This post is an editorial and therefore heavily prone towards subjectivity, as well as strong opinions and speculation. Anything stated beyond this point is the author’s personal opinion and does not necessarily represent the views of ESC United as a whole or its other editors.
I hear the critics question the point behind holding National Finals this year – After all, most National Finals so far felt like they were decided from pretty much the get-go.
For instance, it was a rather open-and-shut case that The Roop would win in Lithuania and they did, with such overwhelming force you could mistake them for a banana republic. Likewise, nobody really doubted that Barbara Pravi would emerge victorious in France.
And yet, I’ve always thought it was important to keep these National Finals going. Why, you ask? Because music matters.
We’re currently living in a world state where our daily liberties have been greatly restricted, and where we’re running low on amenities. No sector has been hit harder however than the cultural sector, however. With events and venues being shut down, fledgling artists and musicians have great troubles profiling their talents in this cruel, entertainment-deprived world. Makes sense, right?
A nationally broadcast selection show is therefore an excellent way for these struggling singers to showcase their talents and acquire national fame. The objective here would not necessarily be to win – in fact, there are at least two recent cases of artists unintentionally winning the national final they entered in the hopes of gaining a morsel of exposure. (ZalaGasper in 2019 and AWS in 2018)
Most countries elected against holding a selection show, but those who did either upheld their traditions to retain a modicum of normalcy under quarantine restrictions and/or to provide support for fresh new acts.
However, there is one NF where I can no longer make this claim, not with a straight face. I am of course discussing the omnishambles that was Melodi Grand Prix 2021.
Something Rotten In The State of Norway
Honestly, where do I even begin listing my issues I had with this frustrating national selection? I enjoyed MGP, sure, it was a slightly above-average standard Eurovision NF in a season with very few of them.
Still, I left the process with more questions than answers.
Why did NRK completely abolish the jury vote?
Why did NRK allow foreigners to use their app-only televote?
Why did NRK opt to have six prequalifiers instead of the five of the previous year?
Why did NRK specifically choose these prequalifiers?
Why did NRK reveal the two biggest names in the prequalifier line-up in the first Semifinal?
And why did the Silver Final consist of both Heat 1 prequalifiers, the act that won the first heat, and the wildcard, also from the first heat?
All of these questions address issues small and inconspicuous at a glance, but I think they’re important questions to ask, as the answers are related to the top 2 we saw in Norway, and how this specific result (TIX beating KEiiNO in the Gold Final) was in fact, an inevitable outcome.
A Tale of Two Titans
To argue which between Tix or KEiiNO deserved to win seems pointless at this stage – the former beat the latter in a fair televote result, in congruence with the rules NRK established. I prefered KEiiNO myself, but regardless: Norway chose Tix, so he goes to Rotterdam! Fair and square! That’s democracy!
Yet, if feels as if this result was was not the one NRK had intended. There are several clues pointing towards this:
- The fact that TIX, who is rather well-liked in Norway and one of their hotter stars on a national level, entered with a song in Norwegian, and a mediocre one at that (compared to his usual discography).
- That NRK revealed KEiiNO’s song instantaneously, pimped them ad nauseam, and then stuck them in what would become the best MGP Heat for good measure.
- That the first heat of MGP not only contained KEiiNO and TIX, but two more well-known names in Jorn and Blåsemafian.
To me it speaks for one thing: The first heat, specifically, was put together by NRK to maximize hype and viewership. A cunning ploy to direct attention straight onto themselves and as a result have unassuming esc fanboys download their MGP app, so the Norwegians can rake in some extra televote kronor. A cunning plan straight out of Blackadder, but similarly adverse results.
Why did the Silver Final consist of both Heat 1 prequalifiers, the act that won the first heat, and the wildcard, also from the first heat?
The abolishment of the international jury vote specifically seems to have gone through with the intent of boosting KEiiNO’s chances to win.
This makes a lot of logical sense. “Spirit in the sky” is the last Norwegian act to have won a Eurovision televote, and their song ‘Monument’ exhuded the same trademark energy, in a more competent package (read: it was bred in a lab to win Eurovision). By allowing foreigners to download the app, they could cast votes for ‘Monument’. Ulrikke’s absense from this MGP is rather fortunate as well. There no point denying Ulrikke’s talent as a vocalist and when she’s not present, there’s nothing stopping Alexandra Rotan (another highly talented vocalist) from displaying her voice at full force.
Now, I have no concrete evidence towards this but… I would wager say a finger (or rather, one of Sean’s fingers), that NRK approached Tix personally and invited him to the contest with the intent of building hype for MGP inside Norway.
This also makes a lot of logical sense. Tix’s career is currently at its peak in Norway, he has a fan following and some pretty impressive songwriting pedigree (having co-written Ava Max’s monster hit “Sweet but psycho“). His presence alone in the line-up would entice people to tune in, and by framing the contest as a two horse race between Tix and KEiiNo, the show would provide just enough stakes for the Norwegians to tune in and cast their votes. The hype is being built, the kronor come in, everyone’s happy! or not?
