The Grand Final of the Eurovision Song Contest 2016 delivered the goods on several fronts: grandeur, spectacle, quality finalists, entertainment value, star charisma, and nail-biting drama. The Globen stage in Stockholm delivered on the state-of-the-art LED effects that gnerated the grandeur and spectacle, and the enthusiastic energy of the 15,000-strong crowd was very palpable all throughout the proceedings. Just like during the two semifinal heats, presenters Måns Zelmerlöw and Petra Mede were unconditionally terrific, delivering wit and musicality while competently running the entire proceedings. It makes you want to vote for Sweden to win in subsequent years so you can see this terrific duo host the contest again and again (Yes, Petra, I’m rooting for you to beat British presenter Katie Boyle’s record). In the eleven years I have been keenly following this song contest, this duo is for me gave the best hosting ever (in second place? Petra solo, three years ago).
Interestingly even if the show remains grand, it is also streamlined for the beginning portion of the program–normally, after the parade of nations that was begun in 2013 there would be this elaborate opening number; this year the opening only consists of a fashion show inspired by the dandelion logo for this year’s contest set to a medley of hits by Swedish DJ Avicii as they presented the finalists for this year’s contest. Then after some brief opening banter by the presenters, they went straight to the competition–I’ll discuss this in a later installment.
I mentioned there was star wattage in the contest. They piled it on during the 45-minute voting interval, starting with a pre-taped sequence featuring esteemed British thespians Sirs Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi acting as aged televiewers very critical of the contest’s length, akin to those Muppet critics Statler and Waldorf.
But the brightest star featured during the voting interval was Justin Timberlake. He first showed up in the Green Room conversing with Måns, and you can see practically all the artists all thrilled and abuzzed by his presence–especially loved seeing Spain’s Barei and Bulgaria’s Poli Genova video-bombing in the background (and in photos, you’ll also see last year’s Latvian representative, Aminata taking photos on her smartphone on the scene). Even Justin praised Måns for his hosting–deservingly so.
After a four-minute interval featuring a montage of Swedish acts that made a big splash in the internationally, Justin went on to perform a medley of two songs: first is his now classic hit “Rock Your Body”, which then segued to his unstoppably infectious current hit single, “Can’t Stop the Feeling”. Though I noticed his backup singers took some of the vocal load that normally should be his (like the falsetto portion of the chorus of “Can’t Stop the Feeling”), his performance was truly live and electric and a masterclass that the finalists could watch, learn, and emulate. It’s such a shame that U.S. viewers, due to clearing issues, could not see this terrific number.
As is tradition, the reigning champion performs a medley featuring his latest single and his winning song. In this case, Måns performed his latest single, “Fire in the Rain” and then segued into his winning song, “Heroes”. The new song is a solid fusion of pop with acoustic folk touches, but it’s tough to follow “Heroes”. Still a pleasant listen.
But for me the big highlight was the musical number Måns and Petra performed as they “analyzed” what makes a winning Eurovision song. What results is “Love Love Peace Peace”, and it was terrific, over-the-top fun featuring appearances by previous champions Alexander Rybak (Norway 2009) and Lordi (Finland 2006). Some of the visual elements may not be the hallmark of champions–remember Austria took the rear with nul points with their flaming piano–but well, it could help shore up your placement if you can’t win.
Sometimes you’ll see a former beauty queen reading out the results of her country. This year, presenting the French jury results was Miss France and Miss Europe 2001 winner Élodie Gossuin (who also happened to be a Top 10 semifinalist at Miss Universe that same year). For the French public, her presentation of the scores became a viral meme, as she goofily (read: off-key) sang out the “you-hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo” part of “J’ai cherché” with awkward moves this side of Seinfeld’s Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). If Miss Universe 2010 4th runner-up Venus Raj is associated with term “major major“, Elodie is now associated with the term “youhouhouhouhou”. There are videos made where her voice was spliced into Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You”, Adele’s “Someone Like You”, Black-Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” and the one that started it all, Amir’s “J’ai cherché”.
In previous editions, there would be typically a moment where one entry begins pulling away from the pack that about 3/4 on the way through the reading of the results the winner would already be obvious. The new system where there are points for both jury and televoting, with the televoting total results being presented last, did provide an air of suspense and unpredictability, and it does make for a more exciting experience. I don’t mind this new system at all, even if there was a resounding furor (targeted against the winner by fans of the oddsmakers’ favorite) that ensued thereafter.
COMING UP: ANALYSIS OF THE RESULTS