After much anticipation, on 22nd May we were finally able to watch the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2021, hosted by the Netherlands in Rotterdam. Many artists had been waiting for two years to perform on the Eurovision stage, after the contest was cancelled last year in light of the pandemic.
Only two countries were affected by the pandemic in their performances this year: Australia’s delegation was unable to travel to Rotterdam due to their national restrictions, resulting in Australia’s semi-final performance being pre-recorded and broadcasted alongside other live performances. Additionally, a member of Iceland’s act, Daði og Gagnamagnið, tested positive shortly before their scheduled live performance in the second semi-final, so a full performance of their rehearsal was shown for both the semi-final and the final, although this did not impact Iceland’s result drastically, as they placed 4th overall.
Despite this, however, the event went ahead largely as normal. Of course, there were frequent tests to ensure that the event was safe for the teams and audience, but from the viewers’ perspective it seemed as if everything was normal, like the pre-pandemic shows. The show opened with Cyprus’ pop hit El Diablo, and closed with San Marino’s Adrenalina, sung by Senhit and Flo Rida (yes, the Flo Rida). San Marino’s performance was particularly eye-catching, with bright staging and a crazy dance energy that kept the show going even after all the acts had performed. Fans dubbed this San Marino’s best entry in a long while, and many (myself included) were shocked at its bottom 5 placement.
Before the show, and indeed during the show, the bookies’ favourites were Italy and France; both of their winning odds fluctuated between 20% and 30% around the time of the live show. Both lived up to their high expectations. Italian rock band Måneskin went on to win the contest with their song Zitti E Buoni (“Shut Up and Be Quiet”). They completely owned the stage, with their heavy guitar riffs and insane stage presence; and the crowd in the venue went wild too. Receiving over 300 points from the public vote, they were dubbed the favourite for a good reason. France’s entrant Barbara Pravi also performed extremely well, earning second place with her song Voilà, inspired by classic French artists such as Édith Piaf. Her emotions resembled this controlled mania, and it was quite spectacular to see. With such simple staging, it was a very raw performance.
While Italy won the televote, and indeed the contest, the juries’ winner was Switzerland – Tout l’Univers, performed by Gjon’s Tears. Many were concerned that this song would be too similar to the 2019 winner Arcade (by Duncan Laurence) to score highly. However this was clearly not the case, as they earned 3rd place overall. The staging was extremely modern and dynamic, which complimented the ballad nicely, and Gjon’s vocals were particularly strong throughout the performance. With Italy, France, and Switzerland making up the top 3 placements, it marks the first time in the 21st century that all 3 podium placements have been non-English songs.
In addition to these strong performances, two empowering feminist anthems were performed by Russia and Malta. Malta’s Destiny had been another favourite with powerful vocals and upbeat song Je Me Casse; and Russia’s Manizha paid homage to the women of Russia, and indeed the world, singing behind a screen of several women from Russia with a very emotional performance. Some other stand out performances came from Ukraine’s folk-techno fusion Shum by Go_A (earning 2nd place in the televote); Israel’s Eden Alene, who broke the record for the highest note ever sung in Eurovision; and Belgium’s retro-style performance by Hooverphonic.
Despite the highs of the evening, a record four countries failed to score any points from the televote: the United Kingdom, Germany, Spain, and The Netherlands. The United Kingdom also failed to earn any jury points, giving us our second nil points (our first being in 2003) and also becoming the worst ever scoring Eurovision entry, earning 0 out of a possible 912 points. Thankfully, though, all participants took it remarkably well, and the crowd in Rotterdam seemed equally shocked and cheered out of respect. The spirit of Eurovision was well and truly alive in the venue, and throughout Europe, despite everything.