We all love Eurovision, but even the most diehard fan would have to admit that 2017 season became a little draining at times, with the whole Ukraine/Russia dynamic and the will-they, won't they? saga of Russia's participation. There was also a lot of uncertainty around - it took a long time for Kyiv to be announced as the host city for 2017, and the months leading up to the contest were blighted by bad news - resignations in the Ukrainian production team, various delays, ticket problems etc, and at one point it was even rumoured that the contest would have to be moved elsewhere. Christer Björkman and a Swedish production team became involved to help the Ukrainian TV company deliver the contest - which probably explained why there was a Swedish feel to the visual aspect of this year's proceedings.
The final began with a VT themed around the multi-coloured beads which make up the Ukrainian 'necklace' featured in this year's logo. This was followed by the introduction of all this year's finalists who then made their way down from the stage to the green room.
At least our three hosts didn't waste too much time and just 11 minutes into the show it was time for our first song.
ISRAEL: "I Feel Alive" - Imri.
Last song in semi-final 2, and first song in the final. A very energetic start and Imri was in good voice, although I thought he gave it more in the semi-final. This song had grown on me quite a lot since the semi-final though, and I particularly liked the little ethnic section in the middle of the song. It wasn't earth-shattering by any means, but I'd rather have something frothy and throwaway like this than the tiresome ballads polluting the contest. Ooh, talking of which.....
POLAND: "Flashlight" - Kasia Mos.
I'm still not sure what the bad-rhyming lyrics of this song had to do with an animal rights theme? Yes she was certainly a fierce vocalist, no doubt about it, sometimes a little too fierce, but the song just wasn't there. Poland can, should, and probably will, do better.
BELARUS: "Story of My Life" - Naviband.
They had so much likeability and charisma together that you just had to root for them. Unfortunately the fans quickly stopped running on their boat, but that didn't stop them taking us on a fun (if occasionally frenzied) journey. The great thing about this was that it was in native language, but the hey-heys and the infectious singalong nature of the song crossed all linguistic barriers. And that kiss at the end! That is how you do a kiss - unlike some who made a mess of it later, to say the least...!
AUSTRIA: "Running On Air" - Nathan Trent.
In his postcard, Nathan was a dab hand at graffiti, so presumably if he inhaled some of that spray paint that might explain why he was running on air. That aside, he delivered another decent performance of this very lightweight song. I thought it might have had some televoting appeal - when in fact it took home this year's "nul points" from the televote, and was saved by a respectable jury vote. I just wanted to mention here though that I'm very impressed with Austria's approach to ESC of late. They seem to put a lot of time and effort into finding the right singer and song for the contest, which has been rewarded in the past couple of years with qualification to the final.
ARMENIA: "Fly With Me" - Artsvik.
Appropriately for a song called "Fly With Me" Artsvik and friends were in a hot air balloon, flying over some stunning Armenian landscapes in the postcard. .
Armenia absolutely know how to stage a Eurovision entry, from killer camera angles to mystical arm-ography. Purple clouds and some leftover leaping pyros from last year's entry too. This was visually stunning, but for me the song still had a lot of shortcomings. It took a long time for "LoveWave" to grow on me but I thought the overall package of last year's song and performance was so much better than this year's. I say this every year, but I still think they are winners in waiting.
NETHERLANDS: "Lights and Shadows" - O'G3NE.
Writing this post retrospectively, over three months on from the contest, it's inevitable that I must mention the very sad outcome of this story. O'G3NE of course is made up of the three Vol siblings and this song was written in tribute to their beloved mother, who sadly passed away in July 2017, aged just 47, after a long period of illness.
Regardless of whether or not this Wilson Phillips-influenced harmony ballad was your thing or not, I think that it took great courage for the sisters to get up on that stage and give yet another faultless delivery of their trademark harmonies. It was very clear at the end just how much emotion was going on up there and it was a fine tribute. As a Eurovision song though, it was very clear that this was going to be much more popular with the juries than the televoters. Unlike the next entry....
MOLDOVA: "Hey Mamma" - Sunstroke Project.
