Måns Zelmerlöw won last night's Eurovision Song Contest with "Heroes", giving Sweden its 6th win overall and also their 2nd win out of the last 4 contests.
In this 60th anniversary year, the Vienna contest appropriately became a record-breaker by being the longest ever - an epic and bum-numbingly 3 hours 59 minutes long. Over the next week I will be posting my reviews of both semi-finals and the grand final, but I just wanted to gather a few more immediate thoughts and post them here today.
For those of us who have been Måns fans since his first Melfest performance in 2007, it was great to see him finally represent Sweden this year and go on to conquer Europe. Yet today, I have mixed feelings on what has turned out to be a hollow victory, as it emerged that Italy resoundingly won the televote, with Russia 2nd and Sweden only 3rd - yet Sweden won by virtue of a combined ranking system whereby the jury ranking can completely overrule the televote.
I can understand why the juries were reintroduced to combat the rampant neighbour/bloc voting (which the UK media still loves to use as a stick to beat the contest with) but there is something which stinks with a system where viewers are invited to spend money to phone or text their vote, then it later emerges that our votes haven't really counted after all. The EBU has tried a number of voting strategies over the years but this one definitely needs a rethink.
A contemporary hit song
It may not quite be "the greatest anthem ever heard" but "Heroes" was the winner which the Eurovision Song Contest needed. Neither "Only Teardrops" nor "Rise Like A Phoenix" really translated from winners into international hits, and the last winner to do this came from, yes, Sweden of course. Although "Grande Amore" remains my true winner of this year, and the quality and power of this song and performance blew everyone and everything off the stage, I will be the first to acknowledge that it would not have been the best winner if we are looking at the commercial hit aspect of a Eurovision winning song. In terms of career success though, Il Volo are already established in various international markets worldwide and their ESC appearance will have given them a further boost in terms of tours and album sales. So we can say that although Il Volo maybe didn't win the battle, in the longer term they might just win the war.
"Heroes" may be a little too derivative of recent dance hits, but it is a radio-friendly contemporary hit song (unless you live in the UK of course, where you'll never hear a Eurovision song on the radio) and will hopefully inspire more modern, uptempo songs next year to sweep away the ballad-heavy line-up of 2015. The other key issue here is how Måns can use his win to launch an international career. He has an album ready to go, "Perfectly Damaged" which should maintain the ESC winning momentum - something which both Loreen and Conchita Wurst failed to capitalise on.
The innovative visual staging of "Heroes" played a major part in its win, however I am now feeling a little bit glum at the prospect of next year's contest being packed with novelty imitations, 3rd-rate cartoons and visual gimmicks :(
For genuine innovation this year, look no further than Belgium's Loic Nottet, who got everything right - a quirky, unusual song which is a million miles away from a 'Eurovision song', with very original staging, which was rewarded with 4th place. Commercially, post-contest, "Rhythm Inside" looks like becoming this year's "Calm After The Storm" and deservedly so.
Likewise, I am glad that Russia did not win: not because of the artist, or the song, but for reasons completely unrelated to a song contest. And I'll leave it there.
Britain, Britain, Britain...oh dear.
And as sure as night follows day, the United Kingdom ended up way down the right hand side of the scoreboard, 24th out of 27. But let's look on the bright side - we didn't get the dreaded nil points! Germany and Austria shared that 'honour' this year.
Sweden won last night with a contemporary, well-staged song sung by an experienced singer and performer. The UK sent two unknown, inexperienced singers with a song which, although certainly unusual and different, could never have any life outside of the contest. I don't want to see Electro Velvet scapegoated for this year's failure: I sincerely hope they enjoyed their Eurovision experience. Participating in the Eurovision Song Contest is an absolute honour, guaranteeing a massive worldwide television audience and eternal fame/notoriety within the ESC fan bubble!
As ever, the fault initially lies with the BBC but the UK's annual Eurovision failure is more deep-rooted than that. Today I've been reading various UK media articles about last night's show, and I'm wondering if they watched the same show which I did. Ridiculing the Eurovision Song Contest seems to be a national sport over here, and the quality of singers, songs and performances is always overlooked in favour of a sarcastic, dismissive, dated and out of touch view of the contest. That is also symptomatic of this country's attitude to Europe as a whole. It's that arrogance, that superiority, that 'let's all laugh at the funny foreigners', the terrible attitude to migrant workers which has driven the anti-EU agenda, need I go on? And then they wonder why we don't do well at Eurovision?
There is a new generation of Eurovision fans here in the UK, driving the contest's popularity upwards and onwards through social media. What is now needed is for a more positive approach to the contest from within mainstream media, press, radio, television, to drive away the cynicism and send out a more positive message about the Eurovision Song Contest, which in time may translate into a more positive view of Europe as a whole. But as the UK has just elected a government (not in my name) which is racing towards an in/out EU referendum, I won't hold my breath.
I want to end on a positive note though: the Eurovision Song Contest has always been special to me, but these days it's even more special thanks to sharing the experience with other fans/obsessives who have become my friends through our shared love of this wonderful event. Thanks to all of you for making it so wonderful!