On the evening of the 22nd May 2021, viewers across the world tuned in to what is undeniably Europe’s cringeworthiest music show – the Eurovision Song Contest.
This year’s event was held in Rotterdam following the Netherlands’ 2019 victory with a dreamy ‘Arcade’ performed by Duncan Laurence, the fifth time for the country to host the contest.
Widely favoured by the bookies ahead of the Grand Final, Måneskin of Italy took the trophy home with the glam rock number ‘Zitti e buoni’, the country’s first Eurovision win since the 1990 ‘Insieme’ and third overall. In a competition dominated by solo performers, this was also the first time since the 2006 triumph for Lordi for a fully-fledged band to take the top prize.
Entertainingly, Måneskin members got progressively more relaxed as the night unfolded, culminating in the lead singer reintroducing the previously censored-out naughty words in the reprise performance, physically exerting himself to the point of splitting his trousers and spraying his band members with champagne at the winners’ press conference – instantly endearing the audience otherwise accustomed to your usual immaculately presented, well-behaved and love-proclaiming Eurovision acts.
It was a disappointing night for Gjon’s Tears of Switzerland, who, despite winning the jury vote with his emotional ‘Tout l’Univers’, received less enthusiastic support from the public, finishing third overall. Barbara Pravi of France could not have offered a more French performance with ‘Voilà’, finishing second. It was the first time none of the Eurovision top three entries were performed in English since 1995, when, may I observe, one could still only perform in an official language of their country and both UK and Ireland consistently landed near the top.
RETURNING TO NORMALITY… PARTIALLY, ANYWAY
It was a welcome relief to have our favourite event back on our screens. Due to the obvious state of the world, last year’s Eurovision Song Contest was cancelled for the first time since 1956, disappointing many. In a chilling reminder of how far we have come in the last 14 months, this year’s Eurovision venue, the Rotterdam Ahoy event centre, was being used as an emergency hospital a year ago.
With the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), the organiser of the event, putting a time limit on the commercial release of the entries, the songs originally selected for the 2020 contest were not eligible to participate in 2021; in a goodwill gesture, many of the participating countries including Australia, Iceland, Lithuania, Malta and Serbia invited the same performers to pen new tracks.
With the partial return to normality following the (painfully slow) vaccine rollout across most of Europe, a live audience of 3,500 people was allowed at each Eurovision 2021 show, with audience members needing to have tested negative for COVID-19. The performing artists were also subjected to regular testing, with at least two positive-test casualties ahead of the Grand Final: Laurence Duncan’s interval act and Iceland’s Daði og Gagnamagnið, both unable to participate live and appearing on video instead. Disappointingly for Australia, its contestant Montaigne was unable to leave (or, more accurately, to return to) the country, likely contributing to its lack of qualification to the Grand Final.
NIL-POINT VOES AND OTHER EUROVISION RANDOMNESS
The night was nothing short of heart-breaking for the UK’s James Newman, who now holds a humiliating ‘honour’ of being the only entry since the 2016 overhaul of the voting system to have finished with zero points from either the jury or the public vote. However, all is not lost: despite the largely negative portrayal of the UK participation in Eurovision in the media, this was only the second time in the history of the contest that the UK pulled the questionable feat of receiving nil-points.
Some entrants were clearly hoping for a broader spectrum of voting. Finishing second last, Germany’s Jendrik’s on-stage ensemble featured a dancing version of a human peace sign, with the pointing finger flexed in as required whilst the singer tickled away at his ukulele, thus inadvertently(?) giving the soon-to-be unappreciative juries and the audience ‘the bird’.
Lithuania was guaranteed to entertain with its intensely yellow outfit The Roop masterfully negotiating singing and dancing on high heels. It is said that the mayor of Vilnius had promised a massive ‘Discotheque’ extravaganza in the city should this song win Eurovision; sadly, the prospect of a street party in the Baltic capital failed to sway voters, landing the entry in eighth place.
As always, some entries allowed the viewer a perfect opportunity of a comfort break. The Portuguese quintet the Black Mamba treated us to a slow faux jazz performance complete with bow ties and tuxedos, winning reasonable acclaim from the jury but only limited public support. Immemorably, Congolese-born Tusse described as a ‘household name’ in Sweden fell short of becoming this generation’s ABBA, Belgium’s Hooverphonic’s James Bond-esque ‘The Wrong Place’ did sound like it had entered a wrong contest and Serbia’s female trio Hurricane reminded us of the joys of hairdressers reopening across the continent, if nothing much else.
Oh, and the vastly popular US rapper Flo Rida made an inexplicable appearance halfway through the entry for… San Marino. We might never understand why.
CONGRATULATIONS TO THEM ALL
On to my favourite part of the night! The best outfit change of the night undeniably goes to Russia’s Manizha who impressed us all with her massive baboushka-style patchwork outfit stitched together by female volunteers across Russia. She hardly spent any time in it before jumping out to decry the Russian women’s plight whilst sporting a bright red jumpsuit and sneakers. A former refugee herself, her family having fled civil war in Tajikistan, Manizha is currently serving as the Goodwill Ambassador for UNHC for Refugees.
My save-the-planet award goes to the four solo female artists who successfully managed to recycle the same sparkly dress during the night. What an impressive feat for Cyprus, Albania, Malta and Moldova to have handed down the bedazzling outfit for the next girl to enjoy! The designer of that dress was without doubt the real winner of Eurovision.
The serious-about-this-contest award goes to Norway’s TIX who imported 160 kg worth of costumes into the Netherlands, most of it undoubtedly consisting of his massive white angel’s wings and chains. I would like to see that excess luggage bill! The Tourette’s artist gave an overwhelmingly positive message of ‘you’re not alone’ to his fans at the end of his catchy ‘Fallen Angel’.
The greatest leap of faith goes to Stefania of Greece for, blindly, leaning backwards halfway up a flight of stairs into a green-clad, visually impaired backing dancer whilst on high heels and continuing singing. The limited Eurovision audience had the good laugh of watching green people run around on-stage, but it was the Dutch-born Stefania who fully embraced her role as Greece’s representative, with all the ensuing obligations to remain serious despite any absurdity surrounding her performance.
The best tribute act must go to Elena Tsagrinou of Cyprus whose appreciation for Lady Gaga shone though. Hoping to repeat the success of the country’s 2018 ‘Fuego’ (pro tip: use a Spanish word in the title), the singer seemingly renamed Lady Gaga’s smash hit to ‘El Diablo’, but both failed to impress the viewers and upset the Cypriot Orthodox Church in the process.
Finally, the winner in the best lyrics’ category is Ukraine’s electro-folk band Go_A whose charismatic lead singer Kateryna did not bat an eyelid as she sang of sowing hemp seeds, sitting on maple trees, getting twined with periwinkle and owls blowing into the water – all of which made total sense because, you know, Eurovision. My favourite of the night, Ukraine came second in the public vote but suffered from lesser jury enthusiasm, finishing a respectable fifth overall.
And that was Rotterdam 2021 – see you in Italy next year!