The new voting system announced by the EBU for the Eurovision Song Contest 2023, to move the Semi Finals to a pure 100 percent televote, will change the fabric of the Song Contest moving forward. We took a closer look and explained the impact of the new rules on the presentation of the Contest to the audience at home, and the influence it could have on the songs entered.
What if the rule had been in place over the last ten years? What stories would have changed? And are there lessons for the coming Contest?
‘Sekret’ by Ronela Hajati (Albania, 2022)
There are few songs I’ve seen in Eurovision history ranked as low by jurors as this one. ‘Sekret’ scored 12 points from juries in this year’s Eurovision Semi Final, but all 12 of those points came from an indecisive Greek jury, where 2 of the 5 jurors had ‘Sekret’ ranked 1st but the others ranked the track 5th, 7th and 9th respectively.
For the rest of the jurors, ouch. In total 90 jurors ranked Albania’s performance and of them 39 jurors ranked Albania dead last of the 17 competing entries. Yet ‘Sekret’ did enough for televoters to rank top 10 there, scoring 46 points mainly from diaspora nations (Greece gave 12, Italy and Switzerland 8, Slovenia 7 and France 5 points, as well as a smattering of 1’s and 2’s).
Songs like this that appeal to the niches of televoters in 4 or 5 nations will stumble into the Grand Final once more.
‘Madness of Love’ by Raphael Gualazzi (Italy, 2011)
Italy’s jazzy number of 2011 wasn’t expected to smash the scoreboard on their first competitive return to Eurovision since 1997, but juries thought otherwise. A jury landslide of 251 points, 69 points ahead of eventual winners Azerbaijan, was enough to ultimately see Italy finish 2nd in their return to the Song Contest.
That year was also a wild one for the difference between juries and televoters, as 4 songs would have qualified (‘Haba Haba’, ‘Boom Boom’, ‘Live It Up’, ‘I Love Belarus’) if the results of the Semi Finals were televote alone.
Now the 2011 Grand Final was calculated in a different way to today’s scoring system as jury and televote rankings were combined in each country’s vote, rather than in two blocks as today. Using today’s system Italy would have been 55 points behind Azerbaijan in the final ranking. Now combined those four songs that instead qualified (‘Rockefeller Street’, ‘In Love For A While’, ‘Čaroban’, ‘C’est ma vie’) scored a combined total of 304 points from the jury rankings, and I’m sure the community will agree that the four televote songs named in the above paragraph would likely have scored much less than this.
Could Italy have taken 55 of those remaining 304 points and pushed for victory? It would be a stretch but it would have almost certainly got tighter at the top as this new system would have left Italy even further as an outlier, the only entry appealing to the jury side of the leaderboard in a contest that otherwise was the most open in recent times (20 of the 25 finalists received at least one ‘douze points’).
How Song Contest history could have been very different.
‘Embers’ by James Newman (United Kingdom, 2021)
Remember the indignation of the double nil points that the United Kingdom received in 2021. It almost certainly wouldn’t have been the case with this voting system.
Underneath the nil points ‘Embers’ came just one ranking short of scoring a point from the Polish jury, which together ranked ‘Embers’ 12th, 10th, 9th, 10th and 16th of the 26 songs competing in the Eurovision Grand Final, and ending up in 11th place. One of the songs that placed above the United Kingdom in the Polish jury ranking was Hooverphonic’s ‘The Wrong Place’, a song that would have not qualified in the upcoming 100% televote era model.
Now Poland didn’t vote in the same Semi Final so we would have to speculate on if Albina’s ‘Tick Tock’ would have also ranked in Poland’s top 10 or not this year, but seeing as though Belgium was higher ranked with the juries in that Semi Final this is not a huge stretch. Should Croatia have ranked lower than James Newman in this hypothetical situation the United Kingdom might have ended Eurovision 2021 with one solitary point.
‘Phantom Pain’ by Victoria (Bulgaria, 2021)
Following on from the critically acclaimed ‘Tears Getting Sober‘ in 2020, Bulgaria offered Victoria the ticket for the rescheduled Rotterdam Song Contest twelve months later. In a smart piece of marketing, the six songs on Victoria’s next EP took part in a selection that mixed in a dedicated jury, a demoscopic jury, and a lot of feedback from the public.
The result was Victoria taking the haunting ballad ‘Growing Up Is Getting Old‘ to the Eurovision stage.
Would the same choice have been made given the knowledge that Victoria would have to take the song through a Semi Final that was a 100 percent televote? The two juries, with a keen understanding of the Song Contest and a remit to find a song that would do well at the Song Contest, would realise the higher risk involved.
With a new scoring system in place that needed a more commercial and appealing sound to get the public to pick up their phones to vote, a number of songs had a better fit. Given those circumstances, Bulgaria may have turned to ‘Phantom Pain‘ instead. Not only did it have a more conventional sound, Victoria also picked it out as her favourite song of the six.
Whether ‘Phantom Pain‘ would have delivered a different result is a big unknown, but for sure we would have lost the massive Rock Island prop. I wonder what would have taken its place?
‘Moj svijet’ by Sergej Ćetković (Montenegro, 2014)
Would the Montenegrian Peter Crouch and his perfect Balkan Ballad made it to Denmark under the new scoring system?
To answer this, let’s go back 12 months. Montenegro has never qualified for the Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest since first entering in 2007. Having tried various approaches, in 2013, broadcaster RTCG turned to hip-hop for the visually and musically arresting ‘Igranka‘. Very much a fan favourite, the love for Who See’s entry has only increased over time, but was overlooked in the Semi Final… at least it was overlooked by the jury. Fourth place in the televote would have seen Marvel’s ‘Space Bee and the Astronauts’ through to Saturday night, no doubt to the delight of the country and the Song Contest community.
