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Which 2021 National Finals Sent The Right Artists To Rotterdam? Written by on July 1, 2021 | 2 Comments

As the Eurovision summer continues, let’s take some time to look back at the various National Finals in 2021 and the acts they selected to go to Rotterdam. Ewan Spence picks out the broadcasters who made some smart choices to find Song Contest success.

Lithuania Was Right To Send The Roop… Twice

Lithuania and LRT took a unique approach to their 2021 return – they neither automatically invited The Roop back, as most countries had done with their 2020 hopefuls, nor simply added them to their National Final running order, like Sweden did with The Mamas.

Instead, The Roop got a golden ticket to the Lithuanian Final, where they would go up against the qualifiers from the Heats and the Semi Finals. The magic of ‘On Fire’ seemed like it would be hard to replicate, but when ‘Discoteque’ was released, reception was very positive; the 2021 entry felt very different to ‘On Fire’, being far more disco-oriented than rock, but still retained the band’s complex wild choreography and high-energy performance, with Vaidotas appearing almost elastic on stage in a bright vivid yellow.

What happened next was the greatest endorsement of an entry by a country that the ESC Insight team can ever recall. Not only did The Roop thoroughly defeat every other finalist, their televote was over six times more than all the other finalists put together. It was less a National Final than a coronation. Lithuania had every confidence in The Roop, and it really showed; they definitely believed without a shadow of a doubt that they had made the right call in 2020 and were, almost without exception, happy to back that up again for 2021.

Were they successful? Well, with that background, a failure for the band in Rotterdam would have been catastrophic for Lithuania’s approach to the Eurovision Song Contest. Thankfully, that was not the case. The producers felt The Roop were reliable and professional enough to open the Semi Final; a more significant role than in previous years given they would be the first act to perform on a Eurovision stage since the Song Contest two years previously in 2019.

Europe seemed to agree, awarding Lithuania 4 sets of 12 in the televote for Semi Final, and then 5 sets of 12 in the Grand Final, as well as the jury 12 from Italy, to achieve an 8th place overall.

While perhaps less than hoped for before the Contest (Lithuania had boldly announced plans for what they would do if The Roop won), and perhaps suffering from coming directly before other televote favourites Ukraine and France, the overall top ten finish was Lithuania’s best result since 2006, and their second best placing ever (LT United finished 6th, back in the televote-only era), a ringing endorsement of the Pabandom iš naujo! format and a job well done by The Roop.

While a Song Contest held in Vilnius will now not happen in 2022, the possibility of it happening in the near future seems much greater than it did when Jurijus failed to qualify for the Grand Final in 2019, the strength of the new Lithuanian approach to Eurovision seems set to continue.

In their own words: the heat is getting higher.

Italy Was Right To Send Måneskin

The Eurovision Song Contest that never was left numerous plot threads hanging (creating lots of jumping off places for fan fiction) because ‘who would have won’ can never be answered with definitive clarity. Nevertheless, I think that Italy was right to send Diodato in 2020. It’s never going to be forgotten; the song now carries so much emotional heft to the Italian public because of the coronavirus pandemic that ‘Fai Rumore’ will always be regarded as an Italian classic, and part of the country’s collective history.

Sanremo may not be a National Selection for the Eurovision Song Contest per se, but the principle of the winning artist being given first refusal has moved on from ‘a little bonus’ to ‘a pretty good artistic move’ over the last decade. The same approach was taken for 2021, as RAI followed other broadcasters by starting its Eurovision process from scratch, rather than carry over the 2020 decision.

I’ll just note before we move on from Diodato that Sanremo doesn’t do a reprise of ‘last year’s winning song’ openings; at least until 2021 when ‘Fai Rumore’ kicked off a week of normality in Italy’s musical calendar and cemented its legendary status. Chills.

Anyway, the annual musical standard at Sanremo remained high this year, and part of that has to be down to the fact that it is not a National Final. For many it’s the crown jewel of the Italian music scene. To be invited is an honour, to be in contention is huge, and to win it is career defining.

It’s also a crucible of a competition. You are performing on five nights out of six (the first night is an open rehearsal to the press, which is the first opportunity for almost all of the media to hear your song, so you need to be on top form). You’ll be promoting yourself hard over the week to gain the votes of the public, the demoscopic jury, and the press room. And you’ll be building momentum to peak on Saturday night.

