Kyiv 2017 – Grand Final – Review

15 May 2017

“Music is feeling” – such a beautiful sentiment! That was the response from Portugal’s Salvador Sobral immediately after winning the Eurovision Song of 2017 in Kyiv, Ukraine. It was a dominant win too, winning both the jury and televote, to score 224 points more than Jamala last year and to double the third placed score of Moldova. It’s doubtful that’s ever happened to a third place country before. In second was Bulgaria – the only realistic challenger as the night grew – 145 points behind Portugal. Kristian Kostov needed to rely on a public aversion to Portugal to have any chance to overtake Sobral come the televote stage. Not only didn’t that happen, the public thoroughly reinforced the jury’s verdict.

Salvador Sobral from Portugal wins Eurovision Song Contest Kyiv 2017

Salvador Sobral from Portugal wins Eurovision Song Contest Kyiv 2017. Image: Andres Putting

Unfortunately, Salvador tarnished his win when, within his broader speech at the presentation ceremony, he disrespectfully dismissed “disposable music” right in front of his peers, and then followed that with an arrogant and aloof display at the press conference. Sorry Salvador, without disposable music there would be no Eurovision, and disposable music can have feeling too. Twenty six Salavdors in a Eurovision Grand Final would be a very boring event indeed.

For my favourite songs, it was a mixed bag. Belgium proved all the doubters wrong with a solid fourth position. Likewise Romania, who’s delightful yodel/rap hybrid finished seventh. Greece and Denmark finished 19th and 20th, while Estonia couldn’t even make the final – finishing 14th in their semi. Overall I’m happy, especially for Belgium and Romania. They were my big two in the grand final, and while their performance was overshadowed by the domination of Portgual and Bulgaria on the scoreboard, they made me proud and I always enjoyed watching them for each of the 5 performances I saw.

The Top 10

01 Portugal – Salvador Sobral – Amar Pelos Dois – 758 (3)

While I grew to appreciate the song, it was never my thing, and found it all a bit pretentious and self-indulgent. It’s the third year running that I haven’t liked the winner. No big deal, because Eurovision is about the festival of music, and all types are welcome. Also great is that a new country wins. Salvador’s comments at the presentation: “We live in a world of disposable music – fast food music without ANY content – and I think this could be a victory for music with people who make music that actually means something. Music is not fireworks. Music is feeling. So let’s try to change this, and bring music back, which is really what matters.”

02 Bulgaria – Kristian Kostov – Beautiful Mess – 615 (6)

A song I always felt had a good chance because Kristian stood out as one of the very few male ballads and had an evocative, somewhat haunting, resonance to his song. While it never finished the way it promised to do, second place with 615 points is a phenomenal result and would win the contest in most other years.

03 Moldova – Sunstroke Project – Hey, Mamma! – 374 (6)

Always entertaining and a favourite with the public.

04 Belgium – Blanche – City Lights – 363 (9)

Eventually Blanche got there. Struck by nerves in the early shows and with the difficulty of presenting such a vocally suppressed song on the big Eurovision stage, fourth is an excellent result – especially that she got 255 of her points from the public. They recognise a great song when they hear one! While I’d have thought a dark and moody setting would have worked better, the result vindicates the design decisions made.

05 Sweden – Robin  Bengtsson – I Can’t Go On – 344 (4)

No doubt this one is in Salvador’s category of “disposable music”, Sweden won’t be discouraged after a placing at 15 spots higher than it deserves. Scored big with the juries too, despite its cheapness.

06 Italy – Francesco Gabbani – Occidentali’s Karma – 334 (7)

The only way this wouldn’t win is if viewers switched off and looked elsewhere. That exactly happened for the big favourite. In all fairness, viewers switched off from all songs except Portugal and Bulgaria.

07 Romania – Ilinca ft. Alex Florea – Yodel It! – 282 (9)

A hit with the public as expected, the jury only had a passing interesting. A great result for a song that many had panned. That should encourage more yodelling at Eurovision, and that can only be a good thing, right?

