What if there was a parallel universe where Eurovision was just a little bit different?
As someone who loves the weirder edge of the music that Eurovision offers up, I was hugely excited to find out about the EuroNoize project, where eleven widely varying underground and DIY bands from around Europe competed on stage at London’s Scala for a trophy designed by Laibach’s Ervin. Back in April, I interviewed Pil and Galia Kollectiv, who are the artists responsible for bringing the project into existence – if you listen to the recording you can hear my interest levels going from ‘high’ to ‘near infinite’ in real time.
This initial meeting eventually and quite naturally led to a situation where I dealt with my 2019 PED by hugging a bright green member of Winny Puuh.
The EuroNoize project intended to examine some of the fundamental assumptions that support nationhood, Europe and Eurovision (which we’ll also refer to as “The Other Contest“). How does international competition in the arts work against an environment of developing far-right populism? What parts of the European experience do we have in common? What does it mean to represent a country? What can you actually do with a song contest?
The EuroNoize format will seem hauntingly familiar to Eurovision fans. Each act is introduced by a video postcard which describes the nation that they represent, and then they perform a song roughly three minutes in length. There were two hosts whose duties included introducing the artists, exhorting the audience to vote and the traditional unscripted banter. There was also a backstage/greenroom host to ask ridiculous non-sequitur questions of the artists as they came off stage, and if you watched the livestream or came to the gig, you’ll know that greenroom host was me.
Ellie at work in the green room (Euronoize.eu)
I wanted to give the participants the full Eurovision experience – the chance to explain what their song was about, to talk about the visual aspects of their performances and to say whatever was on their minds. Before the show, I’d asked all the artists to think about what they might want to use their time to say – I wasn’t wanting to ambush or put pressure on anyone.
EuroNoize was operating under different principles to The Other Contest, and this gave us a lot of freedom to talk. Some artists used their interview time to have fun – the German artist Felix Kubin had a serious problem with gravity, the Czech band Johnny The Horse were concerned that their definite article was observed, Golden Core from Norway told me about free-roaming wild metalheads and Estonia’s Winny Puuh were concerned that I didn’t know about the brutal swamps that plague their homeland.
Some of the other bands wanted to use their time to make statements: the Serbian band E.P.P. wanted to dedicate their song to Čika Boca, which they told me was a ‘beloved political figure’ but which turns out to be a charitable organisation for children with cancer. Greek representatives The Callas intoned a set of political slogans that culminated with ‘Stop Brexit. Or Whatever’. The French representative Hassan K wanted to talk about how racist it is that music which centres non-Western creators is called ‘World Music’. The Russian band Asian Women On The Telephone wanted to tell me about the bodies and secrets in the river in Moscow. Some of the artists, like the Irish band Sissy, were comfortable to be both silly and serious. As well as admiring Michelle’s genuine Riverdance stage outfit and name-checking The Corrs, we talked about their contribution to the Repeal the 8th campaign and how women in Northern Ireland still don’t have access to safe abortion services (although at the time of final editing, maybe that is about to change?).
What Is There To Talk About?
Being able to talk to these bands about genuinely whatever they wanted made me realise how much the restrictions of The Other Contest hold me back. The rules about not politicising or instrumentalising the contest appear to apply just as much to people with press accreditation as they do to artists. Would we all be risking all of our accreditations if an artist wanted to talk to me about abortion rights, the idiocy of Brexit, the injustice of Fortress Europe or racism in the music industry during the contest?
There were so many times during the 2019 season where I would have liked to ask questions that would have been unequivocally political – I would have loved to talk to Tulia about how their love of traditional imagery and music sits against the Polish political environment of increasing nationalism. I would have loved to have a long chats with Mahmood and Bilal about intersectional identity, to talk to Tamara about the problems with commodified ‘Lean In’ feminism, to have a round table discussion with Jonida, Oto, Tamta and maybe even Eleni about the specific experience and pressures of being parts of populations with significant diasporas. There are so many in-depth stories in each contest that don’t get told because the format of Eurovision press forces us to concentrate on the surface, the headlines and the soundbite. When you’re optimising for traffic (as the Eurovision accreditation system encourages community media to do) there is a strong incentive to evoke the most emotion in the fewest words.
Most obviously at the 2019 Contest, the politics rule meant that no-one could really talk at all sensibly to Hatari. Despite thinking they could ride their satire through loopholes in the woolly and imprecise wording of the Eurovision rules, they found that same woolly imprecision was used to almost totally silence them, under threat of disqualification and a fine to their broadcaster.
