ROTTERDAM – Italian band Maneskin celebrated their victory at Eurovision 2021 with rock ‘n’ roll playbook, with bare breasts covered in tattoos, splashing champagne and the sounds of exploding fireworks.
Victory was near and deeply moving, with the band’s song, “Zitti e Buoni, ”Or“ Shut Up and Be Quiet, ”placing first in an exhilarating vote that was ultimately decided by the audience. Maneskin barely beat the French Barbara Pravi and her song “Voilà”. After the victory, an Italian journalist sobbed as tears flowed his face.
Capturing what many felt, he said the victory was a new start for Italy. “It has been a very difficult year for us,” said journalist Simone Zani, speaking of the devastating impact of the coronavirus. Explaining through his tears, he said: “We are from northern Italy, from Bergamo,” an Italian city with a record number of Covid-19 deaths. “Being No. 1 now is a new beginning for us, a new beginning.”
Eurovision, the world’s largest music competition, is a campy trifle to some, but it celebrates Europe’s cultural diversity and reflects the times we live in. For many outside of Europe, the allure of Eurovision can be difficult to understand. But one of the main reasons more than 200 million spectators watch is that there is no cultural mold for the event. Everything is allowed and diversity is strongly encouraged. The global entertainment industry may be dominated by American pop culture, but at Eurovision, 39 different countries can present their ideas about music and pop culture with no industry rules other than a three-minute song limit.
And, perhaps shocking to American audiences, the three-hour show is completely ad-free.
So Germany, the political leader of the continent, sent a song against hatred, with the artist Jendrik playing a diamond studded ukulele while being accompanied by a dancing finger. Tix, the Norwegian singer, has Tourette’s syndrome. It was wearing a gigantic fur coat and wearing angel wings, while being chained to four horned demons. “Remember guys, you are not alone,” he told everyone “in pain” in the world.
The three singers of the entrance to Serbia, Hurricane, may have sported the big hair look of American bands of decades past, but although they look like they have bought most of the hair extensions on the continent, they sang their song, “Loco Loco”, in Serbian.
In fact, four of this year’s five winning songs were sung in languages other than English. “There is clearly a thirst for more originality and real meaning,” said Cornald Maas, festival commentator for Dutch public television for over 15 years, of the victories of the songs presented in their national language.
Europe, he said, was looking for a song celebrating the newfound life. “The winning song is not a sober ballad as one would expect after the crown,” Mr. Maas said, “but instead, it’s an exuberant plea for authenticity, a call to ignore meaningless chatter. “
Saturday’s show at the Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam showed a glimpse into life as we knew it before the pandemic, and a future in which the virus could be under some form of control.
Many onlookers wore orange outfits, the national color of the Netherlands, singing, dancing and hugging – and drinking. Alcohol was for sale and it was clear that some of the flag-flying celebrants had given themselves up. The entire audience of 3,500 were forced to show a negative coronavirus test, carried out as part of an elaborate government-funded testing plan. Members of the different delegations were seated in a special area in the middle of the arena on sofas, where they had to remain socially distant, but still stood up and danced.
The shining star among the presenters was Nikkie de Jager, from the Netherlands who has a well-known YouTube makeup channel, Nikkie Tutorials. The crowd went wild every time she took the stage or even walked through the hallways.
In normal times, the Eurovision circus attracts tens of thousands of fans who upset the host cities, invading bars and clubs. This year, the event has been split into several physical bubbles to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
During the two-week rehearsal, the performers only met in a common room, where several countries held a table tennis competition, in which Italy also performed quite well, said Samya Hafsaoui, a Dutch official.
Two members of the Icelandic act, Dadi og Gagnamagnid, ended up being quarantined after contracting the virus, meaning their song, “10 Years”, about a successful marriage, could not be performed in direct. The singer Dadi Freyr, and other members of the group, watched from a hotel room as the results arrived. the missing interpreters were dolls wearing the band’s outfit, topped with iPads showing their faces. Despite the performance recorded, Iceland clinched fourth place.
Duncan Laurence, who won for the Netherlands in 2019, also contracted the virus and was unable to perform in this year’s final, as tradition dictates. The event was canceled in 2020.
The artists only came out for brief, socially distant press conferences. Ms Pravi, the French singer-songwriter, had heated conversations in the days leading up to the finale, waving her hands and arms and mixing French and English. Ms Pravi said she never made any concessions, and so did her song “Voila”. She said, “My ‘journey’ shows it,” referring to the French term for career path.
Ms. Pravi comes from an international family of singers and painters. His maternal grandfather is the famous Iranian painter Hossein Zenderoudi. His song dusted off French song, reminiscent of singers like Edith Piaf and Serge Gainsbourg.
Some had criticized her, calling her singing style old-fashioned, but Ms. Pravi strongly disagreed. “You don’t need to make any concessions in the music business,” she says. “You can be absolutely yourself, make the music you like, say the words you want and be the woman you want to be. And now I’m here at Eurovision Song Contest, the biggest competition in the world. “
Early Sunday morning, Ms Pravi was seen in the dimly lit press center speaking to French journalists who couldn’t believe their country was so close to victory, having won almost no Eurovision awards since their victory in 1977.
As Maneskin’s Italian rockers took off their shirts to celebrate their victory, the singer James newman, the entrant from the UK, was nowhere to be found. His song “Ember” received no points from the national juries and the international public. “It’s Brexit,” said Meg Perry-Duxbury, a Briton living in Rotterdam, sitting next to me in the arena. “Europe does not want us to win.” Herself was support Cyprus (another song featuring demons) anyway, Ms Perry-Duxbury said. “So whatever.”