08 Hungary – Joci Papai – Origo – 200 (4)

Even though it’s a big gap in points from seventh to eighth, Hungary will be well pleased with this traditional ethnic style of song. Again, like with Portugal, while I wasn’t a big fan, I appreciate its appearance and actually stayed attentive for all 5 renditions I saw.

09 Australia – Isaiah – Don’t Come Easy – 173 (2)

Rejected by the public with only two points in the grand final, the jury carried it. Why?This was always a dull song by a limited artist with a terrible, self-indulgent presentation. Isaiah didn’t go for the big notes he tried during the semi final shows, which was a good call because he couldn’t handle them and ironically by being restrained and in control meant he sounded better.

10 Norway – JOWST – Grab The Moment – 158 (6)

One I grew to appreciate more as the shows transpired, and deserved top 10.

The Rest

11 Netherlands – OG3NE – Lights And Shadows – 150 (8)

A favourite with the juries, and rightly so. I grew to really love this song. Such lovely harmonies, they kept the staging nice and simple, and it’s a great story about their sick mother, who managed to arrive in Kyiv and farewell her daughters to their grand final performances.

The three sisters sof OG3NE farewelled to the Grand Final by their sick mother

The three sisters of OG3NE farewelled to the Grand Final by their sick mother. Image twitter@OG3NE

12 France – Alma – Requiem – 135 (7)

The beautiful staging showing a rotating Paris no doubt helped this. It might have done even better had it stayed all French. The change to the English sections were too harsh and didn’t add anything to the song. It’s a song about feeling, and as Portugal showed, you don’t need English to convey that.

13 Croatia – Jacques Houdek – My Friend – 128 (7)

Another that relied on the public vote (as expected), you can’t fault the presentation of the song. It captured the message perfectly and was well designed considering the task at hand of presenting two voices from one man. Potentially it could have been a trainwreck.

14 Azerbaijan – Dihaj – Skeletons – 120 (6)

The presentation is still a total mystery to me. Something more conventional would have served the song better, especially with it being my sixth favourite heading into Kyiv.

15 United Kingdom – Lucie Jones – Never Give Up On You – 111 (8)

Rejected by the public, this really did deserve better than 15th. Maybe the harsh tone in the voice and meandering style I initially felt with it still lingered despite the revamp and superb presentation.

16 Austria – Nathan Trent – Running On Air – 93 (5)

All his points came from the jury. I guess too boring for the public. It is important to note that only songs 1 to 10 score points – a limitation of the current system in a field of 26. Most likely Austria were ranked by many countries in that 15 to 20 range. Unfortunately that scores you no points. Australia would have been in a similar position.

 17 Belarus – Naviband – Story Of My Life – 83 (6)

I always enjoyed these two, and they really planted that kiss afterwards. It was like they were on the Titanic! Maybe it felt like that for them because the propellers on their flying boat stopped working for the grand final. One of the best things about being in the arena is seeing the artists linger on stage afterwards, really soaking up the applause and not wanting to leave. It’s all even more poignant during the semi finals because they are acknowledging it could be their last time whereas in the grand final it’s more a celebratory moment.

18 Armenia – Artsvik – Fly With Me – 79 (5)

I initially hated this song and that’s reflected in the result here and despite being one of the best presentations of the contest. It also should have been performed in their native language. It felt ethnic, and half the time she was unintelligible anyway.

19 Greece – Demy – This Is Love – 77 (8)

The tenth qualifier from semi final 1 with a 16 point buffer, so those probable automatic 24 points from Cyprus in the same show proved critical! It was only during this live grand final that I realised Demy’s dancers were splashing around in water. Their appearance on all fours on either side of Demy also reminded me of those two four-legged creatures in Ghostbusters. I barely saw any fans of the Greek song other than myself, so 19th is about right.

