Eurovision is an elusive beast. Just when you think you’ve got certain things sussed, the contest turns precedent on its head. The recent rule rethinks – reintroducing the jury vote from the 2009 final, and the full ranking system from 2013 – have accelerated the pace of change.
2014 proved it. Here are five paradigm-busting examples.
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Five consecutive top five finishes, followed by … 22nd. In the build-up to rehearsals, nothing much seemed very different. Exhaustive audition process, check; Swedish songwriter, check; promo work in Hungary, Russia, Lithuania and Malta, check.
It was only during rehearsals that it felt different this year. In Malmo, Farid was wheeled out every night to autograph or perform to fans; and certain delegations told me that Azerbaijan were taking things very seriously. In Copenhagen, very little was seen of Dilara. Low-key seemed the order of the day, and so it proved on the scoreboard.
In hindsight, predicting decent things on the scoreboard, as I did, from an act that featured a fair amount of rap, was optimistic. Juries have never been particularly impressed by it in the contest, though that didn’t stop the same country reaching a top ten position in 2011 with a mixture of ethno and rap, due to an excellent televote.
However, ‘Rise Up’ only managed 43 televote points – that’s unprecedented for Greece in the modern Eurovision era. Even the much-criticised ‘Aphrodisiac’ managed 89 televote points. Two things here: the absence of Bulgaria and Cyprus meant a loss of 22-24 points; and there was nothing Greek about what was presented. If you want to maintain your baseline, keep the diaspora happy.
3. Western fightback
It was amusing to see a pair of countries with generally the worst recent records battle it out for the win. The bigger picture is that many of the new rules have tried to level the playing field, allowing diaspora votes to count for nothing if juries so wish, for example.
Add to that a fair few withdrawals south and east of Vienna, and it felt like the most “western” Eurovision in the modern era. The top three confirmed it. The rather eastern-unfriendly, producer-decided draw helped reinforce this.
4. A low top ten threshold
Tenth place received its lowest score in modern contests – 74. Sure, there were fewer countries taking part than of late, but the last time we had a contest this small was 2006, which also featured a dominant top 3 (Lordi, Dima Bilan and Hari Mata Hari), and on that occasion Turkey’s 91 points was only good enough for eleventh.
The best explanation I can come up with for this is a particularly strung out televote. Eleventh place went to Belarus with a mere 56 points. Only ten songs made any sort of impression with televoters, and three of them – Poland, Switzerland and Romania – went on to be scuppered by the juries.
5. Lithuania and Moldova
Up until this year, I felt reasonably confident about predicting the baseline for the likes of Lithuania and Moldova, given their diaspora, some ex-USSR support and occasional jury love from places like Malta. That’s no longer the case. 36 points for the former and 13 points for the latter was way below that suggested by previous contests.
The new ranking rules obviously upend many of these historical precedents in a 26-field final, but in a semi-final of 15 or 16, it wouldn’t make that much of a difference. I suppose the lesson here is that if your act is so alien to televoters, it puts off all but the staunchest of allies.
To provide some balance, it’s also worth pointing out what didn’t change: juries still love their ballads; there were three former Soviet states in the top ten, including much-maligned Eurovision powerhouse, Russia (director Fokas Evangelinos continued his fine record); and greater transparency only made some jury scoring even more eyebrow-raising.
But it’s change that Eurovision punters have to adapt to, and this year provided plenty. Let us know your thoughts on the above examples and feel free to add any of your own.