Want a sign that, as the meme-loving internet has claimed over recent weeks, nature is healing? Here’s one: Eurovision is back.
The continent’s premier cheese-fest has recovered from its 2020 no-show and will roar back onto our screens, mini flags in hand, for the Grand Final on Saturday night. With all that’s happened over the past 12 months, it’s bound to be one of the more fascinating contests in recent memory.
So, which nation is favourite to win? Who’s dancing with the nul points devil? And who sounds most like ABBA? Here’s everything you need to know ahead of the big singalong. Now, who’s got the Prosecco?
It’s basically the final that never was
2020 was the first time Eurovision had been cancelled in its 64-year history, a tragedy that dashed the hopes and dreams of all the acts set to perform. Unsurprisingly, many of them have come back for a second go — 26 of the 39 countries set to enter at the semi-final stage have carried over their representatives. They’ve all had to write new songs, though, which is bad news for some (Iceland, whose 2020 effort was literally the best song ever) and good for others (the UK’s is very much improved this time around — more on that below).
Italy are the ones to beat
If the bookies are anything to go by, then Italy are the ones to beat. Flying il Tricolore in Rotterdam are Måneskin, a rockin’ four-piece who won the Italian X Factor and have topped the country’s charts with both of their previous albums. Their track, Zitti E Buoni, which loosely translates to Shut Up and Be Quiet, is about as aggressive as the title suggests. It’s all rather alarming by Eurovision standards, actually — will it throw an alt-rock cat amongst the Europop pigeons?
The crowd will be part of a science experiment
There won’t be the usual level of flag-waving mania amongst the crowd in 2021, but the good news is 3,500 audience members will be allowed inside Rotterdam’s Ahoy Arena for the Grand Final. As part of the bargain, they’ll all be part of a government-backed experiment on how to control the spread of You Know What among big gatherings of people. It’s good for science, and good for us TV viewers — awkward broadcasts from empty venues is something we’re happy to leave behind.
The UK’s song is our best in years (but, erm, probs won’t win)
It’s been almost a quarter of a century since Blighty last conquered Eurovision; 24 years of hurt since Katrina and the Waves brought it home. The latest contender to try and banish the hoodoo is James Newman and, truth be told, his track Embers is probably our best bet in years. It’s fun, catchy and upbeat, ticking plenty of boxes with its hand-claps, synthy horns and lively pianos. Will avoid the dreaded nul points? Probably... bookies have it down as a nailed on mid-table finisher. Will it win? Stranger things have happened (see: pandemic).
Flo Rida (yes, the Flo Rida) will be there
What does a tiny European republic with a population roughly the same size as Borehamwood have in common with an American producer who’s sold more than 80 million records worldwide? Eurovision, of course. In one of the more unexpected cosmic alignments of 2021, Flo Rida has teamed up with singer Senhit for San Marino’s 2021 entry. Despite some earlier confusion as to whether he’d turn up in person for the finals in Rotterdam, Mr Rida has since confirmed he will in fact be there to perform. Whether or not he’ll be wearing apple bottom jeans and boots with the fur (with the furrrrrr) remains to be seen.
Latvia deserve a “good effort” sticker, at least
As the old saying goes: if at first you don’t succeed/qualify as Latvia’s Eurovision representative, try, try again/switch sides and see if Lithuania is interested. That’s basically what Samanta Tina has been doing for the past nine years, getting knocked out of Latvia’s national finals seven times, and Lithuania’s twice. She finally made it 2020, only to be derailed by the ‘rona, but now she’s back for 2021 with her track The Moon is Rising. Alas, earlier this week she got knocked out in the semi finals. A real shame, but it’s an A* for effort from us.
There is some Eurovision royalty involved
Any Eurovision fanatic out there will tell you that Malta are a force to be reckoned with this year. They’re being represented by the 18-year-old Destiny, full name Destiny Chukunyere, who won Junior Eurovision back in 2015 with a record-breaking points total. Her compatriots were so chuffed that they awarded her the Medal for Service to the Republic, one of the highest civilian honours in Malta. Basically, in Eurovision circles, she’s kind of a big deal — so watch out.
Iceland are back with another memeable hit
It’s almost as if the universe doesn’t want the continent to dance to Icelandic synth-pop bangers. Daði og Gagnamagnið set the internet alight with their 2020 entry, Think About Things, but never got to perform it. This year’s offering, 10 Years, has a similarly memeable dance to go along with it, but earlier this week a member of the Icelandic delegation tested positive for Covid, followed by a band member. It means the group won’t perform live in the Grand Final, and will instead compete with a pre-recorded video of one of their rehearsal performances. Ideal? No. Does it mean we can still have a boogie? Oh yes.
Brace yourself for the bloc voting
Pandemic or no pandemic, some things never change. Every year, certain countries can more or less count on getting votes from other countries — neighbours such as the Netherlands and Belgium usually stick together, for example, as do some of the former Yugoslav nations. It’s actually a bit of a sore point amongst the Eurovision top brass, who have made changes to the format in recent years to combat it, and assure it’s all based on musical merit, but for the conspiracy theorists out there, it’s something to keep an eye on.
The Eurovision Song Contest final is on BBC One on Saturday May 22 at 8pm