20 Denmark – Anja – Where I Am – 77 (8)

Again flawless vocals, and it needed to be because the song was never quite strong enough on its own. Anja only scraped through to the grand final in tenth spot from the tough semi final 2 by three points. The public rejected her with only 5 points, and in the grand final she could only gather 8 points (all from Australia – thank you!). The result is on the disappointing side. I thought 10th to 15th was the right range, or even well into the top 10. My only explanation is that Anja over-performed it. Going down on her knees and slamming the floor during the finale was an addition from the national final and might have put people off. Anja didn’t need to do it either because her vocals provided that emotion. When such emotion is being conveyed by something so personal like the human voice, it feels more genuine too.

On the night of the grand final jury show I was lucky to meet her mother, Bettina. Such a lovely lady too! I told her that she liked my comment on Facebook about Anja forced to try overseas after Australia dumped her. I went on to say that many Australians are proud of her daughter, and I felt Anja was betrayed after winning The Voice. She wins, her single is cancelled, a month later some hip-hop rubbish is released as part of a duet, it flops, and then she’s dumped. Therefore she had every right to pursue her dream elsewhere, and it was great that Denmark embraced her.

At the Red Carpet, I had already told Anja similarly the words I told her mother, and she was visibly touched, placing her hand on her chest, and said that was so nice. She really listened intently because it was clearly a difficult decision for her, especially with the risk that her allegiance to Australia would be questioned. I sensed deep down Australia means much more to her, she is Australian first, and would have preferred her career take off here. She asked that I tag her on Instagram to which I said I have an account “shadowsofmydestiny”. She immediately smiled and interrupted me saying “I know you”, and I responded that liked a comment recently. One of her delegation laughed at this serendipitous meeting. The wonders of social media!

This question of allegiance was a sticking point with her mother, and I’m sure the camp seemed tired of answering it, because Bettina freewheeled into talking about it when my sister asked when Anja came to Australia. Anja was born here; it was Bettina that migrated, as an 11 year old. Bettina then added Switzerland’s Timebelle had a Romanian singer and no one questions that. I added that it’s all irrelevant. There’s no borders with music, and putting a national label on a song won’t change one’s feelings about it. Finally I asked her confidence level in terms of a result, like top 10. The camp wasn’t even considering that and only wanted Anja to perform well. That she did.

21 Cyprus – Hovig – Gravity – 68 (6)

A unique and interesting song, it was never a challenger so a low grand final result about right.

22 Poland – Kasia Mos – Flashlight – 64 (4)

This one grew tired. Credit for at least dialling back the vocal gymnastics from the national final. Unfortunately doing that revealed the song’s weakness.

23 Israel – IMRI – I Feel Alive – 39 (6)

An ironic title since the host broadcaster is closing down, which means no more Israel at Eurovision until another suitable one starts and they are successful in joining the EBU. Despite early misgivings, I always enjoyed this and surprised it finished so low. Maybe those initial instincts were right all along.

24 Ukraine – O. Torvald – Time – 36 (7)

Loved the giant head with light beams from the eyes. Rock rarely doesn’t well at Eurovision and this wasn’t the strongest example of that genre.

25 Germany – Levina – Perfect Life – 6 (7)

What do you know, bland Germany with their standard bland song finish with a bland result near the bottom of the table. A pity, because I really liked it.

26 Spain – Manel Navarro – Do It For Your Lover – 5 (1)

Deplorable and irredeemable, and that’s how it finished.

Summary

My Top 10: Romania, Belgium, Denmark, Greece, Netherlands, United Kingdom, Croatia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Germany. Of those, only Romania (7th) and Belgium (4th) made the actual top 10. I’m proud of that! From the grand final jury show, I bumped up Belgium 1 place and Croatia 3 places. From my pre-ESC top 10, only Estonia and Czechia are missing, due to their elimination at the semi final stage. Up came the UK (from 31st) and Croatia (17th).