The imprecise nature of the Eurovision rules on what constitutes ‘politics’ surely has a chilling effect on the subjects that we are willing to talk to Eurovision artists about. If one year we can have an extremely emotive interval act that describes the lives of refugees and the very next year a contestant can be threatened with disqualification for wearing a jumper in support of refugees, how are we supposed to know how much we can talk to Madame Monsieur about ‘Mercy‘? If you don’t know where the line is on a potentially difficult subject, a consensus develops where it’s safer for everyone to avoid anything with ideological weight. I know that’s not a good thing, and I’m not even fully trained journalist.
Refugees Composite – The Grey People, Salvador Sobral, Madame Monsieur (images: EBU/Eurovision.tv)
Sharing The Ethos
At the minute, political matters do come up but are often handled badly – see the genuinely upsetting way in which Mahmood was questioned about his heritage during his press conference, or the way that moderators do not step in to prevent antagonism between press corps members and artists from Azerbaijan and Armenia. It’s tempting to think that if there was a clarification of the rules about talking about political subjects, they could be handled with more professionalism.
One reason why complete freedom of speech worked at EuroNoize and why it might not work at Eurovision was that the EuroNoize bands had all signed up to be part of a project with a specific ethos of international collaboration and that ethos led us to all have complementary political views. The hosts, the bands and the audience were largely self-selected by their shared interest in a positive, inclusive pan-European ideal (whatever that is). If a rogue white supremacist band had turned up on the bill, I would definitely not have felt joyous about giving them a few minutes to share what was on their minds. Totally removing The Other Contest’s prohibitions on political speech would definitely allow views that people find unpalatable or offensive to be associated with the contest. Any changes made must consider the full consequences, intended and unintended.
No Politics Is Political
By specifying that the political ethos of a contest is that it has no political ethos, what is the end result?
To claim to be apolitical is to silently adopt the set of norms and values that is most convenient and close to hand. In the case of Eurovision, it appears the adopted norms are those that do not embarrass or inconvenience the organisation, the contest or the hosts. When the contest heads to somewhere where adopting the norms and values of the hosts involves ignoring the human rights of groups of people, this apolitical stance begins to feel deeply political. When the Eurovision organisers set out the boundaries of what they consider to be political speech, did they ask who they would amplify? Did they ask who they would silence? Did they consider how this set of boundaries could be used against them?
This claim of being apolitical isn’t unique to Eurovision – when major sporting events like the Olympics, the FIFA World Cup or Formula One Racing claim to be apolitical, they also adopt the precise lack of politics that allows them to be hosted in locations which raise eyebrows.
As the world tries to come to terms with the global inequality of rights and opportunities, we need to look at our methods. One way we can bring people together is by sharing our art, sport and culture with each other, but at the same time we’ve got to be vigilant that the ways that we share aren’t silently reinforcing an unjust status quo.
But let’s return to the sweaty May night in London, where the voices of those eleven fantastic bands were very much amplified. Musically, EuroNoize was just what I needed – loud, challenging and thrilling. The favourites going into the show were Winny Puuh, who effectively removed themselves from the running by playing two songs (and shouting a further third into my microphone backstage) but the competition was eventually won jointly by Ireland’s Sissy and Norway’s Golden Core. It has not yet been reported how they intend to split the trophy.
Sissy, and Golden Core, the joint winners of EuroNoize 2019 (image: EuroNoize.eu)
The very best part of EuroNoize was the same as the best part of The Other Contest – the beautiful sight of musicians and music lovers from different backgrounds meeting, getting to know each other, rocking out to each other’s songs and arranging future collaborations. EuroNoize was a pleasure to see and be part of. I hope we do it again.
As the long summer continues, you can just hear the sounds of Eurovision in the background. Here’s Ewan Spence on what’s been happening since the credits rolled over ‘Arcade‘ and everyone started second guessing the Dutch bidding process.
Eurovision Insight News Podcast: Your First Eurovision Podcast For The Summer
Our first summer news podcast from the Eurovision World. Looking back at Tel Aviv 2019, looking forward to 2020, and not forgetting about Eurovision Choir or Junior Eurovision 2019. Ewan Spence and the ESC Insight team cover the latest news from the world of the Eurovision Song Contest.
Find out more about Glasgow’s Ne Party Pas Sans Moi here. Listen to Second Cherry, 12 Points From America, and OnEurope’s Podcast at these links.
