Italy narrowly pipped a handful of rivals to win a colorful and kitsch Eurovision Song Contest in the Netherlands on Saturday, scoring victory on the continent’s biggest stage after an early test of the continent’s emergence from the pandemic.
The show featured performances that ranged from the sublime to the eyebrow-raising, as is tradition for the camp musical celebration.
Italy’s punk-rock rock band Måneskin beat France and Switzerland to the crown, and are now set to host next year’s contest. It was their third win at the competition, and their first since 1990.
But it was a forgettable night for the United Kingdom, who came dead last for the second consecutive tournament and even achieved the dreaded “nil points.” They were closely joined at the bottom of the leaderboard by Germany, who picked up three points.
Last year’s Eurovision was the first ever to be canceled, but Rotterdam returned as hosts and most of the artists slated to perform in 2020 re-entered the contest.
But the effects of the pandemic were still felt at the event. Iceland’s act, Daði og Gagnamagnið, a dark horse for the title and one of the most well-known artists at the competition, were forced to submit rehearsal footage and were unable to attend due to a positive Covid-19 test within the band.
Flo Rida, ballads and plenty of kitsch
The competition featured an unlikely appearance from American rapper Flo Rida, who arrived for a guest verse on the song by tiny microstate San Marino.
His assistance to singer Senhit was met with wild cheers by the event’s limited audience, and closed a show that was notable for the especially high quality of the entries. And the “Low” rapper even sportingly stayed after the performances, waving a San Marino flag and looking mildly confused by the event’s unique trappings.
But Flo Rida appeared less than pleased when the votes were counted. San Marino finished toward the bottom of the count, below most expectations.
Switzerland’s simplistic but powerful ballad outperformed the oddsmakers and turned in a strong performance with voters. But when the public’s votes were added, Italy’s unique entry prevailed.
Before those votes were tallied, Russian singer Manizha performed an anthem celebrating female empowerment — appearing at first in traditional national dress, before ditching the outfit for more modern attire and telling viewers: “Every Russian woman needs to know, you’re strong enough to bounce against the wall.”
Finland’s Blind Channel and Italy’s Måneskin both tested Europe’s appreciation of hard rock, while Norway’s Tix won over plenty of viewers with the showstopping ballad “Fallen Angel.”
There were also vocal acrobatics. Israel’s Eden Alene hit the highest note ever heard at the contest while Moldova’s Natalia Gordienko wailed for the longest.
Eurovision is one of the world’s most-watched events, with nearly 200 million people watching across the continent every year. Saturday’s event was the 65th edition, and as per usual, it garnered intense interest online.
The Roop, Lithuania’s dance-pop entry this year, was received well as was Malta’s Destiny, whose sassy entry “Je Me Casse” was met with rapturous applause in the arena.
Bulgaria’s Victoria performed a moving ode to her father, who had battled amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS. Cyprus’ Elena Tsagrinou opened the show with “El Diablo” — a track previously condemned by the country’s Orthodox Church for supposedly promoting devil worship.
The UK’s entry James Newman told CNN earlier this week that he believed he could win the competition. But Europe’s expert juries and television voters decided otherwise, handing Britain a harsh result once again. The 39 juries combined to hand Britain a grand total of zero points.
But perhaps the most remarkable achievement of the evening was that it took place at all. Rotterdam Ahoy, the hosting venue, was used as an emergency hospital last year during the height of the pandemic. Twelve months later, it welcomed a crowd in a country still suffering under Covid-19 restrictions.
Several of the artists involved had earlier told CNN that they felt their performances held special importance after the difficulties of the past year.
“Eurovision feels less like a contest this year. I’m feeling a sense of responsibility,” Tix said during his rehearsals. “There are people whose past year has been f***ing miserable. A lot of people find comfort in the Eurovision community.”