Eurovision 2021 highlights: Italy reps for rock, Flo Rida reps for San Marino, 'Fire Saga' actor reps for 'Jaja Ding Dong' fans

Long before American Idol, The X Factor, or The Voice — before Star Search, even — there was the Eurovision Song Contest, which started in 1956. The United Nations of talent competitions, with participants representing 41 countries from all across Europe, the U.K., and Australia, it is one of the most-watched broadcasts on the planet, with an average annual audience of 200 million. But like many other major 2020 events that were canceled due to coronavirus concerns, last year’s Eurovision was called off for the first and only time in the competition’s 65-year history.

This Saturday, the Eurovision Song Contest triumphantly returned to the Netherlands’ Rotterdam Ahoy arena in front of a live audience of 3,500 fans, all of whom had tested negative for COVID-19. And in another historic moment, the 2021 winner was “Zitti E Buoni” by Italy’s leather-clad hard rock four-piece Måneskin, who formed in high school and first came to fame after placing second on The X FactorItaly in 2017.

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Måneskin’s victory marked the first time that a rock band had won Eurovision since Finland’s shock-rockers Lordi did it with “Hard Rock Hallelujah” in 2006. “We just want to say to the whole Europe, to the whole world, rock ‘n’ roll never dies!” shouted Måneskin frontman Damiano David upon hearing Saturday's results.

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A controversial rock 'n' roll moment from the telecast — when David appeared to snort cocaine while partying in the audience with his bandmates — quickly went viral before the final verdict was even announced. However, at the post-ceremony press conference, David steadfastly denied this, explaining that the substance on the table was shards of a broken glass, and insisting: "I don't use drugs, please, guys. Don't say that. Really, don't say that."

Two more traditional balladeers, France’s Barbari Pravi and Switzerland’s Gijon’s Tears, respectively placed second and third. Switzerland had been in the lead for most of the professional jury-voted portion of the competition, but was displaced by Italy once the massive public vote was tallied. While Måneskin had been bookmakers’ favorites to win Eurovision 2021, they were still trailing behind Switzerland, France, and Malta after the national juries’ votes were revealed, and they only surged into first place on the strength of viewers’ votes.

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Fire Saga, the fictional Icelandic duo from Will Ferrell’s 20-years-in-the-making Netflix spoof Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, failed to win the Best Song Oscar last month for the ballad “Húsavík” — and life imitated art Saturday, when Iceland’s real-life Eurovision contestant Daði Freyr (who had been heavily favored to win last year with “Think About Things”) also lost, falling to a respectable fourth place after briefly being in the lead with his new indie-pop entry “10 Years.” Adding insult to injury was the fact that just a day before the semifinal, Freyr announced that he would no longer be able perform live at Eurovision after a member of his band had tested positive for COVID-19. Daði and the group Gagnamagnið’s song remained in the competition, but footage from their May 13 dress rehearsal performance was shown instead, while Freyr and his bandmates watched the Rotterdam ceremony from a remote green room.

However, many delighted viewers declared Iceland the true winner of this year’s ceremony, when in another life-imitating-art moment, Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga character Olaf Yohansson, portrayed by actor Hannes Óli Ágústsson, was chosen to announce Iceland’s votes. Naturally, Yohansson/Ágústsson angrily and repeatedly demanded that the show “play ‘Jaja Ding Dong’!” before finally getting down to business.

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U.S. viewers watching the Eurovision Song Contest on the Peacock streaming service were probably surprised to see American hip-hop superstar Flo Rida assisting San Marino’s Senhit during their performance of “Adrenalina.” (Over on Britain’s BBC, confused commentator Graham Norton observed: “That is Flo Rida, the multibillion-selling rapper. … I don’t know why he’s here.”) Senhit and Flo Rida closed the competitive portion of Saturday’s EVSC telecast, vivaciously performing last out of the 26 countries represented in the finals, but neither that “pimp spot” placement, the group’s onstage charisma, nor the rapper’s celebrity status seemed to give them any advantages: San Marino surprisingly came in 22nd place, with just 50 points.

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Along with Senhit/Flo Rida’s duet and Daði’s enjoyable pretaped rendition of “10 Years” with the boiler-suited, Devo-like, keytar-wielding Gagnamagnið, other campy or just plain head-scratching performances included German contestant Jendrik’s twee ukulele ditty “I Don’t Feel Hate” featuring a dancing Hamburger Helper-esque hand; Lithuanian electropoppers the Roop, looking like yellow-suited Sprockets, bopping around to “Discotheque”; Norway’s Tix wearing Victoria’s Secret angel wings and iron chains for the power ballad “Fallen Angel”; and Finnish nu-metalheads Blind Channel demanding that everyone in the Rotterdam Ahoy convention center “put your middle fingers up!” for “Dark Side.” (Finland came in sixth, further proving the strength of Eurovision’s hard-rock voting bloc, but perhaps Blind Channel deserved some extra points for last week’s humorous semifinals moment, when they brandished a homemade cardboard sign that read: “PLAY JA JA DING-DONG!”)

As per tradition, every Eurovision Song Contest ceremony takes place in the country that won the previous year. Now that the EVSC is back on schedule post-pandemic, Italy will host the contest in 2022. Perhaps one of next year's contestants will perform "Jaja Ding Dong" then.

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