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Eurovision 2021: The Final May 22

With the 10 qualifiers from each semi-final decided, tonight they head to the final to join the six pre-qualifiers: the Big Five countries of France, Spain, Italy, Germany and the UK, and the host country, the Netherlands. You can see my initial thoughts on the qualifiers in my semi-final 1 and semi-final 2 previews.

While the bookies obviously have their favourites, this is an unusually open Contest, which is very welcome. There are at least half a dozen countries in with a good chance and few that I would be shocked or disappointed to see win.

What has become clear from the semi-finals is that the EBU has been overly lenient in enforcing its new rule allowing pre-recorded “backing vocals”, with some artists getting support for the main vocal.

Let’s take a look at the 26 runners and riders.

  1. Cyprus – Having overcome absurd controversy from the Church of Cyprus, El Diablo powered through to the final and opens the show. It’s a confident, energetic performance with good use of fuego to make sure you don’t forget the title.
  2. Albania – A dark horse qualifier from Thursday night, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with this. Anxhela will put in a strong performance but I don’t expect this to make the left-hand side of the scoreboard.
  3. Israel – I had this down as Tuesday’s nonqualifying banger, but that misfortune went to Croatia instead. Eden is charismatic and the song is staged well, with a set of whistle notes thrown in at the end as a memorable extra and a bit of jury bait,. I’m not a fan of them although they sounded more pleasant in the semi-final than I was expecting.
  4. Belgium – Hooverphonic have been around for years and know exactly what they’re doing. With The Wrong Place, they bring a distinct, dark sound and a calm staging that focuses attention on the song. There is definitely an audience for this among both jury members and televoters.
  5. Russia – I have a lot of respect for Manizha’s style and approach. She’s a human rights advocate who’s brought a song promoting women’s liberation in Russia. Her semi-final performance has racked up millions of views on YouTube, especially at home. This song’s biggest barrier for voters in western Europe is that the most pointed lyrics are in Russian.
  6. Malta – Former favourite Destiny, who comes in having already won the Junior Eurovision Song Contest in 2015, has slipped down the odds a little having led a couple of weeks ago. Sixth in the running order isn’t a great spot to win from but her powerful voice can’t be written off.
  7. Portugal – The vocal style is a matter of taste but Love Is On My Side is the closest to Easy Listening we get this evening. It’s going to be fighting for votes with Hooverphonic and in that match-up the winners will most likely be the Belgians.
  8. Serbia – A big energy banger from the Contest’s only girl group. These three singers strut across the huge stage as if they own it, flick their hair with no fear of whiplash, and belt out the lyrics with gusto – thereby achieving the ritual summoning of Eurovision pyrotechnics. They deserve to do well.
  9. United KingdomEmbers is fun, upbeat and, for the first time since 2014, is co-written by our representative. But while the staging is superficially quite different from 2015, the overall aesthetic feels like a retread of Electro Velvet and that did not go well. In other circumstances I could see this doing OK, but the 2021 final is packed with contenders and I fear this is going to get lost.
  10. Greece – Stefania was let down in semi-final 2 by the weaknesses of Greece’s green screen choreography, with shadows undermining the effect throughout. Hopefully it works better in the final. It does distract from the song, which she performs well, but it also provides a much-needed hook.
  11. Switzerland – Gjon’s Tears has eschewed his song’s most obvious staging where he just emotes at a piano. Instead, he stands on a stark white structure and underlines his unique vocal delivery with jabbing hand movements with moments of balletic dance. This remains a challenger for the win – its biggest problem is that it’s not the only heartfelt Francophone ballad among the favourites.
  12. Iceland – Having been denied the chance to perform at the 2020 Contest by its cancellation, Daði Freyr and his group Gagnamagnið have been thwarted by the covs once more: a positive test has forced them to isolate in their hotel instead of taking to the stage. Fortunately, they already had an extremely solid second rehearsal in the can and this will be shown instead to enable them to compete. This is a brilliant three minutes, from the winning vocals and touching lyrics through to the amazing homemade instruments, the illuminated rings created by Daði’s sister, the wind machine, the gawky choreography, the video graphics from the tie-in Gagnamagnið smartphone game and the crowdsourced 1,000-person choir for the middle eight (full disclosure: includes me). Absolutely deserves I high placing and I’m sure it’ll be getting votes from the UK.
  13. Spain – The second prequalifier of the night is Spain, with a staging that saw the glowing ball in Duncan Laurence’s winning 2019 performance and decided to go big. Despite the emotion of the song, it is in Spanish and it’s the least memorable ballad in the final so I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see this languish near the bottom of the table.
  14. Moldova – With less competition from other bangers in the second semi-final than the first, this made it through to Saturday night. To be fair to Natalia, she delivers this well, but it remains a fairly lacklustre staging after such a colourful and creative music video.
  15. Germany – I don’t like Marmite but I do like loveable goofball Jendrik and his twee marvel I Don’t Feel Hate. This will split audiences something chronic, featuring such potential turnoffs as unsubtle lyrics, a speech in German, a woman dressed as a hand (the middle finger of the lyrics replaced with a peace sign), and a ukulele. But chuck in some tap dancing, a genuine message and tons of charisma and it really is hard to hate. It’s too divisive to win but if Jendrik can turn in a strong performance tonight then this may yet reach a comfortable spot in the middle of the scoreboard (and above the two other Big Five members who have already performed).
