Eurovision rarely fails to surprise and provoke, and that’s certainly proved the case this year. There’s been a constructive discussion in our comments section about the political aspects of Jamala’s participation and ultimate victory. From a betting perspective, this year was considered tricky and unusual: each of the frontrunners had flaws, and it was considered an open contest. That came to pass, with a very tight finish among the top three.
The change in the allocation of points and their reveal seemed to heighten the unpredictability of the event. I’ve written a longer-form piece for ESCInsight (I’ll tweet the link when it’s published), in which I’ve talked about the new challenges that this, and other aspects of the modern contest bring the gambling fraternity. But amidst the greater sense of uncertainty, it’s worth reminding ourselves that there are plenty of continuities too.
1. You don’t need to win both the televote or the jury vote. Or indeed either of them.
The return of the juries in 2009 started with two winning acts who topped both constituencies, as was also the case in 2012-4. But the system clearly opened the contest to the possibility that this need not be the case. Azerbaijan finished a distant second in the 2011 jury vote behind Italy but still won; Sweden finished a distant third in the 2015 televote behind Italy but still won.
Therefore, it shouldn’t be considered surprising that a country finishing second in both votes, putting clear water between it and the rest of the field in both cases, was the eventual winner. The see-saw nature of the reveal felt like it exaggerated the “shock” of this happening to an audience unsure of what to expect from the new system.
2. Here comes the politics…
A look at Ukraine’s televote performance in the semi-final as opposed to the final suggested a strengthening of support in some countries. Jamala went from 8th in the UK semi televote to 6th in the final, from 10th to 7th in Switzerland, 8th to 3rd in Australia. This for a country with a decent draw in both events, and no significant diaspora in these countries – arguments which might otherwise be used to explain such movements.
Could it be that the Saturday night audience were more aware of the political narrative? I can only speak for the British commentators who failed to mention the backstory behind ‘1944’ in the semi-final, before its anti-Russian message became front page news in the British press on the day of the final. This can only be speculation, but it may help explain how Ukraine overcame semi-final defeat, which in itself is not unheard of among Eurovision victors anyway.
3. Color us shocked at the Polish result, when perhaps we shouldn’t have been
By separating the jury points and televote, we saw an effective return to the 2009-12 system, whereby a strong televote or jury score couldn’t be annulled by a poor ranking in the other constituency. On the televote side, this was clearly going to benefit those nations with jury-unfriendly songs and diaspora to rely on. A points tally for the years 2013-5 under the new system compared with the one used back then didn’t reveal too many significant changes in finishing position. Yet if we’d gone back a bit further, we would have found similar if slightly less extreme differences in finishing position based on the two systems, such as Turkey’s Can Bonomo in 2012.
A big improvement was thus possible, especially for a country like Poland, whose 2014 entry had suffered most under the 2012-5 system. As an excellent BBC analysis indicated, the diaspora hadn’t got behind their 2015 entry, but returned in force this year. There were indications that this might happen – Michal Spzak won a hotly-contested national final, and ‘Color of Your Life’ performed well in iTunes downloads after the semi-finals. Once again, the new points system and reveal just emphasised the disparities.
4. Juries are political, and human
The focus on just the jury scores for the majority of the voting shone a light on what we have known for a long time: that juries can be political, mercurial and brazen. Those countries with an anti-Russian political viewpoint were more likely to reward Ukraine. There were other examples of political alliances being cemented, such as Armenia and France.
Juries can be like televoters too, something we noted after the Russian grannies managed eleventh with them in 2012. The strong showing of Belgium in the jury vote was thus more of a surprise here than it perhaps should’ve been. I’d assumed this rather insubstantial but fun offering would perform much better with televoters, not the other way round. But juries have rewarded well-executed entries of this kind in the past such as ‘Lipstick’ and ‘Lautar’, and Laura added herself to that list with an infectious performance.
My main gripe with the juries remains the continuing over-achievement of Maltese entries compared with their televote. ‘Walk On Water’ won the jury vote in the first semi-final, and managed fourth in the final, when it could only muster 16 televotes in total from a plum draw. This kind of thing has happened far too often in the past not to raise eyebrows.
5. The semi-finals
Shibboleths were broken in the semi-finals. The “four from the last six tend to qualify” pattern was thrown out, with only two and three managing it from each heat. Which just goes to show that song and performance are more key than ever, especially with a producer-decided running order allowing each song to breathe more effectively.
Otherwise, it’s worth remembering that this year’s most “shocking” non-qualifier – Iceland – could only manage third in the televote in its own national semi-final. How’s that for hindsight? To add insult to injury, it turned out Greta wasn’t even borderline, scoring badly with juries and televoters to finish significantly behind even Serhat.
Do let us know your thoughts on these points, and keep the conversation going below.