Italy rules Eurovision as live contest returns from pandemic hiatus

  • >> Alex Marshall, Elisabeth Vincentelli and Thomas Erdbrink, The New York Times
    Published: 2021-05-23 10:32:49 BdST

Press and bloggers in the press centre during the Eurovision Song Contest Final, in Rotterdam, Netherlands on Saturday, May 22, 2021. The New York Times

The Eurovision Song Contest, the first major global cultural event to be held in person since the coronavirus pandemic hit last year, ended in a triumph for Italy’s Maneskin, who won with a hard-rocking song called “Zitti E Buoni.”

The song, which is filled with off-colour lines and lyrics about smoking, received 524 points in voting from national juries and the public, beating France’s entrant, Barbara Pravi, by 25 points, and was cheered to victory by more than 3,500 Dutch fans at the Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam.

“We just want to say to the whole Europe, to the whole world, rock ’n’ roll never dies!” said Damiano David, the band’s lead singer, accepting the prize.

Maneskin, a rare rock winner in a contest whose previous winners include ABBA and Celine Dion, beat 25 other acts, some unusual even for Eurovision standards — including a folk-techno act from Ukraine, a feminist Russian pop star and an Icelandic disco band.

The show will be seen by many around the world as a sign that major cultural events, featuring competitors from dozens of countries, can be held successfully if sufficient measures are put in place to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Last year’s Eurovision was canceled because of the pandemic. This year, the Dutch organisers came up with an elaborate plan to hold the largest music contest on the planet. In the run up to Saturday’s event, contestants had to undergo regular coronavirus testing, adhere to social distancing rules and stay in their hotels if not attending rehearsals.

The measures were not enough to stop the pandemic from intruding entirely on the event. Last Saturday, a member of the Polish delegation tested positive for COVID-19. The following day so did a member of Iceland’s entry, the hotly tipped disco act Dadi Freyr and Gagnamagnid, who were staying at the same hotel.

More than 3,500 mainly Dutch fans were in the auditorium for the show, while journalists, some 400 of them, were tucked away in a dark, rather depressing conference hall, where they were able to follow the event on four large screens.

Inside, people were filled with exuberance, partly because the show was going on after a year’s hiatus, and partly because it just felt so good to be out of lockdown. The costumes were colorful. A few that were spotted included two men were wearing orange tuxedos and another man wearing a British flag as a cape.

This was Italy’s third win since the contest’s creation in 1956; it last triumphed in 1990 with Toto Cutugno.

After being named the winners of the contest, Maneskin members said they were happy to be able to take Eurovision back to Italy after 31 years, “especially after this hard year.”

Testifying to the strength of the field, the lead kept changing as the votes from the various national juries came in, with Switzerland in the top spot at one point, followed by France and Malta. But the popular vote upended the results, and Italy passed its competitors.

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