Back to the Future: What will happen with a 100% Televote Semifinal?

2023 marks the first Eurovision year since 2009 to feature televoting-only semifinals. The fallout of the 2022 contest, with Azerbaijan making the final despite getting no televote points in their semifinal, along with allegations of collusion between six different countries, resulted in reverting back to the previous format for further transparency. This is not unlike when jury voting was removed in 2003 due to alleged collusion in the 2002 contest.

In contrast, 2009 saw the return of juries to the grand final of the contest, because of the increased diaspora voting throughout the 2000s. However, the 100% televoting system remained in place for one more year, albeit with the tenth wild-card qualifier brought over from the 2008 contest. 

Reception is mixed, with some fans cheering the return of people power, whereas others fear the return of troll songs which plagued the 2000s. What has the last 100% televoting semifinal taught us, and how will this affect the 2023 contest? 

  1. The importance of reliable neighbors…but only to get to the finish line: 

One thing which is important throughout the televote era is how easy it is for neighbors to vote for each other. They would provide another push for a borderline song to make it to the final. That said, it can’t compensate for all the points necessary to qualify. 

For example, Bistra Voda from Bosnia and Herzgovina, came in third in the first semifinal. Both their 12 points were from Turkey and Montenegro, and 10 points from North Macedonia. Yet they received eight points from five other countries and got at least three points from every other country in its semi-final except for Andorra. 

In contrast, Croatia’s “Lijepa Tena”, a traditional Balkan ballad, garnered high points from Serbia and Slovenia in the second semi-final, but sparse points elsewhere sunk it to 13th in the televote. They would qualify, but only because of the jury wildcard, which ironically took out Serbia. 

What does it mean for 2023? While Victor’s “What they Say” is bubbling under the radar for Greece, its semifinal has reliable neighbors, being Cyprus, along with Albania, Australia, and Romania. Combined with Greece’s improvement on the staging front, which brought them two consecutive top ten finishes in 2021 and 2022, it could mean that what we’re saying that Greece can still make it!

  1. Ballads can succeed! 

A common image of a successful entry in the televoting era is an ethno-bop with intense choreography and spectacular visuals. On the contrary, another notable image from that era is the troll entry, which disregards substance with loud performances. This doesn’t mean that ballad can’t break through all the noise; Molitva notably won in 2007, and ballads still made their presence known in 2009. 

Yohanna’s “Is it True?”, with its melancholic soundscape and grand visuals, ended up winning the first semifinal in Moscow, before coming in second in the final. Similarly, low-tempo “Rändajad”, an Estonian classical crossover piece, came in third in the second semi-final—Estonia’s first qualification since semi-finals were established in 2004. 

Yes, it’s true–ballads can be good!

Both utilized live performances to garner the public’s attention. For Yohanna, the dream-like landscape complimented her soft vocals, which made it stand out from the crowd. For Urban Symphony, it’s the dark, intriguing atmosphere made by the leds and the darkened atmosphere.

What does it mean for 2023? So far, most of the early favorites are more uptempo songs, in contrast to the ballad heavy class of 2022. With a variety of genres represented on the big stage, a dose of energy might be what the televoters are looking forward to with this year’s lot. This doesn’t mean that slower-paced entries are doomed to fail.

For example, the Netherlands’ Burning Daylight continues the country’s habit towards low-key, angsty songs. The clean production, combined with the relatable lyrics, could pull off a surprise in the first semi-final, which is shaping up to be the stronger of the two this year. In addition, the Dutch delegation previously elevated Calm After the Storm with an intimate staging, but like with all the other songs, it could make or break an entry.

3. Running order:

One difference between 2009 and 2023 is how the songs were performed. In 2009, it was done through a random draw, in which countries would get their positions out of the drop of a hat. Four years later, it changed to the producer’s discretion, at which the organizers can create the running order to separate like songs from each other.

In 2009, a random running order ended up benefiting the later songs. In semi-final one, the first four songs all failed to qualify, whereas the last five songs all made the final. The second semi-final saw a similar trend, with four out of the first six songs missing the final. Along with Lijepa Tena, the other exception was Alexander Rybak’s Fairytale, which ended up winning its semifinal by 21 points.

What does it mean for 2023?: Because of the different method to determine the running order, each songs would have a better chance to shine with this approach. However, the later in the running order, the more likely the song would qualify; whereas an earlier song has a harder time.

However, strong fan-favorites could open the semi-final, setting the tone for the show. Alessandra’s Queen of Kings, representing Norway, packs a powerful punch both in terms of lyrics and sonic production. Combined with its early hype, it could start the show with a bang, and make it to the final.

Published by Elda Mengisto

Frequent writer, aspiring scholar, occasional fencer. I'm a lover of all things beautiful and light.

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