Some reflections on the Eurovision Song Contest 2021

It has been a long while since I have posted anything on my Eurovision site (or indeed on my YouTube channel) as it’s been my customary post-Eurovision “quiet season”. But with the new Eurovision season imminent (1 September) and (hopefully) an announcement on the host city and venue will be coming any moment now. What better time though to quickly look back and reflect on 2021’s contest.

A worthy winner and post-contest success

I’m the first to admit that I am not the biggest fan of “Zitti e buoni” and that sort of musical genre but there is absolutely no doubt it was a worthy winner. Winners of the public vote, Måneskin, put on an incredible and electrifying performance. What is more, they have gone on to great success after the contest, with several of their songs even making high (and long) appearances in the UK charts. Even in the British media, notoriously dismissive of Eurovision, mention Italy’s Eurovision win as a positive event (while also mentioning Italy’s sporting successes this summer).

Success of non-English language songs

Four of the top 5 songs were not performed in English, and the top three were all non-English, for the first time since (I think 1995). The top 5 included two of my favourites this year – Switzerland and Ukraine. I just knew Go_A (for Ukraine) would put on an incredible performance and they did just that and Shum is already establishing itself as a real floor filler at Eurovision events.

Disappointing results for two of my favourites

Sometimes your pre-contest favourites don’t bring it to the contest or something else just gets a bit lost (this was the case for the Czech Republic for me this year) but more disappointing is when your favourites do bring it to the contest, yet somehow either the juries or the public (or both) don’t seem to appreciate them in the same way. So I still hold that Albina, with one of the best ever Croatian entries (in my opinion), deserved to get to the final with “Tick-Tock” (though only missed out by 5 points). Also, a fan favourite (and my pre-contest number 3), “Adrenalina” by Senhit and featuring Flo Rida for San Marino, while reaching the final, really should have come much higher than 22nd. Maybe a sign though that the gap between fan favourites and the actual voting public (and juries) is widening once more?

Pre-recorded backing vocals: a necessity this year (but not in the future)

This was one of the most controversial changes that came this year – pre-recorded backing vocals were permitted for the very first time at the contest. This was ostensibly something brought in because of the impact of the pandemic and the desire of the organisers to make things easier for delegations who might want to travel in smaller numbers (or encourage them to anyway). While it has been said that this was a “one year trial”, these things do tend to have a habit of installing themselves as permanent features (e.g. the opening parade of artists for the grand final).

Suffice to say I do not think this is an innovation they should be keeping. Without going into too much detail, nor repeating what other bloggers have said more eloquently, it undermines one of the things that keeps Eurovision apart from all those music contest shows that have sprung up in the past couple of decades.

Whither next for the UK at Eurovision?

James Newman is a top bloke and has a strong song writing pedigree but I feel he was ill-served for the contest. A decent enough song, but we did fear it might struggle to stand out unless it came with some very memorable staging and performance. That sadly, was quite the opposite of what it got, and it was flat and, frankly, amateurish when seen against the majority of other final entries.

There is no shortage of commentary on what the UK should be doing to regain its former success, and in some ways, it shouldn’t be hard to take positive steps: have a unique/memorable song (not “safe” or beige), a good singer/song writing team, and some professional staging, with good direction (and aware of how the show is now watched). The UK is a powerhouse when it comes to music and the creative industries yet I fear that few positive steps will be taken (or indeed the opposite – when you have the BBC interviewing Bill Bailey about entering Eurovision).

Still, at least as UK fans we don’t go in with unrealistic expectations but it would just be nice if that spark could be found again. One small crumb of comfort was that most of media commentary this year did actually point out the UK’s shortcomings versus the competition rather than the usual “no one likes us”, “it’s all political takes”. Yet it still won’t kick start the needed change of approach.

So those were some final takes on 2021 – now on to the 2022 contest – and wherever in Italy it will be!

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