Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone! Speaking as someone who wasn’t ready for Christmas (although I still managed to get all of my shopping done on time), I’m sure as heck not ready for 2016 to become 2017. But it’s happening, so I’m going to use the last few hours of the year to have a massive Throwback Thursday extravaganza…on a Saturday. I like to live dangerously.
As always, the past twelve months have been very exciting ones, full of ups and downs, for us Eurovision freaks (no offence intended by that terminology. I say let your freak flag fly!). But unless you want to drown your sorrows and wake up tomorrow morning with a huge hangover and feeling the remorse than Frans Jeppsson-Wall does not, I suggest focusing on the highlights rather than the lowlights. That’s what I’m doing here and now for my last post of the year: counting down a few of my favourite things from the 2015/2016 NF season, Eurovision 2016, and Junior Eurovision 2016. These were the songs/artists/results/events et cetera that had me hollering ‘Say yay yay yay!’ instead of a Michele Perniola-style ‘No’. Check out my picks and then let me know which moments made you a happy fan in 2016.
Let’s make like Hannah Mancini + love by diving straight in!
#10 | Better late than never: The Czech Republic finally makes it to an ESC final
The Czech Republic hasn’t had the driest of dry spells when it comes to Eurovision. It’s true that they hadn’t qualified from a semi until this year, but they did only compete five times between 2007 and 2016 (ten tries with zero qualifications would be a far more depressing statistic). Still, it was nothing less than a fist-pump moment when the country clawed their way out of Stockholm’s first semi final – for me, at least, because I love a good Cinderella story. I Stand isn’t one of my favourite entries from this year, and in Jaz’s Argo-inspired utopian land, Estonia’s Play would have replaced it in the semi’s top 10 (despite the creep factor). However, I do think that it deserved a spot in the final more than any of the Czech entries that came before it, so…go Gabriela! You’ve broken the drought.
#9 | The real fan favourites of Eurovision 2016: Zoë, the contest princess + Serhat, the cult superstar
It’s never just the songs of an ESC that get fans frothing at the mouth (and sometimes down south, if I may be so saucy). Often, it’s the personalities performing them who get tongues wagging and cause social media follows to flood in. In that respect, the real winners of Eurovision 2016 were Austria’s Zoë and San Marino’s/Turkey’s Serhat. Zoë earned an army of fans thanks to her general gorgeousness, being bubblier than a bottle of champagne and being the closest thing to a Disney princess we’ve ever seen at the contest. Serhat had people on the ground in Sweden stalking him for photos on a Sergey Lazarev level because I Didn’t Know was so bad it was *almost* good – and though we didn’t know whether he knew that or not, we did know that he was bringing his own brand of swag to the proceedings. Both artists brought a bit of old-timey ESC to 2016, and owned the shiz out of it. As such, I’m hopping off the train at Admiration Station here.
#8 | If it’s good enough for Christer, it must be pretty damn good: Belarus brings out the big guns for JESC + wins over Björkman
This is random, but sometimes it’s the little things that make you jump for joy, or at least do a tiny hop for happiness. Belarus brought their signature youthful spunk to Junior Eurovision this year, which has won them the contest twice before and nabbed them a handful of great results. An extra ingredient for 2016 was the humble household hoverboard, a fleet of which were navigated effortlessly by Alexander Minyonok and his dancers in Valletta. The gimmick was there, the choreography was slick, the vocals were on point…overall, this was a polished and entertaining package that harked back to the more childlike JESCs of the mid-2000s. And you know who acknowledged that? Mr. Christer Björkman. He was the only expert juror to award Belarus one of his top scores, and his precious douze at that, rewarding an entry that put the Junior into Junior Eurovision. It made me feel all warm and fuzzy seeing a formidable force in the ESC-verse hand his highest points to Belarus.
