Sod the haters. The 2016 Eurovision Song Contest was actually pretty good. The Swedes were, as ever, superb hosts, there was passable comedy throughout, and the new voting system made for a genuinely exciting climax – even if the final outcome did leave a bad taste.
After three and a half relatively short hours, it was revealed – with a new voting system that split the jury and public votes – that Ukraine had pipped Australia to the post, overturning a huge deficit thanks to the popular vote – not that it didn’t go without controversy.
No politics we were told. “Come Together” they preached. Thus, why were Ukraine allowed a three-minute slot to deliver an obvious message to Russia? Jamala’s winning effort sung of the Soviet Union’s deportation of Crimean Tatars in ‘1944’, which was also the song’s title.
Officials allowed it since it was historical, not political. But two years after Russia’s annexing of Crimea. Come on, really? It was heartfelt, passionate and all the rest of it, but its intentions were clear – previous songs have been denied entry for less. This was not Eurovision’s finest hour.
Russia is not liked here, but is tolerated (just about). However, one wonders whether they will be welcome in Ukraine a year from now. The nation is also desperate to win again. The bookies’ favourites relied on a catchy – albeit unoriginal – track with magnificent visual effects. It ended up third, behind Ukraine and Australia.
So, what to make of the Aussies, Eurovision’s unlikely insurgents? Dami Im’s ‘Sound of Silence’ was the jury’s pick by a mile, but came up a long way short in the popular vote. Perhaps the good folk of Europe disapprove of Australia’s involvement, or maybe the contest was always ordained to stick one to Russia. Should they come back again? I don’t see why not, but part of me was glad they didn’t win it. It might be time for them to go and start their own contest closer to home.
Scandinavia has pretty much owned the event lately, with Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden (twice) hosting in the past decade, with the last-mentioned proving themselves to be the doyens of Eurovision. In the legitimately funny and ever-popular PETRA MEDE, along with the affable Måns Zelmerlöw, the show had presenters who didn’t look like they’d be hung, drawn and quartered if they put a foot wrong.
The half-time act was littered with brilliance: we were whisked back to ABBA and the glory days, greeted with Eurovision darling (Cockney accent required) Lynda Woodruff and treated to a smorgasbord of the contest’s good, bad and excellent in Petra and Måns’ ultimate Eurovision mashup, ‘Love Love Peace Peace’, which executed parody perfectly. Lordi, the Russian grannies, Alexander Rybak all turned up for cameos. Oh, and Justin Timberlake made an appearance too.
As for the United Kingdom, the less said the better. We are simply out of ideas. The jury gave us more love than we’ve become accustomed to (Malta awarded us 12!), but the televote just consolidated the known fact that Europe bloody loathes us. ‘Joe and Jake’ did what they could, but our trial with generic pop was shunned.
Now 19 years bereft of top spot, it is high time we took it really, really seriously or give up and go back to sending trash – our “proper” attempts in recent years have reflected an ungodly neediness.
But while the UK isn’t going to be staging Europe’s biggest party any time soon, Sweden showed for the second time in four Eurovisions that it’s in safe and competent hands.
Yes, it was cheesy, and there were plenty of “in” jokes, that would have befuddled those who don’t have the shameless tag of being a ‘Eurovision addict’. But in an era where the contest has developed a reputation for being a joke, to turn it on its head and embrace that was a stroke of genius.
Eurovision is something I usually love to hate, and that feeling will probably return in Kiev(?) next year. But credit where it’s due. Stockholm 2016 was fun, fresh and paid homage to what Eurovision has become. Can Sweden have it every year?