During the summer months, stay up to date with all the Song Contest news by listening to the ESC Insight podcast. You’ll find the show in iTunes, Google Podcasts, and Spotify. A direct RSS feed is available. We also have a regular email newsletter which you can sign up to here.
Do you trust the result of the Eurovision Song Contest in 2019? Why has the community’s confidence been damaged since the credits rolled over ‘Arcade’? Mistakes in the recalculation of Belarussian jury vote have been acknowledged, other issues are left unanswered, and questions remain over the San Marino televote. For the long term health of the Song Contest, it is time for the EBU to publicly show how the process works. Security by obscurity is a fantasy.
Since the curtain came down on Tel Aviv, the Eurofandom’s elite squad of spreadsheet enthusiasts and statisticians have been hard at work highlighting errors and raising questions around the scoring. In this article we take a deeper view at how the system for calculating backup votes works.
We finally found out how (one of) the systems for creating emergency backup Eurovision votes works, and it has had some impact on this year’s scores.
The system used to create the backup Belarussian jury vote is not the same as the one used to simulate the San Marino televote.
Why would there be two different systems for simulating emergency backup votes?
In a year where the winner was decided by 26 points and qualification was decided by single point margins, transparency concerning scoring is hugely important
Sorting The Belarussian Vote
Portuguese Eurovision fan @Euro_Brunotracked down the error in the aggregated score that replaced the dismissed Belarus jury, resulting in a correction of the scores that affected placings. Several other community members have done work showing that some jurors likely ranked the entries backwards, and showed the comparative margins of victory for the Top 50 songs of the decade.
@Euro_Bruno investigates the Belarus vote (Twitter)
Thanks to Bruno’s analysis, we now have a very good working model how an aggregated ‘emergency’ jury score is calculated. It makes sense to see whether this model can be used to calculate the aggregated televote score that is attributed to San Marino.
It would make organisational sense for there only to be one system for generating emergency scores – you could use it for the case you’re expecting every year (San Marino, which has no independent phone system); cases that crop up from time to time (when the televote in a country is too small to constitute a representative sample); and emergencies (when a jury fails to act with the required discretion and must be dismissed). Then you could be sure that you’re applying the same maths in the same way to anyone who needed an emergency score. Applying the same method to everyone makes the system auditable, gives the appearance of fairness and avoids the need to scramble together a last minute solution.
When You Need To Create A Televote
The San Marino televote has been a long-running conundrum. Back in 2016 Ben Robertson and I investigated the aggregated score that replaces San Marino’s televote. We had been told that the score was composed of an aggregation of other real televote scores. I used a data fitting technique called non-negative least squares to try and reverse calculate which televotes were part of the aggregation.
The answer was inconclusive. No matter what combinations of televote rankings we tried, it was not possible to verify how the televote was created. It is impossible to know if the San Marino televote is correct or if there are mistakes similar to the Belarussian jury vote.
The Belarus Jury incident gave us insight into one EBU aggregation method, thanks to the methodology worked out by @Euro_Bruno. This method combines countries in the same semi-final draw allocation pot as the country you’re calculating for. The individual jury rankings are combined to produce an average value for each country. The average values are then ranked to produce the aggregated ranking.
Let’s look at Semi Final 1, where San Marino had 58 televote points to distribute and the margin between qualification and missing out on the Grand Final was 2 points.
The countries from San Marino’s pot competing in Semi 1 were Greece and Cyprus. Let’s look at what the rankings look like if you just use Greece and Cyprus. The San Marino 12 and 10 points were awarded to Greece and Cyprus, which works out just fine as Greece and Cyprus both came highest in each other’s televote. But looking further down the rankings, it’s clearly more complicated than that. Georgia was ranked 2nd in both the Cypriot and Greek televotes, but was ranked only 10th by the San Marino process. Poland should be ranked 13th if the aggregator just includes Greece + Cyprus, but instead they were ranked 6th and obtained 5 televote points.
San Marino’s 2019 Televote – Greek and Cypriot combination (image: Ellie Chalkley)
So we are clearly looking for another constituent for the aggregation. In order to produce the San Marino ranking, that extra ingredient in the ranking must look like this:
Greece is ranked more highly than Cyprus, but not necessarily 1st or 2nd.
Georgia has an extremely low ranking, possibly last.
Poland has a good ranking, possibly top 3.
Iceland and Estonia both have good rankings, likely top 5.