Sanremo is the closest of any selection to the Eurovision Song Contest’s gruelling schedule. Make it through that Contest, and you’re fighting fit for May. The fittest of them all (ahem) this year was Måneskin.

The various Italian voting groups did not ‘choose a song for Eurovision’, they were choosing the best of Italian music. Since winning the Eurovision Song Contest, Måneskin are simply the biggest thing in Italian music. The Italian public chose, once again, to send one of their biggest names with an existing track record in a competition.

And the world has fallen in love with Damian, Victoria, Thomas, and Ethan. Career defining indeed.

Portugal Was Right To Send The Black Mamba

Saturday March 6th was a busy night for Eurovision song selections. Estonia and Denmark were running their National Finals, and the aforementioned Samremo was entering its twenty-fifth hour with the announcement of the top three. And Festival da Canção was about to make it an even more memorable night.

Pop Idol finalist Carolina Deslandes had won through her Semi Final by topping the Jury vote and taking second in the televote; whilst The Black Mamba, formed in 2010, won their Semi Final with the opposite result, winning the televote and second with the juries.

The stage was set for the final night. The two Semi Final winners would fight it out at the top, with the narrowest of margins. The jury vote was echoed, with Deslandes winning the jury and The Black Mamba finishing second. In the televote The Black Mamba slipped to second place, but Delsandes fell to third place. Equal points, but the public vote was the tiebreaker and Portugal would be sending The Black Mamba with their first non Portuguese language entry to the Song Contest.

And when they got to the Contest, the band built on that momentum. The talk of non-qualification rapidly disappeared, the odds started to fall, and a fourth place in the Semi Final would not have been predicted by many.

As for the Grand Final, if you were to go purely on the points scores, The Black Mamba’s 153 points places them second in the all-time scoreboard after Salvador Sobral. Naturally the history of the Song Contest has seen different scoring systems and total maximum points available so this may not be as clear cut as a comparison to Lúcia Moniz’s 92 points in 1996, or Carlos Mendes’ 90 points in 1972, but it’s fair to say that The Black Mamba is one of Portugal’s most successful entries to the Eurovision Song Contest in the country’s fifty-two appearances.

The irony of such a classic sounding song acting as the vanguard for Festival da Canção should not be lost.

Russia Was Right To Send Manizha

There are many ways to win at the Eurovision Song Contest. The clearest is to score more points than anyone else and walk away with the Glass Microphone trophy. Another is to find commercial success and chart across Europe no matter your finishing place. Yet another is to build on your existing fanbase and capture the attention of the world outside the Contest.

Russia’s 2020 choice, Little Big, certainly managed the later. The internal selection was released late in the National Final season, and the earworm that was ‘Uno’ caught the attention of many in the community; as did the band’s homophoic attitudes in a video made at a Belgian Pride march.

And as much as ‘Uno’ was an absolute smash, racking up the sort of YouTube views and TikTok videos that reflect an international viral hit, Little Big never gave off the impression they were comfortable as Song Contestants. The community was left guessing as to their return in 2021, and in what appeared to be a late decision Little Big announced they would not be returning.

In the band’s place we had a Russian National Final with a short roster choice between three acts. No offence to the other two, but Manizha was the clear choice. In her own words “[‘Russian Women‘] is a song about the transformation of a woman’s self-awareness over the past few centuries in Russia.”

Here’s another way to win at the Song Contest; using the platform offered to use your three minutes to make a statement, to be seen, and to highlight an important issue for society. It’s not just the three minutes that count, the discussions around the issues that are just as important. Manizha’s Eurovision appearance allowed her to further causes close to her heart, including xenophobia, domestic violent, and support for the LGBTQ+ community, both in Russia and further afield. These were all picked up and discussed in depth across Europe, with the BBC and The Guardian offering significant coverage in the UK.

Did Manizha personally find a win at the Eurovision Song Contest? Undoubtedly.

Finland Was Right To Send Blind Channel

The Roop was not the only group to achieve a landslide televote from the public. Finland’s Blind Channel picked up 54.3 percent of the public vote, as well as topping the international jury vote in their National Final. The curious idea that somehow Finland’s nu-metal track and Italy’s glam rock would cancel each other out was quietly but firmly put to one side in Rotterdam. Amazingly, similar styles of music can co-exist at the top of the Eurovision scoreboards.

