Random Thoughts from Eurovision 2016

No Love for the Czech Republic? Gabriela Gunčíková got gornischt from the televoters. This was the first year that the C.R. made the cut for the finals, and although “I Stand” got some points (41) from the jurors, not a single country’s televoters saw fit to toss them a point or two. I suspect that this was due to the flat and uninspired staging. The song was fine, her performance was fine, but there was nothing in the staging to help Miss Gunčíková stand out. No fireworks, no light-up costume, no backup dancers, no cool graphics or lighting. In a competition this intense, you can’t afford to miss any aspect of the performance.

Poor Germany. Speaking of blowing it on any aspect of the performance, Germany came in last for the second year in a row. Ouch. I suppose it’s what happens when due to circumstances that you don’t really have control over, you have to send the runner-up and not the winner of your national selection competition. This time, I suspect the last place finish had to do with the disconnect between the singer and the song. Jamie Lee is a good singer and she performed well, but the song “Ghost” was about ghosts and haunting your lost love. A sad and dark song; not one that should be sung by a pretty girl wearing a goofily cute little dress:

Jamie Lee Kriewitz at Eurovision 2016

The reason that Jamie Lee found herself in Eurovision instead of the winner is that the winner turned out to be a racist asshole of the worst sort (they apparently need to improve their contestant vetting process); someone they most definitely did not want representing them on the international stage. Which leads to the next issue.

Politics isn’t supposed to be involved, but it often sneaks in. It’s part of the rules that songs cannot be used for political purposes. This year, Ukraine’s winning entry “!944” was about Stalin’s forced relocation of Crimean Tatars in that year. Jamala (or Джамала in Ukranian, or Camala in Crimean Tatar), the singer and songwriter, happens to be of that ethnic background, and her great-grandmother was one of those relocated.

Needless to say, a good number of people (especially Russians) are upset, saying it’s a clear reference to the takeover of the Crimea by Russia (even Jamala herself hinted at it), and is therefore against the rules. The European Broadcasting Union said the subject was a matter of history, and is therefore acceptable.

They’ve done anti-war protest songs in the past. Last year Boggie represented Hungary with “Wars for Nothing”; the year before that, France’s Lisa Angell presented “N’oubliez pas”, a lament for the losses from WWI, and Armenia’s “Face the Shadow” by Geneaology was a blatant reference to the Armenian genocide. My guess is that the EBU simply doesn’t want the contest to become an obvious vehicle for propaganda, so they look at things on a case-by-case basis. Given the number of nations entering, there are going to be some national rivalries coming to the fore, especially given the ever-changing political landscape.

It’s worth noting that in the televoting this year, Russian voters gave their second place vote to Ukraine, and Ukraine gave its “Douze Points” to Russia. Evidently the viewers in those countries care less about politics in Eurovision than their politicians….

Of course, rivalries and international relations come up in the voting. Any time you identify contestants according to their nation of origin, you can’t avoid it. There are subtle biases in the televoting; it’s been shown that “block voting”, where people in a country tend to support their neighbors or those countries with a similar ethnic background, is an actual thing. I don’t know if it came into play this year (I’m not a statistician or Eurovision nerd). But I do have to wonder if there’s a bias in the televoting to the visual aspects of the performance. This would account for some of the oddities in the scoring.

There’s always a little difference between the jury votes and the televoting, but this year there were some particularly egregious examples. With only a total of seven points from the juries, Poland came in next to last in their ranking. But Michal Szpak’s “Color of Your Life” came in third according to the televoters. Malta’s Ira Losco went the other way with her “Walk on Water”. Fourth place according to the juries; twenty-first from the televoters. I have to wonder if at least some of the voters use the physical attractiveness of the singer as a key criteria. At the viewing party I attended, the hosts passed out ballots for us to vote on things like “Best Costume”. There was also a spot for us to write in our own category – seems that the most common write-in was on the order of “Hottest Singer” or “Sexiest Performer”. It’s hard not to suspect that some of this plays into the voting.

Fortunately, from where I sit, the voting and scoring system seems designed to neutralize these biases as much as possible, and produce a clear winner. With so many countries providing both jury and viewer votes, it’s going to be really hard for one set of votes or voters to seriously affect the outcome. In fact, this year one jurist accidentally submitted her scores in the wrong order – she put her last place song in first, and vice versa down the line. And you know what? It didn’t matter in the final result. Not a single song would have moved anywhere in the final rankings.

So many people complain (they clearly love doing so) about the juries and the scoring systems. True, there have been instances of corruption in the past, and they could probably stand to have more than five people on each national jury. But the way it’s all done minimizes the effect a single juror – or even jury – can have on the final voting. It’s really, really hard to mess things up.

Sure, you might believe with all your heart and soul that Dani Im’s “Sound of Silence” is better than Jamala’s “1944”, or that “You Are the Only One” by Sergey Lazarev is better than them both. But it’s tough to argue that none of them deserve to be in the Top Three. You can even make a good case for many of the songs in the Final. Twenty of the twenty-six entries got at least one top score of 12 points from either a jury or a televoting nation.

A cynic might say that that such a disparity in the awarding of the points shows just how monotonous the contest has become. Where’s the camp? Where’s the goofiness? Where’s the “novelty acts” that we’ve seen in the past few years? Personally, I think that the apparent sameness this year is just an aberration. Take a closer look, and you’ll see a good deal of variety in all the entrants. And you know what? They’re all good songs, sung by fine performers in great productions. And if you disagree with the results and think someone got robbed – show your support where it counts, and buy the records of your favorite artists.

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