It would make sense to combine one of the Big 5 + Host nations into the simulated televotes. For 2019 Semi 1, this is Spain, France or Israel. Looking at the table below, let’s check these off:
Israel – 1: False. 2: False. 3: False. 4: False.
Spain – 1: True. 2: True. 3: False. 4: True.
France – 1: True. 2: False. 3: True. 4: False
San Marino’s 2019 Televote – French/Spanish/Israeli potential (image: Ellie Chalkley)
Next, we look through the rest of the semi final for countries which fit these criteria.
…It appears that no single country fits all four of our criteria. The San Marino televote does not appear to be an aggregate of Greece + Cyprus or Greece + Cyprus plus any one of the other countries in Semi Final 1. Let’s just run the numbers including Finland and Belgium just to make absolutely sure.
San Marino’s 2019 Televote – Poland and Georgia High/Low combinations (image: Ellie Chalkley)
No, it’s not Finland
San Marino’s 2019 Televote – Cyrpus and Greece with Finland (image: Ellie Chalkley)
It is also very much not Belgium either.
San Marino’s 2019 Televote – Cyrpus and Greece with Belgium (image: Ellie Chalkley)
Wait though, we don’t seem to be getting closer. Can we construct a single set of rankings that would give us the correct result? We know roughly what values we’re aiming at, so we can try and solve it like a logic puzzle.
The two biggest clues are Poland and Georgia. To see if it’s possible to get Poland ranked 6th and Georgia ranked 10th, I’ve started by ranking Poland 1st and Georgia 16th. This results in average ranks of 8.67 for Poland and 6.67 for Georgia, which cannot result in Poland ranking higher than Georgia, whatever the other ranks from a single real televote are.
What is clear is that the system used to generate the San Marinese televote is different to the system used to generate the Belarussian televote.
I asked an EBU spokesperson to clarify how San Marino’s televote was calculated:
“The calculation for the San Marino televote is based on the standardized calls and SMS of countries with the same voting pattern. The formula for the calculation is confidential and agreed between EBU and its voting partners to generate the fairest substitute result.”
A Voting Frustration
The San Marino televote remains a mystery, and this remains a problem.
For the Eurovision Song Contest to remain as successful as it is, viewers, delegations, broadcasters, and performers must have confidence in the results of the Song Contest. If you cannot trust the scoreboard, why enter the Contest. If you cannot trust the scores why watch the Contest?
Without a transparent explanation of how the aggregated votes used in the Song Contest are generated, there will always be uncertainty over the veracity of the scoring. Following the Contest in Tel Aviv the ‘generated’ Belarussian jury vote was proven to be wrong, investigations are continuing over the Italian televote discrepancy, and various individual jury rankings are being questioned.
When qualifications are won and lost over a single point, it is important for everyone involved to be able to track where every single point comes from – a sign-off by an auditor is no longer enough when the auditor has been proven to miss a glaring error in the 2019 Grand Final. Giving everyone the data to work out where these aggregated scores come from (at least after the event), would enable those in competition and the extremely engaged audience to have confidence in the results.
Confirming the San Marino televote process should be one of the EBU’s first steps in rebuilding the loss of trust in the results of the Eurovision Song Contest.
There are true Eurovision fans who watch the Grand Final religiously every year, there are those who join in with the Semi Finals, others make a point of watching their broadcaster’s National Finals. And then there are those at the other end of the scale who will watch the fixed camera livestream from the Belarussian auditions.
The latter discovered the earworm of the season and we’ve made sure to let everyone know the power of the (mis-heard) ‘Potato Acapulco’ For some reason BTRC didn’t even let this into the televised rounds. What a missed opportunity!
Australia Should Have Sent ‘2000 And Whatever’
A number of broadcasters would love a ninth place finish at the Eurovision Song Contest, but for Australia it feels like a poor return given the press interest around Kate Miller-Heidke and ‘Zero Gravity’. Put aside the intensely personal lyrics, the real story of Australia 2019 was spectacular gimmick from Strange Fruit that saw Kate and her backing performers wobble around the stage in time to the poperatic chorus.
And perhaps that was the problem. This was the first year that Australia held a National Final. Watching that show, there was a huge emphasis in the VT clips between the performances on what made a ‘good’ Eurovision song. If you tell the Australian public that Eurovision is all about gimmick and spectacle, then the gimmick and spectacle song is going to have an advantage in the public voting.
If the VT focus had been more on diverse musical styles and creating emotion in the viewer (arguably the key to winning in the last few years) then the audience would have been guided elsewhere, and the likely victory would have been Electric Fields’ ‘2000 and Whatever’.