#7 | A tiny island changes their tune for the better: Malta swaps Chameleon for Walk On Water
I’m not too keen on national finals that stipulate a change in song is (not perfect, but) a-ok after a particular artist/song combo has already won. It feels a bit like cheating on the public and/or juries that chose the original song as The One (and also, WTH is the point of holding an NF? Just opt for an internal selection if that’s how you want to play it). However…Malta’s move from the MESC-winning Chameleon – performed by inevitable singer Ira Losco – to the Swedish penned and produced Walk On Water was an excellent action to take. Chameleon, while catchy, was suffering from an identity crisis, and wasn’t exactly cutting-edge pop music. Walk On Water knew exactly what it was – powerful soul-pop peppered with gospel and electronic sounds that allowed Malta to hold their own against the likes of Russia and Australia. Still not sold? Well, if it wasn’t for the switch, we wouldn’t have experienced the sheer joy of a liquid-filled USB stick with #WOW stamped on it *mic drop*.
#6 | All out of luck: Bosnia & Herzegovina + Greece lose their 100% qualification records
Before you start hurling abuse at me, let me explain why the 2016 non-qualifications of Bosnia & Herzegovina and Greece were a highlight of my year. I have nothing against either of these countries, and I was actually quite disappointed to see the unique Utopian Land left behind in its semi final. But because it was, alongside Ljubav Je, countries who advance to the final every year can now no longer assume their safety. That, I think, is a good thing. It proves that bloc/diaspora voting can’t be relied upon (despite what some people outside the ESC bubble believe); and that if your entry is worse than ten others you’re competing against, you’re out, no matter who you are. So, from big hitters like Russia to residents of Struggle Town like San Marino, everybody needs to bring something delicious to the Eurovision buffet table, or they’ll be tossed straight into the trash. And anything that keeps the level of musical quality sky-high in the contest gets a thumbs-up from me.
#5 | The comeback king (and queen) who kicked butt: The triumphant artist returns of the 2016 adult contest
These days, every Eurovision seems to bring with it a crop of artists that we’ve seen before. They end their second/third/fifteenth attempts at gaining ESC glory in different ways, and this year was no different in that sense. But it’s the success stories that I like to focus on rather than the fails (Deen, Greta Salomé and Kaliopi – sorry, but I’m “skinning you out”). The abovementioned Ira Losco may have gotten Malta back in the final, but she couldn’t come close to equaling or topping her 2002 second place (I think it was the lack of glitter-blowing). So it was up to Poli Genova and Donny Montell to fly the ‘We outdid ourselves!’ flag for Bulgaria and Lithuania respectively…and boy, did they ever. Donny’s goal was to beat Love Is Blind’s 14th place from 2012, and he did so by finishing 9th and giving his country their best result since 2006. Poli went from a DNQ in 2011 to achieving Bulgaria’s first qualification in nearly a decade, followed by their best result ever. Bravo, you two!
#4 | Never mind the colour of your life – let’s talk the colour of success: Poland picks Michał Szpak over Margaret, regrets nothing
One of the most shocking happenings of the 2015/2016 selection season was Margaret and her monster hit Cool Me Down NOT being Poland’s entry of choice for Stockholm. Even those of us who were immune to Margaret’s charms (i.e. me) figured she was a shoo-in to win Krajowe Eliminacje – and if she had an off night, surely Edyta Górniak would step in? Um, no. Jaws dropped globally as Michał Szpak and his majestic mane won the NF with ease (nearly 36% of the public vote, to be precise). Surfing on a sea of haters and doubters shouting ‘IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN MARGARET!’, he went on to qualify to the Eurovision final….and then came the voting sequence to end all voting sequences. Your moment of the night might have been when Russia tried but failed to push past Australia and Ukraine at the last second to win, but mine? Poland’s ultimate leapfrog over TWENTY countries into 6th place – thanks to the televoters – which led to an eventual 8th-place finish. Now that’s #WOW.
