Eurovision Song Contest


Host country: Ukraine
Won by: Portugal - Amar Pelos Dois by Salvador Sobral
UK entry: Never Give Up on You by Lucie Jones
Full Results:

In 2017 Eurovision went east for the second time this decade, and just as in 2012 when it was held in Azerbaijan, the run-up to the contest was mired in controversy. Following the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine in recent years, it seemed inevitable that the contest, to be held in the latter country, would be the cause of further ructions between the two.

The issue concerned the Russian entrant Yulia Samoylov, who had been banned from entering Ukraine due to previously being in contravention of Ukrainian law by travelling directly from Russia to perform in Crimea, which had been annexed by Moscow in 2014. The EBU, whose offer to allow Yulia to perform from Russia via satellite was turned down, called Ukraine's behaviour 'unacceptable', and there was even talk of the country's broadcaster being permanently banned from future contests. In the end, Russia withdrew and did not participate in or even broadcast the 2017 contest.

So perhaps it was appropriate that the winner should be one of the quietest and peaceful songs ever to win the contest. The piano and strings composition 'Amar Pelos Dois', sung by Salvador Sobral, brought victory to Portugal for the first time in 49 attempts (and it was their first appearance in the Grand Final since 2010). It struck a chord with both the juries and the public, easily winning both votes. The song was written by his sister Luisa, who had also stood in for Salvador during some rehearsals due to his health condition, and who joined him on stage to co-perform the reprise. However Eurovision was perhaps not really the place to rail against what he termed 'disposable music' and 'fireworks', as he did in his victory speech.

Much of the pre-contest news coverage in the UK surrounded the fact that this was the first contest since Britain voted to leave the EU - would we be 'punished' for this by voters across Europe and damage our chances? Many pointed out that actually we couldn't do much worse than we had done in recent years anyway. Brexit proved to be a red herring - the juries when making their deliberations, and the viewers at home picking up their telephones, do not generally have EU politics on their minds at the time. So-called 'political voting' is actually more to do with shared musical tastes between neighbouring countries, and diaspora voting for their home country.

The UK's results in recent years have a lot more to do with poor song choice than politics, and so in this, the first year since the Brexit vote, the reasonably well-regarded 'Never Give Up on You', co-written by 2013 winner Emmelie de Forest and performed by Lucie Jones, brought the UK our best result since 2011 ('best' being a relative term). As with last year, the voting system gave false hope to the UK, which saw us in tenth place with 99 points after the juries had voted, but then the public vote added only 12 more points, leaving us in 15th position by the end.

Two 17 year-olds appeared in the top five. Belgium's Ellie Delvaux, who went under the stage name Blanche, appeared somewhat nervous on stage, but the understated 'City Lights' was perhaps the sleeper hit of the contest, and she finished in fourth place. In contrast, Bulgaria's Kristian Kostov, the first ever Eurovision contestant to be born in the 2000s, gave a very confident performance and was rewarded with second place.

No Eurovision Song Contest is complete without gimmicks and novelties. Italy's Francesco Gabbani, who went into the contest as the bookies' favourite, performed on stage with a dancing gorilla, but had to be content with sixth place. Croatia's Jacques Houdek brought us Eurovision's first ever duet sung by one person, ironically titled 'My Friend'. Romania's Ilinca and Alex Florea catered for all those who enjoy both rap and yodelling, while Azerbaijan's Dihaj baffled many with their blackboard and a man up a ladder wearing a horse's head. And once again, almost every entry was accompanied by an array of sophisticated graphics - on the video wall, on the stage itself and in a few cases even appearing not in the arena at all but directly on the viewer's screen at home, such as with Norway's JOWST.

Israel performed first and finished third from bottom, but would 2017 be their final appearance? During the voting sequence, their jury spokesman dropped a bombshell, announcing the imminent closure of the Israeli broadcaster the IBA and thus implying the future withdrawal of Israel from the contest. Will they return? Only time will tell. Whatever happens, there will still undoubtably been at least one non-European country participating in Eurovision, with Australia seemingly becoming regulars in the contest (the Australian broadcaster SBS's plans for a Eurovision Asia Song Contest have yet to bear fruit). Their third appearance was their least successful so far, with another 17 year-old, Isaiah Firebrace, finishing in ninth place. However the Aussie jury did award the UK entry 12 points - so maybe we can let them stay in after all...

Text copyright © Robert Williams, images copyright © the respective broadcasters