Moldova Should Have Sent ‘Ca Adriano Celentano’
After a number of years of sending utterly memorable and memeable moments to the Eurovision Song Contest, Moldova managed the same again for 2019, but this time for all the wrong reasons – a rather tepid song coupled with an on-stage presentation that everyone recognised as ‘Ukraine 2011’s Sand Lady’. This is not the combination that has brought Moldova success.
Much like Belarus, the real goldmine was the audition phase. Much as I love the absolute madness of ‘Robin Hood’, I’m drawn into the turbo-prog-folk power of Irina Tarasiuc & Lume with their ode to the pillar of Italian music in ‘Ca Adriano Celentano’. It was all here, you just had to follow the plan that had worked so well for you in Lisbon and Kyiv.
Sweden Should Have Sent ‘I Do’
John Lundvik (eventually) took fifth place after the jury votes were re-calculated, but the irony is that ‘strong jury and poor televote’ has been the Swedish story for the last three years. Another year of a male solo singer, another year of relying on impactful staging, another year of the same split result.
Much like Australia, the final result feels lower than the personal target. SVT, it’s time to change the story at Melodifestivalen to change the story at the Song Contest. Looking at the entry list there were a number of choices that could have stood out – Wiktoria, Anna Bergendahl, and the duet of Hanna Ferm and Liamoo – but given the success of the ‘feel happy’ songs at the Contest (‘Say Na Na Na’ and ‘Spirit In The Sky’), I’m going to cheer for a return to Eurovision for Arvingarna.
Denmark Should Have Sent ‘League Of Light’
I’ll be honest, I’m still undecided about this one. Leonora did qualify for the Grand Final (err…) and made the left hand side of table, and I’m the first to admit that it is a real marmite song. But nothing about it says ‘Danish’, and at an emotional level I like my Eurovision songs to say something about where they come from.
Which means I’ve been much more invested in ‘League of Light’ and the return of Greenlandic of Dansk Melodi Grand Prix than ‘Love is Forever’. More honesty and authenticity will always win me over – consider this my personal wild card.
Croatia Should Have Sent ‘Tower Of Babylon’
You can’t escape the feeling that ‘The Dream’ was less about Roko getting to Eurovision than Jacques Houdek returning to the Song Contest. From the weak use of the wings to the poor use of CGI on the Tel Aviv backdrop, Croata deserved more.
Lorena Bućan finished second in the return of Dora with ‘Tower of Babylon’. This strong, female-focused number with lots of staging potential would have given the semi final running order a bit more drive and direction, which could well have been enough to get to Saturday night.
Ukraine Should Have Sent ‘Siren Song’
It’s going to be the great ‘what if’ for the ages. Did Ukraine have a potential winner here? Would it have depressed the votes going towards Sergey Lazarev? Just how mental would the back half of Semi Final 1 been with ‘Siren Song’ in the mix? We’ll never know…
We’ve already looked at the National Finals that got it right – read that article here. As for the big mistakes of the year, do you agree? Let us know in the comments!
But looking beyond that, the internal selection of Duncan Laurence and the move away from Americana into something that feels ‘of the moment’ was a great move. Having spoken to Laurence, it looks like the initial push to submit ‘Arcade’ came from his Voice mentor Ilse DeLange, who was sure it would do well at the Eurovision Song Contest even though Laurence was sure it was a song better suited to Spotify.
‘Arcade’ has topped the Spotify charts as well as the Eurovision scoreboard.
Iceland Was Right To Choose Hatari
With no qualification to the Grand Final since Pollaponk in 2014, RUV came into the season needing to break a run of four non-qualifications. Although Söngvakeppnin featured a number of familiar names and songs that were built from the same mould as ’Unbroken’ and ‘Our Choice’, there was an alternative that could break the dead-lock.
Step forward Hatari.
In addition to the light they were able to shine on the darker areas of both Israel’s hosting and the limits of the ‘non-political’ Song Contest rule; Klemens, Matthias, and Einar created a passionate international fan-base and brought an under-represented genre to the Contest.
You can be sure that Hatari’s impact on the Contest will be remembered across the community in the same way as Iceland will remember its return to the Top Ten.
Norway Was Right To Choose KEiiNO
Because sometimes you just need three minutes of happiness.