I was delighted to see the Sunstroke Project back in the contest. In the intervening years since 2010 they have honed their professionalism and become a very slick and appealing act. Every aspect of this was a crowd-pleaser, from the snappy dance routine to the backing singers singing into their bouquets, before transforming into brides halfway through the song - and the most epic thing about it of course: Epic Sax Guy. In the modern Eurovision song contest, which has got all authentic and intense and dare we say just a little bit too serious, people want a genuine fun entry, without any cynicism. In 2017, this was that song, and I'm not surprised for a minute just how well it did. Moldova used to be relied upon to bring the crazy to ESC: this was a little more restrained, but they certainly brought back the fun.
HUNGARY: "Origo" - Joci Papai.
Every year in Eurovision you listen to some songs more than others. Then there are those songs which you completely ignore, which were hiding in plain sight and you don't realise just how good they were until you actually see them in the contest. This was one of those songs which passed me by until the semi-final when the complete package blew me away. An ethnic-flavoured song in a foreign language, yet very simply staged and performed with bucketloads of heart and soul by Joci and the incredible dancer who accompanied him. This blended traditional and contemporary sounds to great effect and I'm very happy it did so well.
ITALY: "Occidentali's Karma" - Francesco Gabbani.
In the weeks and months leading up to the contest, this song had become such a resounding favourite that it was going to be an inevitable winner. For me, it became my favourite ESC entry of the past 20 years - that's how much I liked it. Yet on the other hand, I had mixed feelings about how it would go at ESC. Would the juries/televoters get the deep meaning of the song's lyrics, or would they just see a dancing gorilla gimmick on stage?
Sitting in a cruise ship cabin on the day after the final, watching a report on the BBC news channel about the contest, there was one thought going round and round my head, once my delight at Portugal's win had sunk in. Italy only came 6th? How the hell did Italy only come 6th??????
To find out the answer I decided to put myself in the role of casual viewer, as if I was watching this song and performance in the final for the first time. It just appeared a frenzied and visually incoherent mess. Although Francesco is a very engaging performer, it was very hard to make a connection due to the wide-ranging sweeping camera angles. It was as if the team from RAI wanted to show off the LED backdrop, rather than allow Francesco to develop any engagement with the viewers. There were many audience scenes but they generally failed to take advantage of focusing on the audience all joining in with "Alé" until the end chorus. I got rather dizzy watching it all. The staging in the more intimate surroundings of Sanremo was ideal, but in Kyiv it just didn't work.
Putting all that aside, "Occidentali's Karma" remains my favourite song of Eurovision 2017, even though I was delighted with Portugal's win. And I think many of us would agree that Francesco's was the best postcard this year and a lot of imagination went into it!
DENMARK: "Where I Am" - Anja.
Proving that a well-upholstered dress and a big 'ol pyro curtain can take you a long way. Being drawn between the two big favourites in the final was never going to be easy, but Anja performed the life out of this rather anonymous ballad and it is to her credit that she ensured a place in the final for Denmark after two non-qualifying years. It was never going to be a contender, but it was good jury bait nonetheless.
PORTUGAL: "Amar Pelos Dois" - Salvador Sobral.
Those who hate Eurovision (and in this country, that means the bulk of our mainstream media) whose mindset is stuck in the 1970s/1980s, are always quick to target the contest for its cheesy pop, its diggi-loos and its boom-bang-a-bangs - whilst not making the effort to discover a contest which has moved on a lot since those days. In this decade, the Eurovision Song Contest has evolved into something much more modern and contemporary, with not a boom-bang-a-bang in sight. Which makes me very happy, but one negative factor in the rush to produce entries which sound more like modern mainstream chart hits rather than old-school schlager has meant that more and more countries default to singing in English, lessening the chances of native-language songs to do well.
So it made me very happy in 2017 to see that native language songs all achieved some level of success. Every single song featuring a native language made it to the final The pre-contest favourite was a song in Italian. Portugal, meanwhile, a country which has always been true to its own musical heritage, to its detriment at Eurovision, returned to the contest after a year out, made no concession to the expectations of the modern song contest and sent a jazz ballad which sounded more 1927 than 2017.
But it was an awesome and unique song, performed by the most awesome and unique performer. Salvador Sobral did not just sing this song. It was as if he was using his whole body as an instrument, conducting every little note, bringing a unique musicality to his performance. I know that sounds a bit pompous but that's the only way I can describe it. Or in more simple terms, once seen, never forgotten. In a contest of big choreography, complex staging and dazzling backdrops, this was the contrast of contrasts. It stood out from everything else. With the simplest of staging, Salvador's performance, of a song written by his very talented sister Luisa Sobral, was utterly heartfelt, genuine and true to himself.