One theme that emerged from this year’s Eurovision is countries are trying too hard. Too many fancy graphics, too many gimmicks, and too many props. Narcissistic images of yourself, lying on your back or standing in a balloon will not turn a forgettable song into a memorable one. There’s a time for keeping it simple by plonking yourself on the stage with a band, connect directly with the audience, and simply sing the damn song. For up-tempo songs, a slick choreographed routine with a group of dancers will win over silly graphics any day. This year’s contest was almost devoid of such a thing when typically it’s a Eurovision staple.

It’s worth noting the countries that just missed out in the semi finals. In the first semi it was a big break to Poland in 9th with 199 points, Greece 10th (115), Georgia 11th (99), Finland 12th (92), Czechia 13th (83) and Albania 14th (76). Iceland, Montenegro and Slovenia followed, with Latvia last on 21 points. In semi final 2 it was a big break to Belarus at 9th (110), then Denmark 10th (101), Serbia 11th (98), Switzerland 12th (97), Ireland 13th (86) and Estonia 14th (85). FYR Macedonia, Malta and Lithuania trailed, with San Marino last on 1 point. That was one point more than they deserved.

Average score for the grand final was 6 – indicating a good, though not spectacular, final. Semi final 1 scored 5.9 while semi final 2 scored 6.4. It all vindicates that it was such an even year with the quality of songs, even though the final scoreboard doesn’t reflect that. That is a shame, because it’s actually been a somewhat depressing Eurovision. No really high quality songs, no songs to really emotionally invest in like Slovenia last year, organisational problems in the lead-up, a poor Eurovision Village and a lacklustre vibe in the city. Despite wanting a new country like Portugal to win, I couldn’t even get excited at that because of my indifference to the song. While it all came together in the end, we really needed something super exciting to leave Kyiv on a high, and that never happened.

focus magazine ukraine - may 2017

I was interviewed along with several other international travellers for the Ukrainian magazine Focus, asking about perceptions and then reality of Kyiv and Ukraine. The translation:

Expectations: I’m going to Ukraine for the first time. This is a huge country, and I will see only a part of it – Kyiv. I think that is a modern vibrant city with a unique Ukrainian charm. I think the Ukrainians are similar to Russian – in a better sense. I crossed paths with Russians in Estonia and they really stand out in comparison with the polite and nice Estonians. Is it fair to think like all Russians, I do not know. At the same time, my neighbors at home – they are Russian, and they were very nice to talk to.

I like to be surprised by traveling to new countries. Sometimes I scan in advance where it is better to go and what to see. I learned that there is a monument to the cat in Kyiv. You need to pat her on the tail for luck! Forward to the trip to Chernobyl. After “Eurovision” will go to Belarus and the Baltic countries.

If I really like Kyiv and Ukraine, I will be back, because I did not plan to stay for long this time. Besides your visa system makes it difficult. That is why Ukraine has always been a low priority for me in deciding where to travel. I know the basic information about the country – language, flag and the capital. Yet it seems to me that Ukrainians love to combine nudity with humor, judging by the TV show “Naked and Funny”. Unfortunately, that’s all I saw of Ukraine on TV in Australia.

Reality: Ukrainians are very friendly, especially the young, are always ready to help. Older people are not fluent in English, so it is understandable that they are less friendly. I appreciate the old buildings. I do not see any private homes: only apartment. That is unusual in Australia, except for the city center. Prices in Ukraine are low, which is good. Convenience stores are missing, particularly for light meal options. No tourist offices to take a city map with all the sights. This hampers the movement in Kyiv, if not using a smartphone. The paper map is better: everything is marked, and it is easier to use.

Kyiv 2017 – Semi Final 2 – Review
Kyiv 2017 – Semi Final 2 – Jury Show Impressions
Kyiv 2017 – Semi Final 1 – Review
Kyiv 2017 – Semi Final 1 – Jury Show Impressions
Kyiv 2017 – The BIG Preview!

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