  16. Finland – Middle-finger-gate continues with Blind Channel. The lyrics of their “violent pop” song entreat us to put our middle fingers up but the band aren’t allowed to, so instead they’ve coloured them all red. Dark Side absolutely walked the Finnish national final with more public votes than all the other competitors added together and it will appeal to a big chunk of the televote audience across Europe too. It could finish anywhere on the board but I’d expect higher rather than lower.
  17. Bulgaria – Bulgaria have never won the Contest but are pulling out all the stops this year. Victoria sits alone on a rock as the sands of time pass, a simple and effective staging that reinforces the emotion of the song. If voters would prefer an English language ballad to win, this is the one.
  18. Lithuania – The Roop have slipped below the radar for a couple of reasons. Lithuania’s national final was one of the first this year and as a result Discoteque has become to fans more like an old friend than a fresh new contender. This is even more so because the choreography and staging has stuck closely to both the music video and the national final performance – and the band and their dancers turn it out perfectly every single time. But that familiarity doesn’t exist for the vast majority of viewers across Europe tonight who will be seeing it for the first time – and hopefully loving it. Lithuania’s best result was sixth place in 2006 and they’ve only reached the top 10 once since. This should change that.
  19. Ukraine – OK, I admit it: Shum has grown on me. I find Go_A’s sound quite jarring but the live version coupled with a really nice staging concept has won me over. With no competition tonight for the dance music vote, a plum spot in the running order and a memorable sound, this could pick up a lot of votes.
  20. France – Barbara Pravi won the most recent of Junior Eurovision as a songwriter and now she and her co-writer are taking on the adult show. It’s not first time France have tried chanson this century but it’s by far the most accessible. As with her all-conquering national final performance, which had one of the judges in tears, the camera is focused on Barbara throughout as she channels Piaf and Brel. She is unlucky to follow Ukraine, becaue the two songs with dramatic accelerandos are now next to each other, but Voilà remains France’s best hope for a win since the early 1990s. I’d welcome it too, as a message to naysayers in the UK that the right song can immediately turn a country’s fortunes around (and France have lacked a win for 20 years longer than we have).
  21. AzerbaijanMata Hari is not clever and it’s not originial (even if the song it’s copying is Efendi’s own entry from 2020), but it is engaging and enjoyable and 21 songs in that’s just fine.
  22. Norway – Sometimes simplicity to works. Fallen Angel isn’t musically challenging and the staging is pretty obvious – but the tune is catchy and the look is memorable. TIX is huge in Norway but his bling-laden persona risks coming over as pastiche so it’ll be interesting to see whether the rest of Europe takes him seriously tonight. (It was the UK Eurovision fan club’s online party last night and that featured seven recreations of 2021 entries – including my version of Fallen Angel.)
  23. Netherlands – Jeangu Macrooy was due to perform for the host nation in 2020 with Grow, a song that really needed more than three minutes to…grow. This year he’s gone for a very different sound. Birth of a New Age draws on his roots in Suriname and with colour and energy celebrates that culture and the resilience of enslaved people. When the song was unveiled with a live performance, it felt a bit empty. In the Eurovision staging, though, everything meshes together perfectly and this becomes properly anthemic. Host countries don’t tend to do well but this deserves a solid placing.
  24. Italy – Like Ukraine’s and Russia’s songs before it, Ziiti e Buoni is another song that fans go wild for that I wish I could feel the same about. I think partly the issue is that for some this is raw sex on stage; for me it’s a competent rock group wearing a bit of eyeliner. I do like my Eurovision songs to be lyric-heavy so I appreciate Damiano spitting out Italian syllables like a Gatling gun, but despite utilising every pyrotechnic available (moderation in all things…) this still leaves me cold. Not that I’d begrudge it a victory, if it can overcome votes splitting with Finland: it’s been over 30 years since an Italian victory.
  25. Sweden – A lot of fans seem to begrudge Sweden their success. I absolutely don’t but they do seem to have slipped into a bit of a rut with a certain type of staging and performance than begins to feel by the numbers. Tusse himself deserves to do well but I wonder if rather than inspiring the audience this will actually be a relatively weak result of Eurovision’s powerhouse.
  26. San Marino – I am quietly rooting for San Marino. This is only the third time the plucky microstate have made the final and they’ve done it with style, flying in Flo Rida to rap alongside singer Senhit. She has thrown herself into the Eurovision project, filling the last year with an eclectic range of cover version videos, and in Adrenalina has followed up last year’s Freaky! (which probably wouldn’t have qualified) with a modern Eurovision classic. Their best result so far is 19th in the final; this should blow that out of the water.

So there are your 26 songs. The quality has been so high this year I would be happy with almost any of them winning. It’s probably between France, Malta, Switzerland and Italy but I wouldn’t rule out Bulgaria or Ukraine either – and I love how unpredictable it feels.

I will be quietly (and not so quietly) rooting for three countries that have never won: Iceland, Lithuania and San Marino.

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