AZERBAIJAN: "Skeletons" - Dihaj.
The biggest shock about this entry? Me actually liking an entry from Azerbaijan. That is not a common occurrence. Judging by her postcard, Dihaj is probably the coolest person in Azerbaijan and she is the mother of probably the cutest toddler in Azerbaijan.
For some reason I still think she's singing "have my last five million" in the chorus. Well, she is from oil-rich Azerbaijan after all, so it's not beyond the realm of possibility is it :) And most of the lyrics were completely bonkers anyway, so it wouldn't really have mattered. Thorn jeans indeed. And as I said in my semi-final review, everything can be improved with a man wearing a horse's head, standing on top of a ladder.
CROATIA: "My Friend" - Jacques Houdek.
"There are only two ways to live your life" says Jacques. "One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle". There is only one way to throw up into a sick bag....
It's a miracle my friend, how this got to the final, although it has the same gruesome novelty value which people might vote for on "(wherever's) Got Talent". Yes I'll admit it, he did have a very good voice and got away with both vocal styles, however he had a bit of a wobble in the final chorus, not quite as bad as Isaiah's wobble in semi-final 1, but his backing singers - probably some of the best in the contest - kept it together. Talking of Isaiah....
AUSTRALIA: "Don't Come Easy" - Isaiah Firebrace.
No vocal wobbles this time round. However the lyrical themes of this song were maybe also a little too "old" for him - he is only 17 after all. Some rather egomaniac staging though, with multiple Isaiah images on the backdrop, whilst he was rotating on a microwave plate.
I still like having Australia at Eurovision but they may have created a problem for themselves by having set the bar so high in 2015 and 2016. This song was a disappointment for me but then I'm not really into that Sam Smith-style ballad.
Looking at the results table it is very hard to avoid talking about the elephant in the room: the biggest disparity between the jury votes and televotes of any song this year. Total score: 173. Total jury points: 171. Total televote points: 2. Australia have definitely established themselves as top jury bait - they topped the jury score last year - and 9th place overall isn't too bad. Nevertheless the fans will become very fed up if this pattern is to keep repeating itself, where Australia is saved by the juries in spite of very low televote scores, and possibly at the expense of a more deserving entry. Especially if they fail to maintain that high standard of their first two years in the contest....
GREECE: "This Is Love" - Demy.
Greece on the other hand is usually Australia in reverse: a country which always seems to do better with the televote. But even that wasn't true this year as the jury points outweighed the televote score, even though they'd thrown several kitchen sinks and a whole lot of water at the staging of this otherwise underwhelming pop song. The overwhelming feeling was that they tried just too hard, and even topless muscular men in knee-length pants doesn't guarantee you a spot on the left hand side of the scoreboard. But at Eurovision there is always someone worse off than you are......
SPAIN: "Do It For Your Lover" - Manel Navarro.
It would probably be a major understatement to say that this was not one of this year's most popular Eurovision songs. In an already underwhelming Spanish national final, the jury vote swung the victory for this song, immediately resulting in boos in the studio, and accusations of cronyism and conflicts of interest. All this aside, the fact remained that "Do It For Your Lover" is probably one of the laziest compositions ever to represent a country at ESC. With verses in Spanish, the chorus was just basically do-it-for-your-lover-do-it-for-your-lover-clap-your-hands-and-do-it-for-your-lover ad infinitum. Now being a Jack Johnson fan from back in the day, I appreciate a good laid back sun-soaked surfin' tune but this was not it. I see what they were trying to do with the surfing theme but the phrase which comes to mind is probably "you can't polish a turd". Spain needs to rethink. Look at the success of Despacito (and the tons of other reggaeton-flavoured songs which have dominated the Spanish charts over the past couple of years). Maybe that's the way to go?
NORWAY: "Grab The Moment" - JOWST featuring Aleksander Walmann.