Dark Side’ managed to hit the retro flavour, but with a difference. Rather than harking back to the electro sound of the eighties, the band went for the nu-metal sound of the late nineties. And it had crossover to the general public; looking to redefine the song genre as ‘violent pop’ was a nice little touch that helped. More importantly Blind Channel managed to achieve what many bands entering Eurovision have not, they stayed true to their sound while composing and performing a song with wide appeal.

That wasn’t the only Finnish success this year. National broadcaster YLE found more success in the rejuvenated Uuden Musiikin Kilpailu format for its National Final. 2020 saw UMK switch away from the ‘single artist with multiple song’ approach to one that brought in a wide range of Finnish music. In both the 2020 and 2021 shows you could see that a wide range of Finnish musical genres, at various points in their career, were brought onto the public stage.

From the retro tinged hip-hop of The Teflon Brothers, through Ilta’s power ballad of ‘Kelle mä soitan’, to the the emotional valedictorian performance from Danny with ‘Sinä päivänä kun kaikki rakastaa mua’, UMK had a little bit of everything.

YLE was not approaching the selection process with any preconceived idea of what would be a ‘good Eurovision song’. Neither was it pushing its view on where in a career the country’s representative should be at. This year’s UMK was very much the broadcaster showcasing some of the best music in March 2021, and saying “alright then Finland, what do we want to send to Rotterdam?”

Finland clearly wanted the young, up and coming band. It was unequivocal. Finland was right to send Blind Channel not only because the country was happy with that choice… so was Europe.

Norway Was Right To Send Tix

Look, we all love Fred, Alexandra, and Tom. We all know how much impact ‘Spirit In The Sky‘ had with the televote and how much KEiiNO have engaged with the community since their time at Eurovision 2019.

No doubt many will point to Tix’s 18th place in the final score table compared to Norway’s 2019 placing of 6th to back up their wish, but we all know we’re in the awkward business of judging art, and art is subjective. You could pick a single country and two results from consecutive Contests and debate the relative merits… if you want one of many examples where there are contrary views, try the comparison of Fyr & Flamme to Leonora.

There was certainly a frisson of excitement when KEiiNO were announced on January 11th. It was the first major Eurovision announcement of the season (Albania’s Festivali i Kenges is the ‘first’ of the year, but it always feels more like a starter before the main course). KEiiNO certainly felt like the main course for a community starved of Eurovision since, well, KEiiNO topped the televote.

Two automatic finalists were announced by the NRK PR team in the first week, and the team played a blinder in terms of covering the bases;. KEiiNO appealed to the international Eurovision community, while the second name appealed to the Norwegian audience. Tix

With six Top Ten hits in 2020 (and two Number One songs), he was one of the biggest names in Norweigan music. When the Eurovision community asks for music to be ‘modern’ it’s hard to argue that TIX is not both modern and relevant in Norwegian culture, and the perfect song to represent the country in 2021.

He also brought something honest to the stage. His openness in talking about both his Tourettes’s Syndrome specifically, and mental health in general, started discussions in the community and beyond. This was, once more, using the worldwide stage for good, as well as bringing a dash of showmanship to Rotterdam.


Rotterdam 2021 was like no other Eurovision, with many of the selections carried over from 2020. We’ve looked back at those selections here on ESC Insight. Which National Finals do you think made the right choice? Did you enjoy any of the songs left behind? And who do you want to see try again in 2022? Let us know in the comments.

About The Author: Ewan Spence

British Academy (BAFTA) nominated broadcaster and writer Ewan Spence is the voice behind The Unofficial Eurovision Song Contest Podcast and one of the driving forces behind ESC Insight. Having had an online presence since 1994, he is a noted commentator around the intersection of the media, internet, technology, mobility and how it affects us all. Based in Edinburgh, Scotland, his work has appeared on the BBC, The Stage, STV, and The Times. You can follow Ewan on Twitter (@ewan) and Facebook (

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2 responses to “Which 2021 National Finals Sent The Right Artists To Rotterdam?”

  1. notthatcosta says:

    When it comes to TIX, I see the argument that he was the ‘correct’ decision because he is one of the country’s biggest artist, but “Fallen Angel” was absolutely not the best entry they had. I don’t think you could dispute that there were a handful of MGP finalists that would have performed better than borderline qualifier/18th place. Although results aren’t everything, a national final as strong as MGP could have and should have produced a contender to win Eurovision 2021, and “Fallen Angel” was not that.

  2. dimitris esc says:

    I agree on everything but Norway. I don’t think Tix was the right choice even though he is a likeable guy.

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