Never has a Eurovision grand final been more hotly anticipated than the culmination of the 2021 competition. There was no way I was going to forego watching the world-famous music extravaganza, despite spending most of the day travelling, after taking a few days away on holiday. Besides, the field was unbelievably strong this year. I really felt no, one country had an obvious win in the bag before going into the grand final. There was so much to play for and the range of entries was vast to choose from. Before leaving for my holiday, I shared my thoughts about (who I considered the strongest entries) going into semi-final heats 1 and 2. Eight out of ten choices through, made for pretty decent tastemaking, I feel. Success however all comes down to the performance on the night. Who upped the game? Who fell short of expectations? Where did the shock of the night come from? Let’s tie up some ends. As I share some of my favourite bits of the grand final night of Eurovision 2021.

“Set Me Free” by Eden Alene (Israel)

I haven’t written about the Israel entry “Set Me Free” by Eden Alene before, but I have been interested in the track with notable Dua Lipa vibes. This was song three of the night and the point where the competition got started for me. The competition this year contained a healthy proportion of entries geared around retro and nostalgic aesthetics. (To be honest, they all sounded very outdated efforts to me and I’m glad voters ensured these never made it through to the final.) “Set Me Free” didn’t adhere to that format. Being instead, a modern pop song, befitting of the modern age. Yes, the Israeli entry sounded like 2/3 Dua Lipa, 1/3 Ariana Grande, but makes strides in introducing Eden Alene to the international stage. I feel like, this isn’t the last time we’ll be hearing from her.

“Je Me Casse” by Destiny (Malta)

Photo by Carlton Agius

I also had not written about “Je Me Casse” performed by Destiny for Malta before. As I expected the comparisons to Lizzo were flying around the Websphere. I wasn’t an instant adopter, this song had grown on me massively. Destiny’s powerhouse vocals deserved more than her final seventh placing. The performance of “Je Me Casse” was sassy, fun and my kind of girl power anthem. Plus she genuinely seemed to have the most fun of all of the contestants who preceded her performance. Her enthusiasm and energy were infectious. I felt “Je Me Casse” in a big way. An undisputed highlight of Eurovision 2021. LOVED it.

“Tout l’Univers” by Gjon’s Tears (Switzerland)

The pressure was on for Switzerland’s Gjon’s Tears, “Tout l’Univers” emerged as an early forerunner for the Eurovision crown, during the initial stages of the competition. The song is both breathtaking and spectacular. I have long since admired Gjon’s outstanding vocal control and good command of dynamics. I felt the intensity, the empowerment. Gjon’s unwavering, emotion-fuelled performances became the most endearing of all. But all along, something had been nagging away at me. With The Netherlands triumph 2019 win with Arcade,” would the public get behind another slow-paced ballad? They did, and so did I. You cannot fail to acknowledge it, support and get behind it when you are hearing it and seeing before your own eyes and ears. Gjon never once fell short of the mark. The staging also being on point. Hmm, perhaps it is a nudge that I should pay closer attention to the Swiss music scene in the future. If they keep producing artists of Gjon’s calibre, I will.

“Discoteque” The Roop (Lithuania)

Photo by E.Blaževič / LRT

It is confirmed. Europe loves The Roop. They finished up a respectable eighth position with their buzzy EDM banger “Discoteque.” I voiced my approval of the quirky stylings and even quirkier dance moves of this entry pre-semi-final heat 1. I know I’m never going to master the finger dance and resign myself too excited waving instead in that part of the choreography. That said, this track is so joyous with an element of crazy. Yet falls on the good side of wacky. Pure Eurovision for me. The UK’s 12 points from the public televote agreed with me as well. The Roop will be remembered whereas the likes of Serbia’s fake-a-like Pussycat Dolls (Hurricane with “Loco Loco”) will not so much.

“Fallen Angel” by TIX (Norway)

I won’t lie, I deliberated this year on the Norway entry “Fallen Angel” by TIX. I never saw the song as a serious contender for the winner’s trophy. Nonetheless, it is an unequivocal pop song, albeit a bit of a slow-burner. Imparts an endearing message about inclusivity and overcoming demons. As the competition progressed, I steadily, warmed to it. Granted, the choice of angel costume was kinda cheesy, (and has been done at Eurovision many times, so considered fashion overkill) although fits in with the lyrics of the song. In the end, it was a no-brainer, I just had to get behind a song, as deeply heartfelt as “Fallen Angel.” The performance was the best I had seen from TIX and undisputably sincere. No other words except, I heart u TIX.

These were my picks from the grand final at Eurovision 2021. A year when four of the top five placements were sung in their native languages. (A tick in the box for celebrating diversity and culture) It wasn’t enough to enter a vacuous glossy pop song or bring out Flo Rida onto the stage. Emotionally, powerful performances and a strong message in the lyrics ruled above all else. In 2019 I would have placed a bet on Italy winning Eurovision that year, (with “Soldi” by Mahmood,) they didn’t but in 2021 they were victorious sending glam rock group Måneskin and the track “Zitti E Buoni.” A song that translates as shut up and behave. Sending the positive message of embracing our authenticy, individualism and celebrating our identities and uniqueness. I admit I didn’t really take a close look at the track because of being a hard-rock offering. Although strong, the classic rock styled riffs are memorable. I can’t argue with the sentiment voiced. Now with insight “Zitti E Buoni” probably was the strongest, resonating message in the contest. Just not my cup of tea in the music stakes.

Arrivederci Rotterdam, The Netherlands, Eurovision 2021. Almost four hours of TV coverage was over in a flash this year. I personally loved experiencing the drama, tension and suspense of the split vote results announcements. To everyone who helped make Eurovision happen, you are stars. Looking forward to more normalcy in 2022 when Italy host.