The major issue around this song was the controversial use of whatever kind of sample everyone claimed it to be, the one after the chorus which went "I'm-I'm-gonna-gonna-kill-kill-kill-kill-kill". It completely enhanced the song so I'm glad it was allowed, but this also opens up a great big can of worms about playback vs live vocals. (Dear EBU, please keep live backing vocals at ESC, don't turn it into Melfest). This was one of my favourite songs in ESC this year, and still is. It's just a catchy modern dance-pop song, nothing fancy but it did the job and deserved its top 10 placing.
TIme for an intermission and a sketch featuring the three hosts and very special guest Måns Zelmerlöw, with his Eurovision hosting masterclass.
By the way, Måns was over in Kyiv, co-commentating this year for SVT.
Firstly a flashback to that UK national final packed with past X Factor contestants. I thought it was a very good choice to send Lucie to Eurovision, even if I have never been too excited about the song itself (co-written by 2013 winner Emmelie de Forest). Since appearing in the 2009 X Factor series, Lucie has gone on to become an established musical theatre performer and that could only be an advantage in ESC. Too many times in the past has the UK sent inexperienced artists who, despite having done the best they could, just resembled rabbits caught in the headlights. Eurovision fans recognise when an effort has been made, and although the BBC will never promote Eurovision in any satisfactory shape or form, there was an acknowledgement this year that they were making more effort than usual with the staging of this song.
Dressed in a gold Grecian-style gown, standing inside a multi-mirrored 'shell' backed by shimmering explosions of gold light, Lucie did her very best. My only gripe here - her facial expressions were a bit too... expressive and often came across as scowling or gurning, and at one point she looked as if she was plucking a difficult-to-remove eyebrow hair. But vocally she was perfect, and the golden lights and pyro effects provided a simple but very effective backdrop.
To end in 15th place was a very reasonable result - after all these days you can usually see the UK down near the end of the scoreboard. Yet according to the British press, this was a disappointing result and that the UK was discriminated against because of B****t. It's the EU's fault. The usual utter garbage from our media. Think about this: Moldova, Azerbaijan, Australia, Norway all finished higher than the UK on the scoreboard. None of these countries are in the EU. Explain that one, British tabloids!!
CYPRUS: "Gravity" - Hovig.
Choreography was obviously influenced by the song's title, but it was more about 'balance' than 'gravity' as Hovig and his two sidekicks tried to hold their poses walking on the lines on stage.
There is always a song every year which takes inspiration from a recent hit and the backing of this certainly owed a lot to Rag N'Bone Man's "Human". This song didn't really grow on me too much although I didn't hate it either, however its qualification to the final did surprise me especially when one particular better song failed to make it out of semi-final 1 (yes you're absolutely right, I'm still not over Finland).
For 2018, reports suggest that Cyprus is internally choosing a songwriter who is not G:son - and the country will go down the Armenian route of choosing a singer and then matching them with the song. No offence to G:son but it's probably time for a change. Maybe this will allow him to focus more on Melfest - or will he offer his talents to another country?
Something else worth mentioning here: Hovig is of Armenian extraction. Every Azerbaijan jury member ranked the Cypriot entry second-last; just in front of their usual bottom-placed Armenia. The Cypriot entry did pretty well out of the Armenian jury and televote. That's even before mentioning the usual depressing news every year that the Armenian and Azerbaijan ranked each other's entries rock bottom. Yet year after year, the EBU refuses to take any action on this very suspect annual occurrence.
ROMANIA: "Yodel It!" Ilinca featuring Alex Florea.
Earlier in the evening, Belarus' Naviband showed us an example of a warm, romantic, end-of-song kiss. At the end of this over-stimulated mess, three minutes of cannons and virtual confetti and macho posturing, Alex moved in and forcibly kissed Ilinca and it was very uncomfortable viewing indeed. I really hope they're not a couple - she's far too good for him!
I'm glad that this song didn't do as well as many had first thought. It was just horrible. and lacking in fun and warmth. As if Alex Florea hadn't annoyed us enough, he then went on to make negative comments following the contest, suggesting that Salvador had used "cheap theatrics" to win. Well, Alex, I guess it takes one to know one - "Yodel It!" was full of cheap theatrics!
GERMANY: "Perfect Life" - Levina.