The KEiiNO Konundrum
However, whichever the matter is, I believe NRK prefered KEiiNO to win and not Tix. ‘Ut av Morket’ is significantly less Eurovision-friendly than ‘Monument’ was, in part because the former is a rather dated break-up song in Norwegian and also because the latter is a souped-up ‘Spirit in the Sky’ for all intents and purposes. Most critics seem to agree with this assessment and even those who prefer Tix mostly seem to be relieved that ‘Monument’ lost, rather than that ‘Fallen Angel’ won.
So, after Heat 1 set up the inevitable showdown, we spend an aaaagonizing six weeks waiting for a Guldfinalen that everyone saw coming from lightyears away. I had my doubts after hearing ‘Fallen Angel’ for the first time (the translation was so insipid and drenched in self-pity that it made me actively dislike the song, and I foolishly assumed the Norwegians would feel the same), but in the end we got the endgame we should have expected: Blåsemafian and Hazel, Jorn, KEiiNO, Tix. Four heat 1 acts, the four biggest names out of all 26 entrants, make up the Silverfinal. What a shock.
Most critics seem to be relieved that ‘Monument’ lost, rather than that ‘Fallen Angel‘ won.
I do call this period ‘agonizing’ because as it happened, NRK revealed the other prequalifiers and well… if you’ve read my reviews, you’ll know I was completely unimpressed by those. Absolutely zero people in the world were waiting for a ‘Barndomsgater‘ or ‘Feel again‘, so why were these specific acts put through over, say, an ‘I can’t escape‘ or a ‘Hero‘, to name two acts with instant appeal (and that would also never beat KEiiNO)? Why were all 20 f’king acts we encountered after the first heat so freaking uncompetitive?
My theory is this: So that nothing would interfere with the NRK masterplan of a KEiiNO victory, and a final showdown between them and Tix. NRK’s intent was to make KEiiNO win, and they were soft-rigging this match up by slyly revealing less appealing options for the remaining four heats.
The problem is, KEiiNO had already lost by then, and nobody had realized it.
National fame, not international acclaim
You see, Tix’s wide popularity meant that his fans tuned into the show, yes, but it allowed him to also build up momentum and hype alongside KEiiNO.
It is important to remember that KEiiNO actually do not have a career to speak of outside of Eurovision. They are considered a one trick pony in Norway. Their popularity exists entirely inside the vacuum of the Eurovision fan bubble, the bulk of which is located outside of Norway.
The Norwegians however, always, always, always preferred Tix, even if he had entered MGP with his least good song to date. Doesn’t matter! Him being there is equivalent to Ellie Goulding or Callum Scott showing up in Eurovision: You Decide. In terms of national fame he’s on par with Hooverphonic and Little Big.
Tix won MGP the instant NRK revealed his song in the first heat. If he had been pushed to a later heat (ideally, heat 5), he would have built up less momentum, generated less hype and then maybe, just maybe, he would have lost to KEiiNO. In their greedy desire for media exposure, hype and money however, NRK revealed his song at the start, underestimating his popularity and it backfired right back in their faces when he pipped KEiiNO at the post.
KEiiNO’s poplarity exists entirely inside the vacuum of the Eurovision fan bubble, while the Norwegians always, always, always preferred Tix.
Instead of an act the Eurofans will recognize and love, they’ve selected an “unknown act” (by fandom standards, and again, the fandom is only vaguely aware there is music outside of the Eurovision bubble) with a rather unimpressive midtempo song.
Instead of an ‘easy win’ (I personally believe KEiiNO would have finished somewhere between 4th and 8th, but who am I to deny some people their delusions), Norway’s odds are at risk, stuck in a ‘Borderline Qualifier Purgatory’ and who knows what way the fan vote will swing. Tix may or may not qualify, but in an open field, which is how the first semifinal is shaping up to be, it sure would have been nice to have a KEiiNO anchoring that qualification down, instead of being one of many also-rans fighting to a limited amount of seats.
If the response to Aksel Kankanraanta’s victory over Erika Vikman was to be of any indication, Tix is going to have a hard time with all the online abuse that will be flung at him by
rabid cretins “fans” (interestingly, most of the “fans” who posted anti-Tix toxicity didn’t support KEiiNO, but Rein Alexander’s grindhouse carnival of death, to which I say: you need to get a grip, sis.). If the negativity gains traction, Tix may already be a dead man walking. Bandwagons like that have killed off better acts in the past.
In their greed and pride, NRK have jeopardized their chances and if things do go awry, it will be nothing short of karma. Tix won, but Norway may lose yet.
Let this be a lesson to you broadcasting kids out there: Soft-rig sensibly or pay the iron price.