The Eurovision Song Contest of 2019 is done and we have a winner. The Netherlands emerged victorious with the emotive pop ballad ‘Arcade’ by singer-songwriter Duncan Laurence. After the results, like every year I must add, huge discussions began online about the fairness of the way the results work. As Norway won the televoting, but was mostly ignored by juries, their act KEiiNO only finished in sixth place, which sparked debates on the balance in the voting. Do we even need juries anymore and if we do, should their influence be 50% of the total vote or maybe less? Or do we just need to change the whole way the juries work right now? A Bit of Pop Music looks for the answers, using examples of the contest of this year.
Why juries were brought back
Juries were first brought back in 2008 and by 2010 they gained the power to decide 50% of the total score in both the semi-finals and the final. After trying different constructions, the EBU settled on a system in which both juries and televoting give a set of votes separately, making 24 points the maximum each country could receive from another country. As this year’s contest showed however, juries and televoters often don’t quite agree.
The interesting paradox is that the juries were brought back to make a difference in the results, trying to slim the influence of neighbor-, block- and diaspora voting. The juries were re-introduced, because they were expected to vote differently than the televoters, but now when they do vote differently, they get criticized for being out of touch with what the public wants. If they were completely in sync with what the public wants, they would be useless in the voting process and we could return to 100% televoting.
Discrepancies between jury and televoting
Having said that, extreme discrepancies are becoming problematic. Take Norway’s case of this year’s contest as an example. They won the televote in the final by a margin of 30 points, while if it was up to the juries, they would not even have made it to the final. The Norwegian entry ‘Spirit In The Sky’ would have crashed out at 11th place in the second semi-final if it was up to the juries. Can we really trust the decision making of a jury that was ready to kick out a song that managed to win the popular vote? True, the fans that complain that Norway should have been the real winner, knew the way the voting worked beforehand and the hosts are transparent about it, but I can certainly understand their sentiment. If you pay to vote in Eurovision, it is hard to accept the fact that your winner received the most televotes, but ends up 6th because a group of 205 jury members (as opposed to the potential 200 million people watching) did not like it as much.
At the same time, one could argue that the juries did their job, keeping San Marino’s act Serhat out of the top 10. Televoters voted him in top 10 in the final, but he finished in 19th position in combination with jury votes. It is hard to say if people genuinely liked the song or that his Turkish roots and him counting down in that language during the bridge mobilized the Turkish diaspora around Europe to vote. Either way ‘Say Na Na Na’ was written in five minutes (according to Serhat himself) and to these ears could not really compete with most of the other compositions in the contest. One could conclude that the juries actually did their job right here.
Unfortunately there are more examples of questionable decision making by jury members to be found in the 2019 contest. Let us take Igor Munteanu from Moldova as an example for a minute. Of course, music is hard to judge and we all know jury members could have specific tastes in music too, but would any self respecting music professional (because that is what these judges are supposed to be) put the winning Dutch song ‘Arcade’ dead last in their list in the semi-final? And then suddenly place him 7th out of 26 in the final? Because that is exactly what Munteanu did. Two other members of the Moldovan jury did not have The Netherlands in their top 10 in the semi-final (with eight less competing acts), but did did put him in the top 10 in the final when Moldova did not participate anymore and irregularities like this appeared in other countries jury voting as well.
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Neighbour love and hate
Speaking of the Moldovan jury; all five members put neighbour Romania on top of their list during the semi-final, while they only received 47 points from juries all together. The Moldovan jury is not the only one voting for their neighbours. Both Greece and Cyprus gave each other the number 1 on the list of every single jury member. Another example of countries clearly not judging on just the performance, can be found in the voting pattern of rivaling countries Armenia and Azerbaijan. All jury members in Azerbaijan put Armenia in 17th and last place in the semi-final and the Armenian jury did exactly the same the other way around. This has been going on for years and is a clear example of how juries still let politics influence their vote, but nothing has been done about it yet by the EBU.
Then there is the controversy with the Belarusian jury. The points the members gave in the final were disregarded after the members shared their semi-final choices before the final even began, which is a violation of the rules. The organization of the contest announced that an aggregated result (‘based on the results of other countries with similar voting records)’ would be used instead, but when the votes were presented, Israel took the 12 points, while they did not even get any other jury points. As almost all countries at the bottom of the scoreboard received points, it was suggested on Twitter that these ‘aggregated points’ were presented in the opposite order, giving the countries at the bottom the points by mistake. Four days after the contest took place, the EBU announced that there indeed had been a ‘human error’ with these votes. The end result was changed and the countries at the top of the jury scoreboard received more points, causing North Macedonia to win the jury vote after all, while Sweden took over Norway’s 5th position in the final result.
Then there is the case of Lina Hedlund, jury member in Sweden and known as singer in the band Alcazar. It was announced that she filled in her results for the semi-finals the wrong way around, which resulted in her favourite (The Netherlands) ending up 17th and her least favourite song (Austria) ending up in first place. Sorry girl we love you, ‘Victorious’ is a bop and Alcazar will never not be iconic, but seriously, you had one job. As the same thing happened with the Danish jury in 2016 before, you would think the EBU has stuff like this under control. Luckily Hedlund’s little moment did not change the outcome in terms of who qualified for the final, but it seems clear that without her votes, Austria would not have received the eight points they did from the Swedish jury. Without those points, Austria’s Paenda would have taken the last place instead of Sarah McTernan from Ireland in the second semi-final..
Who are these jury members anyway?
When five professionals have as much power as all televoters in a country, you would expect them to be the absolute top of the industry with loads of knowledge about Eurovision, right? Well as someone based in the Netherlands, I can tell you that this does not necessarily go for the Dutch jury. One of the members was pop singer Elize, who has not had a hit since 2008 and only recently started to release some new music. I don’t say this to be shady, because I love the bops she threw at us back then, but I would not call her a pop star that does represent our music industry these days. If there is only five members in each country’s jury, I think we should at least expect people relevant in the music industry to judge the performances and it would help if they have some actual knowledge about Eurovision and its history too.
Bigger juries, more knowledge and stricter rules
This brings me to what I would like to see the EBU improve about the current juries situation. First of all I think the juries per country should have more members. Five people to have the same power as the whole country’s televoting result does not seem right. I would go for juries of at least 20 people per country to balance things out nicely. A mistake like Lina Hedlund’s (which of course should not happen anymore as the juries should be properly briefed about their responsibilities) would not have had such a major impact on the total votes of its country’s voting result. These members should be active professionals in the music industry who should maybe get some basic knowledge about Eurovision tested just to make sure that they know what they are doing and that they actually take the competition seriously.
When there is neighbour (or anti neighbour) voting going on, as blatantly obvious as with the Moldova/Romania Greece/Cyprus and Azerbaijan/Armenia examples I named from this year, it is truly the task of the EBU to step in and make clear with sanctions that there is no room for that type of messing around in Eurovision. If we can change these things, things would look better for the balance in the Eurovision results, although I would still suggest to limit the power of the judges to 40 or 33,3% of the power in order to give the people who televote the final say.