All of you who sat through the German selection process will surely agree that it was 3 hours of your life you'll never get back. What happened to those musically diverse German finals? Their recent results at Eurovision haven't justified their selection processes. Levina, the latest lamb to the slaughter would probably have ended up bottom of the table had it not been for Spain. The song started with a Titanium rip-off and went nowhere, gave no-one any particular reason to vote for it, and the grey staging just created an overwhelmingly drab impression. Germany needs a big change in how it selects its entry for Eurovision, otherwise bottom-5 will be the norm in years to come.
UKRAINE: "Time" - O. Torvald.
Sometimes a song can be drastically improved between the national final and ESC, sometimes the reverse can be true. In the Ukrainian national final, the staging was very effective with an almost apocalyptic feel, with the band members wearing digital clocks ticking down to match the title of the song. By the time the ESC final came around, everything had been tidied-up, the clocks, the fire and the apocalyptic setting had been replaced with - a big head. (?)
The song and the performance would have been more effective in its original form, instead of this diluted version. But credit to Ukraine for sending a bit of rock anyway, in these days where bands, and guitars, seem to be out of fashion :(
BELGIUM: "City Lights" - Blanche.
Although she may have struggled in rehearsals and delivered a nervy performance in semi-final 1, Blanche finally cracked the mix of strength and vulnerability when it mattered. Dressed in a black gown, Blanche remained static and gave a controlled performance of one of this year’s best songs. There was that key moment in the middle of the song where she relaxed and gave that little smile, and everything was going to be ok. One of this year's biggest televoting successes and well-deserving of that 4th place finish. I hope Belgium keeps up the good work and if so, there could be a win on the way very soon.
SWEDEN: "I Can't Go On" - Robin Bengtsson.
An underwhelming winner of an underwhelming Melodifestivalen, but sometimes Sweden just needs to take a year out of being a contender for the win. Slick, clinical, cold and empty - although I must acknowledge that it was quite an achievement to dance on a moving treadmill ! - and all things considered, a 5th place finish for this song wasn't too bad.
BULGARIA: "Beautiful Mess" - Kristian Kostov.
Proof that the draw still matters: three of the last four songs of the evening ended up with top-5 placings.
Sometimes I just feel out of step with the acceptable way of thinking. So there was a school of thought that this song would have made a very worthy winner. Kristian - a young man with a mature voice beyond his years - was definitely better than the song, which for me was just a rather dreary modern ballad, and I wouldn't have been happy if this song had won purely because of the "cute young singer factor". My main probem is that he just looks too young at the moment - but I have no doubts however that we haven't seen the last of Kristian at Eurovision and I think he will come back to the contest after a couple of years and maybe even win it. He just needs a better song.
FRANCE: "Requiem" - Alma.
It's been an amazing transformation for France over the last 2 years at ESC. They have gone from bottom 5 regulars to achieving very respectable performances. The secret is (a) send an artist with the initial A (Amir/Alma) and (b) get Nazim Khaled to write your song. 12th place was a very nice result for Alma's song which, like 2016's entry, was bilingual. I liked Alma's encrusted black and white mini dress. The messy and dizzying backdrop eventually gave way to the Eiffel Tower and a layout of Paris. I would have liked to maybe have seen some tango dancers on stage to reflect the mood of the song though. I hope France continue to build on their success of the past couple of years and I would really love it if they could win. *Laura dreams of France sending Kendji Girac, it will never happen, but I can dream*
Songs over - time for some Eurovision royalty- the legendary Verka - to open the voting.
It was then time for Ukraine's first ever ESC winner, Ruslana, to strut her stuff, dressed in a chain mail vest and singing "It's Magical". Another voting recap and then it was time for one of the most enjoyable interval act segments of recent years - ONUKA featuring the NAONI Orchestra, with a terrific blend of electronic and traditional Ukrainian sounds. Nice as it was to see Justin Timberlake last year, I'm glad that this precedent hasn't continued and the interval act slot is once again giving exposure to local performers from the country staging the contest. I really enjoyed this one.
After an interview with an Aussie fan by Timur, there's a couple more issues to deal with - the annual appearance of the most recent Junior ESC winner - this time, Mariam Mamadashvili from Georgia which will be hosting this year's contest in Tblisi. Her English was incredible too! One more recap and then the final interval act of the evening, the return of last year's winner Jamala with her new song "I Believe In U" which was disrupted by a mooning stage invader waving an Australian flag - but he was no Aussie Jimmy Jump - he was in fact a Ukrainian prankster.