Last year’s MGP was a wonderful TV show, but in Eurovision terms Norway was essentially coronating Alexander Rybak. But a bit further down the playbill you found Tom Hugo singing ‘I Like I Like I Like’ and Alexandra Rotan duetting with Stella Mwangi (Norway 2011) on ‘You Got Me’. Looking back, those appearances felt like a try-out for the main event – and it was noticeable that Stella and Alexandra too to the 2018 preview circuit ‘You Got Me’ as a warm up act for the various concerts.
They both knew how the circus worked. All it needed was a song that matched their infectious energy… at which point our musical Aragorn of the North comes into focus. Fred-René Buljo brings his mix of Sami and rap to the pop and schlager of Tom and Alexandra.
Schlagerjoik is born (please let it live long enough for at least one album) and Norway go on to (a) beat Sweden (err… maybe not) and (b) top the televote with Spirit In The Sky.
Albania Was Right To Choose Jonida Maliqi
Given that Festivali i Këngës chooses a song for Albania (the ticket to Eurovision is a bonus, not a mission), the decisions isn’t necessarily about choosing Jonida Maliqi, it’s about the decision to not fiddle with the song (beyond the three-minute rule and sorting out a backing track) and trust Maliqi to bring all of her talent and power to the stage in the Tel Aviv Expo.
Authenticity is a word that gets thrown around a lot when discussing Eurovision performance, but this is a classic example of just that. In hindsight it was always qualifying.
Malta Was Right To Choose Michaela Pace
Much like Iceland, Malta’s PBS has been on a run of poor results, with Ira Losco’s ‘Walk On Water’ the only highlight in the last few years. The National Final system under MESC continued to sport the same faces with younger singers building up skills and experiences, but when you can call the winner of MESC by working out ‘who’s turn it is’ when the entry list is released, then something needs to change.
That change was The X-Factor. The long-running franchise debuted on PBS during the 2018/19 season, with the winner getting the Eurovision ticket. The rules of X-Factor also pushed out many familiar faces from MESC, clearing the way for Michaela Pace to break the cycle with a youthful sound and a ‘Post-Margaret’ Eurovision banger in Chameleon.
As for a training ground for future singers, having Destiny Chukunyere (the winner of Junior Eurovision 2015 with ‘Not My Soul’) on backing vocals in Tel Aviv points to a prosperous future.
Spain Was Right To Choose Miki
Of all the contestants at Operación Triunfo’s Eurovision Gala, Miki was the one who looked hungry for the win. There may well have been a buzz around María’s ‘Muérdeme’, but on the night when the scores were being kept, María looked like she wanted to be anywhere else and Miki wanted to be in Tel Aviv.
Let’s put aside the staging choices made by TVE for May (a giant-sized Ikea Billy bookcase knocked over by a Wickerman?) and remember how effortless Miki became one of the party songs of the season.
Portugal Was Right To Choose Conan Osiris
While Conan Osiris did not qualify for Saturday night’s Grand Final, I still think that RTP’s Festival da Canção made the correct decision. ‘Telemóveis’ is a challenging song, mixing art and statement through three minutes of music. It’s not as accessible as a slice of schlager, it takes time to understand the nature of Osiris’ composition and that, along with the stylistic choreography on stage, made qualification a difficult task.
But I would rather see challenging songs at Eurovision than a raft of formulaic three minutes with little to differentiate them.
Those are some of our choices for the National Finals that got it right. Who else caught your eye as being in the right place at the right time? As for the National Finals that got it wrong. that’s coming soon, keep your powder dry for that debate!
Belarus’ jury vote reveal during the Eurovision Song Contest’s 2019 Grand Final was going to be one to keep an eye on. Earlier in the week it had been revealed that the EBU had disqualified the Belarussian jury from voting on the Grand Final. This was because members of the jury had revealed publicly the songs they preferred during the first Semi Final. Jury members should keep how they voted secret until after the Grand Final.
In confirming this to Eurovoix, the EBU also confirmed that for the Grand Final the Belarussian jury vote would be calculated by an ‘aggregated result approved by the auditors’:
The Belarussian jury voting has been revealed in an interview contravening Eurovision Song Contest rules. In order to be compliant with the ESC voting regulations, the EBU has taken action and has dismissed the Belarussian jury from the Grand Final on Saturday. An aggregated result approved by the auditors will be used in order to determine to whom the Belarussian votes will be allocated.
It was therefore a shock for many to see Belarus award twelve points during the jury voting on Saturday night to Israel. Not only was this Israel’s only twelve points, they were Israel’s only points of the jury voting. For this to be an aggregated result means somewhere else Israel must have placed high with the juries…which was visibly not the case.
