wrong, other than maybe the song was not as good as the hype suggested. Four out of 5 other years, he probably wins.

4) Bulgaria – Poli Genova – If Love Was A Crime – 307 (9)

My favourite of the night and a great triumph for Poli and Bulgaria.

5) Sweden – Frans – If I Were Sorry – 261 (3)

Probably over-achieved for a song that I’ve long resented because it left several better ones behind in Melodifestivalen. Too dull and repetitive for me. Interestingly snubbed by the Norwegian jury with zero points. Denmark wasn’t too kind either with four points, while Iceland gave 6 and Finland – home of a large Swedish-speaking enclave – 12.

6) France – Amir – J’ai cheriche – 257 (6)

Even though in the top 5 of the betting all along, somewhat a surprise to score this high. Sure it’s catchy, it also gets repetitive. Immediately I liked this when it was announced, then soon grew weary of it.

7) Armenia – Iveta Mukuchyan – LoveWave – 249 (8)

One of the big improvers for me from the time it was announced to the live Eurovision experience. Superb vocals and great effects.

8) Poland – Michal Szpak – Color Of Your Life – 229 (8)

The most enigmatic song this year. Michal clearly had a connection with the general viewer. Almost causing a civil war in Poland when he beat Margeret’s tacky Cool Me Down, Michal charmed his way to finishing third on the televote after coming second last with only 7 points from the juries. In fact, you could say that Michal was a nuisance in Dami Im’s quest to win Eurovision. If Russia and Ukraine weren’t taking all the televotes, Poland were. You won’t win Eurovision without consistent 12 or 10 points across the voting.

9) Lithuania – Donny Montell – I’ve Been Waiting For This Night – 200 (7)

Donny is brilliant, has a great voice, it’s that simple. Top 10 well deserved.

10) Belgium – Laura Tesoro – What’s The Pressure – 181 (6)

I’ve always liked this funky, up-beat song, and Laura’s cute style. While it wore a bit thin over the months, clearly the viewers felt that initial attraction that I did. This was Australia’s number 1 on both jury and televote. In fact, for of the 5 jury members rated it first.

 

The Rest

11) Netherlands – Douwe Bob – 153 (6)

Serviceable rendition of a decent country song

12) Malta – Ira Losco – Walk On Water – 153 (6)

I grew to like this more over time, thanks to Ira’s great vocals. The change to this song from Chameleon was the right move. Good luck with the baby!

13) Austria – Zoe – Loin d’ici – 151 (6)

Always popular with the audience, this was one that was initially engaging and remained pleasant to keep watching. In terms of promotion and interviews, Zoe was probably the hardest working of everyone.

14) Israel – Hovi Star – Made Of Stars – 135 (6)

Great finish and nice voice always made this a decent song.

15) Latvia – Justs – Hearbeat – 132 (6)

Song never strong enough for me – despite Justs’ talent and energy.

16) Italy – Francesca Michielin – No Degree Of Separation – 124 (7)

While I finally got into this song – my second favourite leading into Eurovision – I knew it wouldn’t suit the contest, and the presentation made no sense. Interestingly, Francesca’s pot plants spent their down time hanging in the scaffolding and would be lowered for her act. It was fascinating watching the stage hands switch props over so quickly for each act. The stage manager was also always around to calm the contestants and gee up the audience.

17) Azerbaijan – Samra – Miracle – 117 (6)

Surprisingly a flat presentation – and result – for a song I really liked heading into ESC.

18) Serbia – Sanja Vucic – Goodbye/Shelter – 115 (6)

Great vocals really sells this, especially the finish. Otherwise, one that grew weary on me.

19) Hungary – Freddie – Pioneer – 108 (6)

Another guy, like Latvia’s Justs, that left a lung on a stage, maybe two.

20) Georgia – Nika Kocharov & YGL – Midnight Gold – 104 (7)

One that really grew on me through the contest, and one I saw the most – seven times – thanks to a technical problem in the Jury show semi final. It fell flat with the public, which only emphasises the value of juries. If it’s only the public deciding, such songs would never bother to enter ESC, and that would be a shame.

21) Cyprus – Minus One – Alter Ego – 96 (6)

One of my favourites leading in, I never liked the staging.

22) Spain – Barei – Say Yay! – 77 (7)

Should we be surprised? Another excellent Spanish song fails abysmally – and that was primarily the result of the televote. Does Europe hate Spain?

23) Croatia – Nina Kraljic – Lighthouse – 73 (6)

One of my favourites from the semi finals, I grew a bit weary of it. Nina didn’t seem to nail the vocals like normally, either.

24) United Kingdom – Joe & Jake – You’re Not Alone – 62 (6)

I really thought UK would be much higher, certainly top 20, if not top 15. Like with Spain, it was the televote that stuck it to them.