On to the jury voting which as usual featured a number of familiar faces among the spokespersons, including Wiktoria, Aminata, Juri Pootsmann, Iveta Mukuchyan, Bo Halldorsson (Svala's dad), Sanja Vucic, John Karayiannis, Douwe Bob, Zlata Ognevich and commemorating her win from 20 years ago, Katrina Leskanich announced the UK jury vote. Then of course there were the now legendary Lee Lin Chin from Australia and well what can we say about France's Elodie Gossuin? How would she follow up her "yououououououououou" from last year? With some style, as she tackled "Requiem" in her own inimitable way. Please come back again Elodie!
There was an emotional moment in the jury voting as Israel's spokesman Ofer Nachshon announced that IBA, the broadcaster which had transmitted Eurovision for 44 years, was closing down that evening.
After all the jury votes were revealed, Portugal had a 104-point lead over Bulgaria in 2nd place, with Sweden 3rd, Australia 4th and the Netherlands 5th. But after last year we all know how things can change with the exciting announcement of the televote at the end of the evening!
The scoreboard looked very different as the televotes were revealed. Hungary, France and Romania were propelled to the left hand side, but Moldova, with the third top televote, ended in 3rd place. Bulgaria placed 2nd in the televote and on the scoreboard - meaning that Portugal won the Eurovision Song Contest for the very first time. They've only been competing in the thing since 1964 so who could deny them their victory after so long? The other remarkable thing here was that the jury voting and televoting totals were almost exactly the same (382 and 387 respectively) - what a consensus of popularity, and certainly a big change from last year's result.
A happy yet calm Salvador took his victory walk from the green room to the main stage. And then he gave his victory speech.....
"We live in a world of disposable music, fast food music without any content....I feel this could be a victory for 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."
Salvador was joined by his sister Luisa, the song's composer, for the traditional final reprise which they took turns to sing. It was a unique end to a very enjoyable evening. Our three hosts brought the show to a close with a final message from Alex that Ukraine is a tolerant, modern and very open country. Although there was an embarrassingly muted response when Timur asked the audience if they would be coming back again!
But even when the contest was over, the controversy regarding Salvador's speech didn't go away.
Come on everybody let's sing along and feel the power of a song
You probably wonder why I've chosen to refer to the chorus of one of the most reviled ESC winners of the past 20 years. But I thought it was appropriate when it came to thinking about Salvador's comments.
As I wasn't at home at the time of the final I wasn't really sure just how much reaction his comments had provoked, however I got the feeling that not everyone was too happy. Some felt that he was directly taking a shot at ESC and biting the hand that feeds - I don't think he would deliberately do this, but I think he was rather aiming at the general standard of pop music being produced today. (Have you listened to the charts lately? We need Eurovision season for an injection of quality every year!)
However, it seemed to annoy a couple of his fellow contestants - Alex Florea with his "cheap theatrics" comments and an Instagram post by Robin Bengtsson which said that his speech was "below the level of a true winner" and that "fast food music" can be the best thing at the right time, as can "a song as beautiful as yours". Yes, we need better quality music - and that even goes for Eurovision, where the standard of songs submitted is much higher these days. The bar has been set higher and it needs to stay there; but as the quality has improved, some of the fun has gone out of the contest. Which explained why Moldova did so well this year. So in Eurovision there is room for both the "fast food music" and the more serious variety.
In a wider context, different types of music work on different levels at different times. The most important thing is the power of music to move you - if it makes you smile, makes you sad, makes you dance, makes you think, then it has done its job. Even if it's the trashiest piece of pop, or an elaborately produced song by a serious artist. So, my own view is that Salvador's comments were both right and wrong, but I believe that they came from the heart of a performer who completely believes in the music he makes. "Amar Pelos Dois" was written by his sister, a performer who is also true to herself.
Regardless of whether or not you agreed with his views, Salvador's main achievement was to bring Eurovision to Portugal in 2018. I'm excited to see what Lisbon 2018 will deliver - perhaps a more low-key contest with more national character? I'd love it if the success of native-language songs in 2017 would inspire more countries to take a risk and send songs in their own language. Whatever happens, the Eurovision Song Contest is just under 9 months away from its 63rd edition. Bring it on!!