Russia's shock exit, dancing robots and creepy lookalikes
Few of the songs really shone as potential winners, but there were plenty of bizarre gimmicks, shocking twists and comedy moments to enjoy nonetheless. Here are the things we need to talk about before the grand final on Saturday night.
Russia’s shock exitRussia didn’t take part in the contest last year for political reasons — largely because it was hosted in Ukraine — and this year they made what was supposed to be a triumphant return. They were represented by Yulia Samoylova, the singer who was due to perform for them last year. She sang “I Won’t Break” perched on top of a piece of set that was covered in light projections to look like an ice-covered mountain. It was all very Russian.
But when the results were announced, a shock was in store: Russia failed to qualify for the final. That’s the first time that has ever happened. Historically, Russia could always generally rely on what the late Terry Wogan called the “bloc voting” of former Soviet countries to ensure a good placing. So what went wrong this year? Was it the song, which was admittedly lacklustre? Or political ghosts returning to haunt the competition once more? Or was Russia too busy influencing other international voting systems to concentrate on this one?
Politics took holdThe biggest political revelation of the night, however, came when British commentator Rylan Clark-Neal (who continued to do a sterling job combining comedy one-liners with genuine Eurovision superfandom) interviewed Ireland’s performer, Ryan O'Shaughnessy. Rylan broke the news to O’Shaughnessy that the European Broadcasting Union had terminated their contract with Eurovision’s broadcaster in China, Mango TV, after reports that Ireland’s semi-final performance had been censored in China due to its portrayal of a same-sex relationship.
Gimmicks are coming thick and fastThere’s no giant LED screen for the acts to interact with on the Eurovision stage this year. Complex LED effects have increasingly been a key feature of performances in recent years, not least in Måns Zelmerlöw’s winning performance of Heroes for Sweden in 2015. Some countries seem to have panicked in the run-up to the competition when they heard there wouldn’t be a flashy visual effects option to fall back on, and made some truly bizarre staging decisions in its absence.
But were Norway cheating?Norway had clearly heard the news about the lack of LED screen and decided they weren’t going to stand for it. Instead, Norway’s Alexander Rybak — you may remember him because he has actually won Eurovision before, in 2009 — interacted with complicated graphics, including musical notes and punctuation marks, which were overlaid onto the feed of his performance on our own screens. Italy are using the same trick, but with brightly designed subtitles spelling out the lyrics to their song, "Non mi avete fatto niente”.
So who’s going to win?I don’t think we saw the winner perform on Thursday night, unless something goes seriously awry with some of the live staging on Saturday. Favourites Israel and Cyprus, with their contrasting but equally powerful songs, still look like the main contenders, perhaps joined by the subtler songs of Lithuania and France.
Unfortunately at this point there isn’t a great deal of buzz around the UK’s entry, so we’re unlikely to be taking home the trophy. Still, with plenty of foot-stomping songs and mad moments in the making for the final, 2018 might just prove to be a vintage year.