Ireland may have missed out on the Eurovision final in Rotterdam but there is still lots to enjoy as the competition roars back following last year’s Covid-enforced hiatus. As is always the case, the real fun is in the judging and there’s a nail-biting finish as a late rally in the public voting sees Italy’s Måneskin overtake Switzerland and France to claim the competition with their heavy metal song, Zitti E Buoni.
The Dublin jury does its bit to help the drama, with Ryan O’Shaughnessy giving those crucial “douze” points to France. As with the rest of the juries, Ireland declines to give any votes at all to the UK. Nor do public voters, leaving James Newman rooted at the bottom through the evening.
Eurovision is never a meek affair. However, the hype around the 2021 edition feels particularly intense. After 12 months of lockdowns, public health briefings and Tiger King binges, a lot of people are clearly craving the escapism only Eurovision can bring. And the 26 finalists deliver silliness in spades, thrills by the truckload and giggles by the gallon.
As ever with Eurovision there is a divide between those competitors vaguely in on the joke and those taking the endeavour very seriously. In the former camp are naff-sweater accessorised Icelandic troupe Daði og Gagnamagnið – unable to perform live because of a positive Covid test – and Finnish rap-metallers Blind Side, whose apocalyptic racket carries a cheesy Hammer Horror whiff.
The horror is meanwhile all too real for the UK’s Newman, who fails to pick up a single vote during the jury round and finishes last.
At the other end of the spectrum are acts such as opening performer Elena Tsagrino, representing Cyprus, and Azerbaijan’s Efendi, who sing as if their very future in pop depends on it. Which it potentially does.
And then there are the artists out there in deep space on their own. Ukrainian entry Shue by Go_A, for instance, sounds like the Legend of Zelda theme as covered by The Knife. Only far crazier.
The 2021 contest brings with it the huge novelty of a live audience. Yes, remember those? Some 3,500 Eurovision fans are at the Ahoy Arena, though they roar so loudly it sounds more like 30,000.
With so many contestants and a near four-hour run-time, the competition is a marathon, if never quite a slog. It helps that the four Dutch presenters are so visibly glad to be here – they glow with enthusiasm and are always craning in the direction of the spotlight.
With so many public votes to tally, the interval seems to go on forever. It does, though, include a segment in which past Eurovision winners, including pop Klingons Lordi, sing from the rooftops of skyscrapers. It’s just as well it isn’t being staged in Dublin as they’d run out of roofs.
For Irish viewers there is of course a sense of missing out on the party following Lesley Roy’s elimination in Tuesday’s first semi-final. One upside is that, with nobody to root for, it’s easier to judge songs on their merits. And many will feel Måneskin worthy, or at least exceedingly rollicking, champions.
But that’s cold comfort as we are once again reduced to bystanders at a competition we used to win at a canter. Twelve months from now, let’s hope Ireland has reclaimed its rightful place at the heart of Eurovision.