Eurovision 2024: everything we learned – from the Abba swizz to the UK’s wild unpopularity | Eurovision 2024

It was the most politically charged Eurovision song contest in memory – but it was won by a famously neutral nation. As the glittery dust settles from Saturday night in Malmö, here’s what we learned …

1. Switzerland was a smash hit

After a week of turmoil, thankfully we got a popular winner. Swiss singer Nemo, who identifies as non-binary, came into the night as bookies’ third favourite but romped to a widely welcomed victory. Their poperatic, drum’n’bass-driven song The Code wasn’t just naggingly catchy but imaginatively staged, with the 24-year-old hitting high notes while balancing on a giant spinning turntable. Like a young Freddie Mercury striking poses on a satellite dish he’d fished out of a skip, the committed performance was impossible to resist.

Just a shame about the awkward ending. Not only was Nemo’s interminable walk from the green room to the stage like something from This is Spinal Tap, but they smashed the glass trophy during their triumphant celebrations. Seconds after UK commentator Graham Norton warned “Don’t break the trophy”, Nemo appeared to do just that. Maybe they can visit The Repair Shop in a special BBC crossover.

2. Europe still doesn’t love the UK

It started so well. For a man who said last week that he was “ambivalent” about the union jack, Olly Alexander draped himself in a giant one for the flag parade, giving a cheeky wink to camera. The UK entrant’s whole-hearted performance of Dizzy went down well enough in the arena. When jury votes were counted, he’d made it on to the fabled “left-hand side of the leaderboard”. Then the wheels came off. He received the dreaded “nul points” in the public vote. Although he smiled gamely, Alexander plummeted to 18th out of 25 with just 46 points – a fraction of the top scores, which were way up in the 500s. So what went wrong?

Some blamed the song – a derivative Pet Shop Boys-esque synth-pop number which lacked cut-through appeal. Others pointed to sound issues, with vocals muddy and low in the mix. Others thought that the staging, with writhing dancers in what resembled a serial killer’s bathroom, was more suited to an edgy video than family-friendly Eurovision. Others pointed to our unpopularity post-Brexit. Chances are it was a combo of all the above. Hey, at least he improved on last year, when Mae Muller was second from bottom.

3. Eurovision had gone goth

Eurovision goth contest? … Bambie Thug. Photograph: Leonhard Föger/Reuters

The contest once had a reputation as the home of cheesy novelty pop. Not so much nowadays. Judging by the mix of musical styles on show at this 68th edition, melodramatic emo-metal has joined thumping doof-doof Eurodisco as the contest’s dominant genre. Perhaps it’s time the UK got the guitars and black clothing out. Well, we couldn’t do much worse.

4. Graham Norton’s still got it …

All the controversy meant this wasn’t an easy gig for Norton, but he pitched it pretty much perfectly. Shrugging off awkward audio problems as the broadcast began, he struck his usual note – withering at times, warm at others, like your sarky friend on the sofa. He issued a nightmare warning to children ahead of Ireland’s demonic diva and a nudity warning ahead of Finland’s trouser-free funster. He raised the traditional glass to predecessor Terry Wogan at the ninth song (when Sir Tel would pour his first booze).

After Spain’s booty-shaking male dancers stripped down to thongs, he said: “I can only imagine the cheers in Sitges right now.” He gave a sweet shoutout to Alexander’s cats, the fizzily named Fanta and Sprite. As the Abbatars appeared in a laboured skit, Norton drily noted: “They really lift the script off the page, don’t they?” When the Spanish jury spokesperson wore elbow-length rubber gloves, he simply asked: “Is she a vet?”

5. … And so has Joanna Lumley

The beloved actor appeared as UK jury spokesperson and was impressively multilingual with impeccable pronunciation. Naturally, Dame Joanna clutched a glass of champagne throughout her report, while managing to squeeze a “darling”, a “sweetie” and an “absolutely fabulous” into her 60 seconds on screen. What a pro.

6. Abba’s no-show was a slight swizz

With the contest held in Sweden on the 50th anniversary of Abba winning with Waterloo, speculation was rife about guest cameos from Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid. The hosts repeatedly trailed a surprise appearance.

Please welcome a Scandi supergroup beginning with A (it was Alcazar). Please welcome the Abbatars, live-but-not-really from London. Please welcome a tribute act formed of previous winners Charlotte Perrelli, Conchita Wurst and Carola. The big teases.

7. Israel defied the controversy

Israeli entrant Eden Golan was loudly booed during dress rehearsals and advised to remain in her hotel room for her own safety Photograph: Martin Meissner/AP

Since Thursday’s semi-final, thousands of pro-Palestinian protesters had gathered in Malmö, indignant at Israel’s inclusion while the war in Gaza rages on. There were calls for artists to boycott the competition. LGBTQ+ venues cancelled viewing parties. Israeli entrant Eden Golan’s song was hastily rewritten to be less lyrically provocative. She was loudly booed during dress rehearsals and advised to remain in her hotel room for her own safety. Security was stepped up and organisers were braced for stage invasions.

Not only did Saturday night pass off without major incident but Golan fared well. The 20-year-old from Tel Aviv came second in the public vote (top in the UK poll) and finished fifth overall. “United by music” is the slogan for this year’s contest. After a fraught buildup, perhaps it came true in the end.

8. The hosting duo shone …

A winning blend of sincerity and silliness: hosts Malin Åkerman (L) and Petra Mede. Photograph: Jessica Gow/EPA

Hollywood actor Malin Åkerman and much-loved comedian Petra Mede helmed proceedings with a winning blend of sincerity and silliness. Eurovision regular Mede cracked deadpan gags about the winner receiving a Gilmore Girls season three DVD and official Euro-merch including a rune stone. Åkerman interviewed veteran former host Karin Falk (“I’m 92, I’m not dead”) and her own mother-in-law, the British choreographer Chrissy Wickham – who duly ripped off Åkerman’s skirt Bucks Fizz-style. “There’s an awkward Christmas,” muttered Norton.

9. … but cult hero Martin lost his lustre

The European Broadcasting Union boss, Martin Österdahl, fared less well. He’s built up a reputation as something of a Eurovision legend, complete with his own catchphrase. See the spoof song from comic Sarah Dawn Finer, reprising her role as fictional EBU representative Lynda Woodruff: “When Martin licks his lips and says you’re good to go!”

However, fans clearly held him responsible for this year’s dramas – not just Israel’s participation but the late disqualification of Dutch entrant Joost Klein – and booed Österdahl whenever he appeared on screen. Not so good to go after all.

10. Eurovision eccentricity is alive and well

The night produced its trademark mix of bizarrely bananas, magnificently camp moments. We had a man called Baby Lasagna bellowing about milking cows while draped in lace doilies. We had a bloke with a blond mullet hatching out of a giant blue egg and setting his flesh-coloured Y-fronts on fire. We had a rap about Mother Teresa, a screeching witch, disco strippers, boyband twins, nasal armour, plentiful pyrotechnics and an eye-popping amount of near-nudity.

Even when the performances were over, the Maltese jury spokesperson was randomly covered in teddy bears. Douze points for effort. Don’t go changing, continental cousins.

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