Eurovision Song Contest 2021: Everything you need to know

What time is it on? Who’s representing Ireland? And what about this year’s controversies?

Eurovision 2021: Destiny rehearses Malta’s entry, Je Me Casse, at the Ahoy Arena, in Rotterdam. Photograph: Patrick Van Emst/Pool/EPA

Eurovision 2021: Destiny rehearses Malta’s entry, Je Me Casse, at the Ahoy Arena, in Rotterdam. Photograph: Patrick Van Emst/Pool/EPA

 

Life is about to get a little sparklier as the Eurovision Song Contest returns after Covid forced the cancellation of last year’s event. This is, of course, a very different Eurovision from the seven at which Irish singers – Dana, Johnny Logan and Linda Martin among them – triumphed.

Spanning the continent and beyond – Australia has been a contestant since 2015 – Eurovision features 39 countries and a dizzying variety of styles. Pop, rock, power ballads and Ed Sheeran-type bloke folk will all be in the mix as 200 million viewers tune in.

In the past decade or so our best result has been finishing eighth, back in 2011, when Jedward sang Lipstick. The harsh truth is that many of us would be thrilled if Ireland simply qualified for the final. Here’s everything you need to know about this week’s Eurovision events.

When and where does it take place?
Eurovision 2021 kicks off on Tuesday, May 18th, at Rotterdam’s Ahoy Arena, where 17 of the competing countries compete in the first semi-final. On Thursday, 18 countries compete in the second semi-final. The 10 top-ranked countries from each semi-final go through to Saturday’s final. They are joined by the big five of Spain, the UK, France, Germany and Italy – who qualify automatically because their national broadcasters underwrite the costs of staging the contest – and by the Netherlands, which, as host nation, also gets a bye into the final. The semi-finals will be on RTÉ2 and the final on RTÉ One, all starting at 8pm, with Marty Whelan commentating. Alternatively the semis are also showing on BBC4, with Graham Norton doing the honours on the final on BBC1.

Who’s representing Ireland?
Ireland’s entrant is Lesley Roy, a singer and songwriter from Balbriggan, Co Dublin. Born in 1986, she has worked with the superproducer Max Martin and written for artists such as Adam Lambert and Jana Kramer. Roy was chosen to sing for Ireland at Eurovision 2020 with Story of My Life. For 2021 she decided to write a new song, Maps, which debuted on The Late Late Show in February. She hopes to be the first Irish contestant to reach the final since Ryan O’Shaughnessy, in 2018, and only the second since Ryan Dolan, in 2013. She will perform seventh on Tuesday night, after Australia and North Macedonia.

Eurovision 2021: preparing the stage at the Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam. Photograph: Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/EPA
Eurovision 2021: preparing the stage at the Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam. Photograph: Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/EPA

How will the finalists be chosen?
Eurovision has operated a hybrid voting system since 2016. In the semi-finals, viewers from participating countries can vote via telephone, text message and the official Eurovision app. Voting begins after the final song has been performed and ends 15 minutes later. (You can’t vote for your own country.) This will account for 50 per cent of the vote; a five-person jury in each country makes up the other 50 per cent. The same system will operate for the final.

What about Covid?
“Cancelling again was never a consideration,” Martin Österdahl, Eurovision’s executive superviser, told the BBC. “It’s all a part of getting back to normal. We always said no matter what happens with the pandemic we will have a song contest.” This week’s events will have a socially distanced audience of 3,500 people – 20 per cent of capacity. Attendees will have to show a negative test certificate on the night. They will also have to undergo a further test five days later.

The acts have all been in Rotterdam for more than a week. Countries are in “delegation bubbles” and forbidden from interacting with anyone else. They are tested every 48 hours. Having performed, they will return to their bubble: there will be no green room where artists mingle and wave miniature flags.

There have been a few scares, with a member of both the Polish and the Icelandic delegations going into isolation after testing positive. The rest of their teams are also quarantined as they await the result of PCR tests. They will miss an opening event in Rotterdam, as will the Maltese and Romanian parties,who were staying at the same hotel.

Who are the favourites?
The Italian hard rockers Måneskin have edged ahead of the French balladeer Barbara Pravi. Iceland’s Daði og Gagnamagnið are also regarded as in with a shout with 10 Years, a quirky dance track – although of course, unlike Italy and France, they have not yet reached the final. Lesley Roy and Ireland are a long way down the pecking order, with odds of 100/1.

Eurovision 2021: Elena Tsagrinou rehearses Cyprus’s entry at the Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam. Photograph: Patrick Van Emst/Pool/EPA
Eurovision 2021: Elena Tsagrinou rehearses Cyprus’s entry at the Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam. Photograph: Patrick Van Emst/Pool/EPA

Does song quality matter or is it all about block voting?
One long-standing grumble about Eurovision is that the contest has suffered from neighbours voting for neighbours and that the quality of a song is often irrelevant. The panels of judges were introduced in 2016 to help combat this. But there are other factors, too. Songs in English have a statistically better chance of winning, for example.

Anything else to watch for?
Six former winners, including Lordi and Helena Paparizou, will participate in a Rock the Roof interlude on Saturday night, performing in venues across Rotterdam, including the top of a hotel. However it goes, it can’t be as big a disaster as Madonna’s halftime appearance at the 2019 contest.

Any controversies?
Backing tracks are to be allowed for the first time. “We believe allowing backing vocals to be prerecorded increases the creative potential and diversity of acts and facilitates modernisation of the Eurovision Song Contest,” says Österdahl.

The other big talking point has centred around the elimination of Belarus amid concerns that its song criticised pro-democracy protests in the country. I Will Teach You by Galasy ZMesta featured lyrics such as “I will teach you to toe the line”. There were concerns that it could be perceived as legitimising Alexander Lukashenko’s violent crackdown against protesters.

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