The Eurovision Song Contest has gone back to basics, with a stripped-down jazz ballad taking the prize in the 2017 edition of the world-famous competition.
Hosted by Ukraine in Kiev, the contest featured a familiar high-tech stage using projections, fireworks and pyrotechnics to illustrate the 26 songs.
But the winning song, which dominated the voting, made little use of the bells and whistles on offer in its staging, turning recent Eurovision history on its head.
Portugal was the country with the longest streak in the contest without a win.
Its 2017 entry Amar Pelos Dois (Love For Both Of Us) by Salvador Sobral was the nation’s 50th song performed at Eurovision.
There was a projected backdrop of a forest, but the focus was squarely on Sobral — whose sister Luisa wrote the song — standing on a smaller stage in the middle of the arena, surrounded by a hushed crowd.
The song that had been tipped as the winner since all the songs became known earlier this year was Italy’s Francesco Gabbani with Occidentali’s Karma.
Gabbani qualified for Eurovision by winning the San Remo Song Contest in Italy.
His catchy pop number, with lyrics about people’s lifestyles in the west, and name-dropping of philosophical ideas, became famous in performance for the inclusion of a man in a gorilla suit dancing with Gabbani on stage.
It had slipped in the betting in the lead-up to the final, as Portugal’s audience-pleasing performance raised expectations.
Gabbani’s song garnered a huge ovation after the performance. But the voting then highlighted the two very different voting blocs needed to win at Eurovision.
In its early days, the contest was decided purely on the votes from national “juries”, containing music industry representatives.
In the late 1990s, however, Eurovision underwent some modernisation, ditching the traditional orchestra accompaniment to songs, introducing a free language rule to end the advantage for English-speaking countries and introducing a televote to allow the TV audience to register a preference.
The types of songs that won changed greatly following these changes, as all-round performance and visuals became much more important.
Winners like Mans Zelmerlow’s Heroes for Sweden in 2015 showed the new target entry: a modern song accompanied by an electronic light show.
Favourite Italy had too much ground to make up
Francesco Gabbani had been the favourite in the months leading up to Eurovision, but his poor jury vote made it almost impossible to catch the winner. (AP: Efrem Lukatsky)
As the more conservative jury votes were counted, Italy polled badly.
The song trailed Portugal by well over 200 points going into the televote, while Bulgaria’s pop entry, Beautiful Mess by 17-year-old Kristian Kostov, grabbed enough support from the judges to be only 104 points down at the halfway mark.
When the audience vote came in, it was clear that as expected, most of the televote-friendly songs were the less conservative entries like Occidentali’s Karma, Moldova’s Hey Mamma, Romania’s yodel-rap fusion Yodel It, and Sweden’s uptempo entry I Can’t Go On by Robin Bengtsson, with the vocalist and four backing singers clad in suits doing a dance routine on stage.
But Portugal, which had been expected to struggle with televoters, easily topped the poll with 376 votes.
Sobral, 27, had a message to pass on when he went on stage after winning the title, claiming his win as a victory for “music that actually means something”.
Australia’s Isaiah cracks top 10
Australian organisers had chosen Isaiah Firebrace, 17, the winner of 2016’s X Factor competition, as the performer for this year with Don’t Come Easy.
He qualified for the final after a nervous vocal performance in the semi-final.
Drawn to sing 14th of the 26 songs, Firebrace produced his best overall performance. However, his song did not grab the attention of televoters.
Where Dami Im’s dynamic performance last year came fourth in the televote after topping the jury list, Don’t Come Easy failed to stand out on the night, coming second-last with just 2 votes from the 42 televoting nations.
Firebrace maintained Australia’s record of finishing in the top 10 every time at Eurovision, ending the night in ninth position.