Something clearly went wrong.
The Belarussian ‘Jury’ vote as broadcast on May 18 2019 (YouTube/Eurovision.tv)
Members of the Eurovision community were quick to suggest what the problem was. Taking countries in the same pot as Belarus used to split up similar voting countries for the Semi Finals (namely Armenia, Azerbaijan, Russia and Georgia) and averaging their jury rankings resulted in a jury score that was a perfect match for how Belarus voted.
…if you took their combined last place and flipped it around to be their first place.
Israel was ranked 15th, 21st, 24th and 25th by those four respective countries. This average placment of 21.25 was the lowest scored by any country, but somehow rewarded Israel with 12 points on Saturday night.
A ‘human error’ can be inferred from these numbers; the calculated average was ranked from highest to lowest rather than lowest to highest. The lowest average ranking song (which would have been ‘Chameleon’ from Malta) should have received the 12 points, not Israel.
The EBU have now acknowledged that this is the mistake, and on Wednesday May 22nd revealed a corrected ranking for the Grand Final before updating the Grand Final scoreboard.
How The Results Have Changed
The Belarussian jury vote is only 1/92nd of the total vote in the Eurovision Song Contest, and thankfully there is no controversy over our winner… it’s still The Netherlands, although ‘Arcade’ is now a slightly more impressive winner with a total score of 498 points compared to the 492 points that were revealed on Saturday night.
The changes that exist are further down the table. Sweden becoming the top Scandinavian country – leapfrogging the televote winner Norway into fifth – is the most notable swap. The biggest alteration is in the mid-table. Cyprus and Malta improve two places to 13th and 14th respectively, forcing Slovenia and France down by the same amount.
From a production perspective, the most significant change is that North Macedonia win the jury vote. With 10 points from the Belarussian aggregated score, Sweden’s last minute steal of first place on Saturday night would not have happened. Tamara Todevska would have held the limelight and be leading the Song Contest at the half way mark, and the final head-to-head in the new voting announcement procedure would have been Todevska vs Lawrence.
A Need To Catch Human Error In The Future
That takes care of the facts from Eurovision 2019, but what lessons need to be learned?
The wrong scores were announced on the night, and these could have had a much larger impact. Imagine for a moment a closer result where The Netherlands was awarded the Eurovision Song Contest victory on screen, but the true winner was Italy…
The most troubling aspect has to be the number of checks that missed the error. As the EBU press release takes time to explain, it is Digame who produced the aggregated result; then voting monitor Ernst & Young approved the final results; and at the final level it goes to Executive Supervisor Jon Ola Sand and the EBU team who give the final all clear live on the Saturday night broadcast. Nobody in this chain spotted spotted the upside-down mistake… although when it was announced Eurovision fans online raised digital eyebrows on social media.
Credit must be given to @Euro_Bruno for his analysis of the jury scores which raised the issue in the community which was subsequently picked up by the world’s media.
@Euro_Bruno investigates the Belarus vote (Twitter)
This is the first time an entire jury score has been replicated in this way since 2016, when jury scores and tele votes were split in the Saturday night presentation, but it is not the first mistake in process that has happened.
From individual jurors we have seen evidence of incorrect ranking orders numerous times. Arguably the most notable example is Hilde Heick, a Danish juror from 2016, who intended to place eventual winner Ukraine second last, but instead voted ‘upside down’ and placed Ukraine second. 14 of the 23 point advantage ‘1944’ had over ‘Sound of Silence’ that year was due to that mistake. Other individual jurors, including a number from this year’s Song Contest, have voting patterns that suggest they have voted the wrong way around. Ranking ‘upside down’ has been a problem for years and it remains a possibility that there has been a material impact in this year’s Contest in terms of countries who qualified for the Grand Final:
While the process to determine the Belarussian ‘jury’ vote is different to the ranking from an individual juror, the same mistake has occurred… Eurovision voting rewards those who get the highest points, but jury rankings start from the smallest number. It is easy to see how human error can result in these mistakes. This must be the catalyst to ensure there is increase clarity to the process.
One immediate quick fix would be for each juror and jury chairperson to write down which song is their favourite and input it into the computerised voting form to ensure the ordering has been completed correctly as a ‘check’ on the ranking order
Ensuring Integrity to The Eurovision Song Contest Voting
The Eurovision Song Contest voting is now a battle of two halves, with both jury and televote having equal value. After the EBU’s corrections to the vote, this year we have an unusual situation where neither televote nor jury winner are in the final top 5… and there is nothing wrong with that.