#3 | Edward af Sillén’s way with words: The entire Eurovision 2016 script
As a writer, I always find myself paying more attention than most to the scripting of Eurovision. I rarely find the hosts’ dialogue to be above average, excluding the perfection that was 2007 (Jaana and Mikko are my all-time favourite host duo) and 2013. The common ground between 2013 and 2016, besides Petra Mede? Screenwriter and genius Edward af Sillén. The man behind the words of Oslo 2010 and Malmö 2013 outdid both of his previous ESC gigs this year with a hilarious host script. Not only was it packed with banter that highlighted the chemistry between Petra and Måns, it also used humour to push the limits of what flies during a family entertainment program – which I love. Then there was ‘That’s Eurovision!’ – one of the best semi openers in history – and the now iconic ‘Love Love Peace Peace’, which we’ll still be singing when the next Swedish-hosted ESC takes place (probably in 2018). Basically, anything we heard in Stockholm that af Sillén had put down on paper was smart, sassy, and memorable. It played a big part in what I believe to be one of the best contests ever.
#2 | Beating Europe at their own game: Australia wins the jury vote and finishes second in Stockholm
If you thought this Australian was going to list her personal highlights of the Euro-year and NOT mention Dami Im, you were sadly mistaken. Until it actually happened, I had no idea that she was capable of giving us such an incredible result in our second year of contest participation. Guy Sebastian’s 5th place last year was awesome enough, but Dami almost winning the comp when Australia is still a newbie being made to feel quite unwelcome by some (which is understandable, but we’re here to stay so PLS STAHP) topped it by a mile. For a year, I was crushed that I couldn’t be in Vienna to see us compete for the first time. But then I made it to Stockholm to watch Dami nail her final performance, and I felt the support from a crowd of countless nationalities. After that, I got to witness her top the jury vote and wondered if I was about to see an unprecedented Aussie win of the whole contest. I didn’t, which as a Jamala devotee didn’t bother me too much. But I was there when we proved how seriously we take Eurovision, and when we scored ourselves such an amazing spot on the scoreboard. In hindsight, I wouldn’t change a thing.
#1 | Yasligima toyalmadim, men bu yerde yasalmadim: Jamala, 1944 and the ESC
Now we’ve arrived at my number one “thing” (song, artist, event…whatever), and fittingly, the only thing that could beat Dami’s epic Eurovision effort is the story of the entry that actually beat her in the competition. I wasn’t thrilled when I found out that Jamala was trying to represent Ukraine again, five years on from the 2011 Mika-Zlata-Jamala Incident. That’s because Smile made me do the opposite. Still, I cued up 1944 the first chance I got, not expecting to like what could have been a carbon copy of Smile. Three minutes later, my mind had been blown. I felt connected to the haunting, experimental beauty of 1944 immediately, drawn to its combination of vulnerability and strength, and the pain unleashed by Jamala as she told her grandmother’s story through song. It was magic, and I felt that from first listen through to the, ahem, *interesting* Ukrainian NF, then on to Eurovision. Every time she performed, it was as heartfelt as ever, and never has a vocal possessed such emotion and sincerity while still knocking our socks off with its sheer power. The overall impact of 1944 won Ukraine their second ESC trophy – and it was a victory not of gimmicks or of a personality, but of a song that meant something. Even now I can’t hear those first few bars without tearing up…which is why I never listen to it in public. Thank you for the music, Jamala. I’ll get some tissues ready for your reprise in Kyiv.
Congratulations, you made it to the end of this marathon countdown! If it’s past midnight wherever you are, then Happy New Year – I’m sorry you spent it trying not to fall asleep while I rambled my little heart out. If it’s still pre-midnight, then you have time to salvage the evening, so I’ll wrap things up by wishing you all the best for the start of 2017 (and the middle and end, obviously). Whether you’re celebrating by partying it up Russian granny style, tuning in to the ESC 250, or lying on the floor in the foetal position weeping because you failed to keep your New Year’s resolutions (which one am I? I’ll never tell), enjoy yourself.
I’ll see you next year for another January-December filled with Eurovision. In the meantime, don’t forget to fill me in on your NF/ESC/JESC highlights of 2016. I definitely didn’t keep my resolution to be less nosy, so I want to know everything.