Which brings us back to our alternate 2014. RTCG has seen what is needed to qualify for the Grand Final… modern styles with bright visuals. Given that backdrop, would it have decided that ‘now was the time to show our culture’ and go for ‘Moj Svijet‘, or double down and become ‘the broadcaster who sends hip-hop’?
In this timeline, Cetkovic’s victory saw RTCG return the following year with another Balkan Ballad, so it’s likely that a successful ‘Igranka‘ would have sent the country down the hip-hop route; and ‘Moj Svijet‘ would be little more than a local album track.
‘Anima Nuova‘ by Chiara Dubey (Switzerland, 2012)
How much impact would the new voting rule impacted the selections of National Finals past? It’s perhaps not as much as you might think. Not every National Final song is selected because it could win the Eurovision Song Contest – a public service broadcaster has many hats that need to be on show. We’d still have seen the likes of Denmark’s ‘League Of Light‘ from Julie and Nina, and Sweden’s ‘Jag är fri‘ from Jon Henrik Fjällgren)’. The long-established National Finals showcase local music and culture just as much as looking for a competitive entries.
It’s the smaller National Finals, tasked with finding the Eurovision Song that would see an impact. And finding a successful song at that… Which means one that qualifies for Saturday night.
Let’s look at Switzerland 2012. Sinplus was a great choice for the Contest and did find success in Baku. What about the other songs in the National Final? Two songs were selected by the Italian-speaking public broadcaster in 2012 to go forward to the big show. One was Sinplus’ ‘Unbreakable‘, a powerful and mainstream slice of rock. The second was the slight and delicate ‘Anima Nuova‘. Chiara Dubey’s entry was the definition of a ‘let’s aim for the jury vote’; and the very definition of a song that would be questioned by a broadcaster needing a qualification.
‘Øve Os På Hinanden’ by Fyr og Flamme (Denmark, 2021)
In March 2021, the Danish public tuned in Dansk Melodi Grand Prix and did something quite interesting, they voted to send a song entirely in Danish as their entry to the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time since the abolishment of the national language rule. The song in question was Øve Os På Hinanden by up and coming ‘80s-inspired musical duo Fyr og Flamme. Following its victory, the song quickly gained a lot of love not only in the Eurovision community but in Denmark itself where it became the first Danish Eurovision entry to top the Danish singles chart since Emmelie De Forest’s victorious entry ‘Only Teardrops’ back in 2013.
The Danes were scheduled to close Semi Final 2, a slot that tended to bode well for an act’s hopes of qualifying. Despite the ‘80s-inspired costumes and staging however, Denmark was not announced amongst the final ten qualifiers. When the full voting breakdown was released, it was revealed that Denmark finished 7th in the Semi Final 2 televote but only 15th with the juries. This ultimately opened the door for Albania’s Anxhela Peristeri and ‘Karma’ to qualify instead, a song that would ultimately be put 2nd in the Grand Final running order and finish 21st as a result.
Since the change of the language rule, Scandinavian countries have only been brave enough to sing in their national language a handful of times. Whilst it’s not entirely clear why national final voters in each country are more attracted to songs in English than songs in the country’s native language, Dansk Melodi Grand Prix 2021 was a rare moment when Denmark’s voting public went the other way and chose something different. Had they qualified, Fyr og Flamme (and subsequently the Danish language) would have been profiled in front of a global audience of millions of people and perhaps it might have opened the door for more artists singing in Scandinavian languages to be seriously considered in competitive national final line-ups.
‘Aina mun pitää’ by Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät (Finland, 2015)
Any Eurovision fan who follows national finals closely gets used to coming across songs that feel very different to typical Eurovision fare. ‘Aina mun pitää’ is about as different as it gets, a punk rock song clocking in a 1 minute, 27 seconds to become the shortest Eurovision entry of all time. The band who made the song were Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät, a Finnish band formed in a 2009 charity workshop for adults with developmental challenges.
The band’s rise to fame was focused around their inclusion in films, first in the 2009 fiction film ‘Vähän kunnioitusta’. Then in 2012, they were the subject of a documentary entitled ‘The Punk Syndrome’ which followed the band in the build up to their first ever European tour. Throughout all of it though, they have never lost sight of who they are and the importance of standing up for mentally challenged communities across the world. Their participation in the 2015 edition of UMK (the Finnish national final) was to raise awareness for people with Down’s Syndrome and they were hugely successful at achieving this as the world’s media flocked to cover this unique Finnish band ahead of their Eurovision performance.
Once the results were released, it would transpire that the Finns finished last in their Semi Final, but this didn’t tell the whole story. The 2015 contest was the last to use a combined score to mark songs meaning that countries could get their top televote points to one nation without that being recognised in the final result (depending on how low the juries scored them). Once all the televoting data was brought together, it would turn out that Finland came 10th in the overall televote and therefore would have beaten out Hungary’s ‘Boggie’ and her song ‘Wars for Nothing’.
Whatever you think of the song itself, this result was a travesty for representation at the song contest. Eurovision has struggled to attract mentally challenged artists to participate and Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät missing out so narrowly was a massive missed opportunity. Think of all the artists who could have watched this unique band performing on the Eurovision Grand Final stage and believed they could aspire to that having seen four people they relate to achieving that monumental goal. We are still ages away from being able to say Eurovision is welcoming to artists from every background but who knows how much closer we could have been had the 2023 voting system been in place in 2015.
While the impact of moving to a 100 percent televote in the Semi Final leads to some obvious changes in the past, especially if you finished 11th in your show, the impact of the rule change can impact the whole landscape of the Song Contest. How do you think this will be reflected in 2023? Will there be a sea-change in 2024? And what other historical moments would have happened? Let us know…