What a split outcome requires though is the need for a demonstrably clean, transparent and fair voting system for the Song Contest. This year we didn’t get that until four days after the live show. The Belarussian jury vote was an embarrassment for the EBU, for the artists involved, and also for the Belarussian broadcaster.
There are also ethics which need to be openly discussed.
Is it ethically correct to use other juries in different countries to ‘simulate’ a Belarussian jury? The countries used to assemble the points may be in a group of similar countries, but their results showcase huge differences. Russia for example received a 1st, 6th and 26th place ranking from those used to construct the vote. Azerbaijan scored a 1st, 2nd and 26th place ranking. Even politically detached Sweden received a 1st place and 9th place…combined with a 15th and 18th place. By accepting that you should take replacement jury points from countries that have a similar voting history, does that mean the result you calculate just perpetuates the perceived issues of political voting?
Certainly one argument to make that would have been to not include a Belarussian jury at all. This has issues for the TV broadcast – as we would therefore not see a Belarussian spokesperson on screen. However making Maria Vasilevich read out a jury score that was quite obviously made up has its own moral dilemma.
The Black Box Of Exponential Weighting
This is not an abstract question for the 2019 presentation. There are a number of issues around voting and point calculations that need to be exposed to public scrutiny to ensure the long term integrity and confidence in the Eurovision Song Contest results.
Firstly, in 2018 the EBU revealed an ‘exponential weight model’ to calculate the points from the 5 jurors. While good in that it mimimises the ability of one juror to destroy the voting power of one song, no set formula for this exponential curve has been formally revealed by the EBU.
ESC Insight’s Ellie Chalkly took a closer look at the system when it was announced last year:
This change to the jury scoring system is a welcome step forwards to a more competitive Contest. It rewards positivity, it diminishes the power of a single juror to negatively impact a song, and it allows strong but divisive songs the opportunity to achieve a respectable jury score ahead of the televote the following night.
Eurovision 2018 scoring chart, Ellie Chalkley
While these changes are welcome, the formula requires a number of constants that have not been revealed. Without these numbers it is impossible for a third party to confirm the model is working as advertised. Essentially there is a ‘black box’ between the juror scores and the jury points awarded. If the Belarussian jury vote can be incorrect, can we have confidence in the rest of the jury voting process?
Returning to the suggestion that a juror has ranked incorrectly during Semi Final One, we cannot be certain of the impact on the qualifiers because we do not know the exact workings of the black box that calculates the jury points.
It is impossible for a broadcaster and member of the public to themselves calculate and ratify that the result is valid alone. We can model what the exponential curve acts like, but this is not the same as a clear and transparent system. One key model of integrity is ensuring that the model is replicable by others.
The San Marino Televote
As noted, it was a simple average of the juries in the same pot as Belarus that resulted in a correct calculation of the Belarussian jury vote. Each year since 2016 we have had to use a similar aggregate method to calculate not a jury, but a televote. Because San Marino uses the Italian telephone system, it is not possible to guarantee a televote is only made up of San Marinese voters. Instead San Marino’s televote system is “an average result of a representative group of televote results of other countries.”
San Marino’s televote construction sounds eerily similar to how Belarus’ jury result has been constructed.
JESC 2013 singer Michele Perniola reading out the points from the San Marino jury in the Eurovision Grand Final of 2014.
Yet whereas the Belarussian jury score appears to have been mathematically simple to construct, it has not been possible to re-construct a San Marinese televote model since 2016. Even their Head of Delegation does not understand how the vote is constructed. Poland’s Tulia were two points away from reaching the Grand Final, and received five points from this constructed San Marino televote. It is easy to imagine if a different group of countries were selected Poland could have scored two more points and qualified for Saturday.
Hiding the process does not protect the integrity of the televote, it simply creates more mystery and raises more questions around the validity of the vote.
Improve The Design By Expecting Mistakes
Mistakes and human error happen, we all accept that. The key is to expect them and design systems that can allow them to be discovered and corrected. Having to change the results after the live show has embarrassed the EBU, Digame and Ernst & Young. Improvements to the design of the jury vote are needed to make sure it delivers the robust result that is expected by the millions of viewers and listeners to the Eurovision Song Contest every year.
However the EBU can not and should not stop now the Belarussian jury vote has been addressed.Clarity and integrity throughout the Song Contest’s voting systems are needed. This year’s incidents can be the catalyst for much needed improvements both behind the scenes and in the package that is presented to the public.