25) Czech Republic – Gabriela Guncikova – I Stand – 41 (7)

All votes came from the jury. Again, reinforces the value of the jury. Gabriela would never have reached the final, and the Czechs never had their first finals appearance. This was a great ballad and I never grew tired of hearing it.

26) Germany – Jamie Lee – Ghost -11 (4)

Typical quirky German artist with boring song, wasn’t that something I said when this song was announced?

 

Summary

My Top 10: Bulgaria, Australia, Poland, Armenia, Russia, Italy, Czech Republic, Lithuania, Spain and Georgia.

With several personal favourites failing at the semi final stage, it was difficult to find a clear best from the grand final. I rated Bulgaria and Australia 9 more to separate them from a group of songs on 8 points.

An average score of 6.3, so a good final. It was certainly a very even final from my perspective, struggling to really get behind any one act. Many of these ratings are also based on accumulative viewings, and being side on in the arena for the grand final, the acts that did best were primarily solo, vocal acts. Highly choreographed acts lost impact, especially with the distant and partially obscured placement of the display screens.

Semi Final Scores

The top 10 from each semi final were comfortably set. Russia dominated semi final 1, winning by almost 100 points from Armenia and Malta. In tenth were Croatia on 133 points with Bosnia Herzegovina 11th on 104. Then followed San Marino 68, Montenegro 60, Iceland 51, Finland 51, Greece 44, Moldova 33 and Estonia 24. The only surprise loser was Iceland. I guess it’s that copycat syndrome again, of not wanting to reward copycats!

Australia won semi final 2 with Belgium not far behind. Serbia was in 10th on 105 points with FYR Macedonia 11th on 88. Then it was Belarus 84, Norway 63, Slovenia 57, Ireland 46, Albania 45, Denmark 34 and Switzerland 28. The big surprise remains Norway. Even though it seemed disjointed, Agnete sung it well and it finishes strongly.

Full Scoreboard

The Live Experience

Nine shows in six days began to take its toll. Some of this was forced because of the difficulty getting tickets to the grand final during the first selling wave. To ensure we got something relating to the final, during the second wave we got tickets for the two rehearsal shows – Jury and Family. Then the third wave of released, we were lucky to snag the Grand Final tickets. Note that the Jury show is the night before and acts as a full dress rehearsal, including all interval acts, and becomes the official show if something stops the Broadcast show happening. The Family show is earlier in the day of the broadcast, and is more a final run-through. The artists are often not in full make-up, and they go straight back to the dressing room after they perform. Not all the interval acts perform either, like some dunce called Justin Timberlake.

This year the Big 5 and Host also rehearsed in the Jury shows, three in each, to serve as footage for inclusion in the Broadcast semis. This was a good move, and something I’ve long advocated, as it allows viewers to see them twice, as they do with the semi final artists. Otherwise it’s dull preview videos that are broadcast.

If you have a favourite artist, then get all 3 semi final shows, and make sure you vary your tickets. The semi final Family shows are least full, and for those we got standing room at the stage, which was great for photos. The grand final shows were all reasonably full house. If we had a choice, we’d have skipped the grand final Jury show as the seats were in the top deck and too distant. Having a full day off would have been nice too, and spend more time at the ABBA museum. For the grand final Family show we were front row on the lower level side on, so we couldn’t miss that show. Also consider you’ll be taking photos, may also want to spend one show primarily watching the screens, and one watching the stage. There really is a lot to absorb, so multiple visits are a must. If you do go to six semi final shows in total and have tickets to the grand final Broadcast, then you can probably ignore the corresponding Jury and Family shows.

The grand final Broadcast was still the most exciting of them all. The atmosphere is superb, the arena is rocking, and the artists bring it all to the stage. It’s the one that matters most and that buzz and personal focus easily wipes out any weariness.

Slovenia

Other than that heading and this sentence, I promise not to mention Slovenia in this post! OK, the reason I did dedicate so much time, and mentions, to ManuElla is that this is a personal blog. I want to convey the passion, excitement and emotional of Eurovision in the best possible way, and that is via the music. It’s these reasons I love Eurovision. Even if Blue And Red is not among your favourites, the hope is you can apply my sentiments to your own favourites and gain a deeper insight into this phenomenal event and the artists involved. Most have very similar stories.

I’m back in Australia on Thursday after a day in Tallinn on Tuesday (what’s new!). It’ll be onto the recordings of SBS telecasts and watching on youtube all the interviews during the event. I’ve stayed away from it all, not wanting to be hit with spoilers. Eurovision 2016, it’s not over yet!

 

Stockholm 2016 – Semi Final 2 – Review
Stockholm 2016 – Semi Final 2 – Jury Show Impressions
Stockholm 2016 – Semi Final 1 – Review
Stockholm 2016 – Semi Final 1 – Jury Show Impressions

 

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