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Italy wins Eurovision, UK comes last

By | Published on Monday 24 May 2021


Italian rock band Måneskin won the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam on Saturday with their song, ‘Zitti E Buoni’. The bookies’ favourites going into the event, they won by a landslide on the public vote. The UK’s James Newman with ‘Embers’, meanwhile, failed to score any points at all in either stage of the voting process – the jury vote and the public vote – coming dead last.

Måneskin came fourth in the jury vote but were rocketed to victory following the tense addition of the public votes, which saw a handful of acts score very highly. In the end, Italy scored a total of 534 points – 25 more than second place France, and nearly 100 more than jury-voted winner Switzerland, who finished third.

“It means everything”, said bassist Victoria De Angelis, when asked, at a press conference, what winning on the public vote meant to the band.

As for what lead to some acts being so much more popular than others this year, she added: “It’s a contest. Someone has to come last, but even so, it should be more about participating and sharing music with the world. We didn’t come here to win – we came to share our music. Eurovision is a huge and important platform”.

This is not the band’s first competition, having come second in the Italian version of ‘X Factor’ in 2017 and winning another Italian TV talent show, ‘Sanremo Music Festival’, earlier this year, which resulted in their selection to represent Italy at Eurovision.

There would be “no more musical competitions for a while” though, commented vocalist Damiano David. “It’s too much anxiety”.

If it’s anxiety-inducing waiting to see if you’ll get pushed up to the top of the leaderboard as voting progresses, imagine what it’s like waiting to see if you’ll even make it off the bottom.

The UK’s James Newman had to sit through all the jury votes, receiving no points at all from any of them. When the public vote also delivered no points it was a shock, although one that Newman appeared to take fairly well – at least knowing that he had support in the room from the other acts and the audience.

This year the UK team had hoped to finally getting somewhere in the competition after years of languishing towards the bottom of the scoreboard. The BBC had brought in BMG to help with the song selection – first picking Newman to represent the UK at 2020’s cancelled contest – which it was hoped would bring a higher calibre of both song and artist. Ultimately though, there were a number of issues that led to our downfall.

Of course, some will blame Brexit – as did 2019 entrant Michael Rice after he game last – or maybe even the battle with the EU over vaccines. Although that assumes that the average European gives much thought to British politics. Much as we like to think otherwise, what we’re doing over here doesn’t actually occupy every waking thought of most people around the world. Also, plenty of countries with more prominently shady politics entered, and none of them scored zero.

Also, anyone claiming that the Europeans all hate us and our music ignores the fact that British music is a major UK export to Europe. They love it. They can’t get enough of it. So maybe we have to accept that what we send to Eurovision just isn’t good enough.

Actually, this year we did make a bit more of an effort. However, in a year where everyone else upped their game too, we were still left trailing.

Sure, BMG bagged a songwriter with hits and awards to his name, but no one really checked if he was a great performer too. Turns out, not really. He was a uniquely uninspiring stage presence flanked by two massive trumpets, which both looked stupid and highlighted the absolute worst part of the song – the terrible synth trumpets.

Those trumpets made the song sound as if Newman had misunderstood the brief and thought he was supposed to be writing a new theme tune for ‘The One Show’. Perhaps more likely, though, he ditched writing the sort of song that has brought him success in the past, and instead wrote what he thought Eurovision would want.

But if Saturday’s show proves anything, it’s that Eurovision doesn’t know what it wants. Everyone has an idea in their head of what Eurovision songs sound like, but the variety of music actually on offer on Saturday was so broad and varied that you could never pigeonhole the show as one thing or another – in the top ten alone there were rock, ballads, pop, nu metal and avant garde techno-folk.

The lyrics of the song possibly also represented something of a problem. An interview with Newman during the second semi-finals concentrated mainly on what the word “embers” even means, suggesting that the message of resilience and unity he was trying to get across was being lost.

It’s probably also worth noting that – for all the talk of his chart hits and his BRIT Award – Newman’s previous Eurovision experience – aside from his unused 2020 song – was writing Ireland’s 2017 entry, which failed to qualify.

And there’s another problem. The UK can’t fail to qualify. As one of the so called ‘Big Five’ countries that contribute the most money to Eurovision organiser the European Broadcasting Union, the UK automatically goes through to the final without having to compete in the semi-finals. This year, the standard was so high that a lot of good songs got knocked out in the semis, which would have been more deserving of a place at the main show.

It’s not a given that the big five don’t do well in the final – after all Italy is among that group, as is France, which came second. However, it’s possibly telling that the bottom three was made up of the other three fifths: Germany came just above the UK with three points, followed by Spain with six.

Both Germany and Spain, along with the UK and the Netherlands, also failed to score any points in the public vote. All of whom also put forward songs that were not up to the standard of this year’s competition. Especially Germany. I mean, what even was that?

When it came to the voting though, it was an interesting year. While the announcement of each country’s votes used to be a lengthy, tedious, life-sucking process, it was updated in 2016 in an effort to make it more exciting. And while there have been critics of the changes, it certainly delivered on its promise this year.

With the jury votes now delivered in a more streamlined fashion, followed by the addition of the public votes to each country in reverse order on the leaderboard – this year that delivered some shocks in the final stages. Not least because many countries scored far lower in the public vote than expected.

One country to experience that sting was San Marino. There had been accusations of cheating on the part of that small nation, because US rapper Flo Rida had been flown in to deliver a guest verse on the country’s song ‘Adrenalina’ by Senhit.

However, it seems unlikely that there will be a rush to add celebrity guests to any performances next year. The song scored 37 points in the jury vote and then, against expectations, just thirteen in the public vote. Poor Flo Rida. Still, he looked like he’d had a nice time.

Elsewhere, early favourite Malta came in seventh with ‘Je Me Casse’ by Destiny, after a disappointing public score, and last year’s presumed winners – Iceland’s Da∂i og Gagnamagni∂ – came in fourth. Although that wasn’t bad, considering that a member of Gagnamagni∂ being diagnosed with COVID-19 had meant that the band were unable to take part in the the live show, with a rehearsal performance being shown instead.

That only one competing act was forced to sit out the event even as the COVID pandemic extends (previous winner Duncan Laurence was also unable to perform live for coronavirus reasons) was impressive though.

In fact, that it happened at all, let alone went so well, was testament to the effort that went into the show. Unlike the UK, the Netherlands has not begun lifting lockdown regulations, so to have the majority of the performers and their delegations in the room, along with an audience of 3500 (as part of a government test) was pretty incredible.

When the show is staged in Italy next year, we can hope that pandemic restrictions will no longer be a consideration, and that what remains is the high standard of this year’s competition.