“And the United Kingdom gets zero points”. When Jan Smit announced the first televote results of Eurovision 2021, a cry of dismay sounded from the audience in Rotterdam’s Ahoy arena. With nothing to add to the UK’s zero points from the jury vote, James Newman finished the evening with the dreaded nil points.
This is the United Kingdom’s second set of nil points in the competition, after previously receiving the result in 2003. Though the country is still two short of Norway and Austria, who hold the record for the most sets of nil points, with four each.
After the voting system at Eurovision changed in 2016 so that the jury and televote scores are presented separately, many thought the likelihood of a country ending up with a grand total of zero would be severely reduced. Unfortunately, the probability is still not 0%, as the UK found out at this year’s contest.
Although it’s easy to take a nil points result at face value and declare that ‘everyone in Europe hates the United Kingdom’, delving deeper into the full voting breakdown can offer a slightly different story – and perhaps even a few glimmers of hope.
Analysing the United Kingdom’s nil points
18 jury members put the United Kingdom in their top 10
Scouring through the results reveals that 18 individual jury members did actually put the United Kingdom in their personal top ten – i.e. they wanted to award James Newman some points.
Interestingly, Germany had the exact same amount of jury members who ranked Jendrik in their top ten (see Table 1 below). So why did Germany receive some jury points but the United Kingdom didn’t?
Unfortunately for the UK, these individual jury members were relatively spread out between all 38 countries voting in the grand final. A lot of them were also effectively ‘cancelled out’ by other jury members who ranked James Newman and “Embers” much lower. For example, while two members of Serbia’s jury placed the United Kingdom sixth (and another one just outside the top ten at eleventh), one of their fellow jurors put James all the way down in 23rd. Despite the jury formula that gives more weighting to countries ranked higher up a juror’s list, this still managed to drag Serbia’s overall jury placement of the UK down to 14th and outside of the points window.
Similar situations did occur for Germany as well. However, Jendrik managed to convince three of the Austrian jury members to put him in their top ten. And although another juror ranked the German act 26th (dead last), this support from three individual jurors was just enough to squeeze “I Don’t Feel Hate” into ninth place overall with the Austrian jury and award Jendrik two points.
It is naturally encouraging to see that there were at least some jury members who enjoyed James Newman’s performance of “Embers”. It proves that there is no continent-wide conspiracy to always mark the United Kingdom down. Jurors across Europe (and Australia) are in fact willing to vote for the UK if they feel the country deserves points.
But 18 jurors still only constitutes 9% of the 190 total that reviewed James during the grand final. In order to be in with a stronger chance of picking up points, acts need to be able to win over a lot more jurors, and at least three, four or all five of them from specific countries.
Table 1: Individual jury member rankings for the bottom five countries in the Eurovision 2021 grand final
|Country||Number (Percentage) Of Individual Jury Member Placements|
|Top 10||Bottom 5||Last|
|United Kingdom||18 (9%)||89 (47%)||24 (13%)|
|Germany||18 (9%)||109 (57%)||32 (17%)|
|Spain||22 (12%)||64 (34%)||11 (6%)|
|Netherlands||43 (23%)||44 (23%)||7 (4%)|
|San Marino||44 (23%)||49 (26%)||7 (4%)|
Percentages calculated out of 190 jurors (the total that ranked each country in the grand final) and rounded to zero decimal places
Germany received more last place jury finishes than the UK
Eurovision is rightfully a contest that rewards countries for being a favourite among voters/jurors, rather than demeriting those who rank near the bottom.
However, it is still interesting to note that eight more individual jury members thought that Germany should have finished last instead of the United Kingdom. When this is widened to bottom five placements, there were 20 more jurors who believed Germany should have been down at the depths of the scoreboard compared with the UK.
This translates through to overall jury rankings (see Table 2 below). Out of the 38 countries voting for each entry, six juries put Germany in last place and three had the UK last. For bottom five placements, this rises to 21 and 19 respectively. When calculating each country’s average jury rank, Germany sits at 20.6, while the United Kingdom was slightly better at 20.2.
If you were really clutching for silver linings in amongst the UK’s poor showing at Eurovision 2021, then you could argue that, overall, the juries would have wanted the United Kingdom to finish just above Germany.
This silver lining is not necessarily something to be particularly proud of. No country should go into Eurovision with their main aim being to “just not finish last”. But, it does indicate that there was a feeling among jurors that the United Kingdom should have ended the show with slightly more than nil points.
Table 2: Overall and average jury rankings for the bottom five countries in the Eurovision 2021 grand final
|Country||Number (Percentage) Of Overall Jury Placements||Average Jury Rank|
|Top 10||Bottom 5||Last|
|United Kingdom||0 (0%)||19 (50%)||3 (8%)||20.2|
|Germany||2 (5%)||21 (55%)||6 (16%)||20.6|
|Spain||2 (5%)||14 (37%)||4 (11%)||18.9|
|Netherlands||5 (13%)||11 (29%)||2 (5%)||16.6|
|San Marino||7 (18%)||10 (26%)||2 (5%)||16.8|
Percentages calculated out of 38 juries (the total that ranked each country in the grand final) and rounded to zero decimal places
UK destined to be last in the Eurovision 2021 televote
The same analysis of the televote tells a vastly different story (see Table 3 below). Here, the United Kingdom received by far the most number of last places, with 14 countries believing “Embers” should have finished 26th on the scoreboard.
In contrast, Germany was much more well received by the public at home. No country ranked Jendrik last and only four put him in their bottom five of the night. “I Don’t Feel Hate” had proven to be divisive amongst Eurovision fans earlier in the season. But there were clearly a reasonable amount of people on the positive side of the split who thought the entry stood out enough to vote for it (sadly, just not enough for it to climb into the televote top ten of any particular country). Germany achieved the best average televote rank of the eventual bottom five, 17.2.
When looking at bottom five placements in the televote, both Spain and the Netherlands did actually receive slightly more than the United Kingdom. But it was still an exceptional amount for all three – 33 (87%) for Spain and 34 (89%) for the Netherlands, compared with 31 (82%) for the UK.
In the end, the only country of the eventual bottom five to receive points from the televote was San Marino. This is despite the fact that Senhit (and Flo Rida) had an average televote rank of 18.1 – even lower than Germany. But as we saw with the jury votes, the average doesn’t necessarily matter as long as you reach the top ten with some countries. This is what San Marino managed to do, finishing fourth with the public in Georgia, eighth in Italy and eighth in Azerbaijan.
The pure fact that the United Kingdom didn’t finish last in every single televote does of course indicate that people across Europe were still voting for James Newman if they enjoyed his performance, most notably in Malta where the UK ranked 14th in the televote. But with this being the UK’s only televote placement higher than 20th, there was clearly a lack of engagement with great swathes of the viewing public.
Regardless of what voting indicator you use, it seems likely that the United Kingdom was destined to be last in the televote at Eurovision 2021. The nil points itself is just a feature of the voting system, which only rewards the top ten favourites rather than spreading a set amount of points between all 26 entries. It in no way insinuates that absolutely no one picked up the phone to vote for the UK, just nowhere near enough.
Table 3: Overall and average televote rankings for the bottom five countries in the Eurovision 2021 grand final
|Country||Number (Percentage) Of Televote Placements||Average Televote Rank|
|Top 10||Bottom 5||Last|
|United Kingdom||0 (0%)||31 (82%)||14 (37%)||23.4|
|Germany||0 (0%)||4 (11%)||0 (0%)||17.2|
|Spain||0 (0%)||33 (87%)||6 (16%)||22.9|
|Netherlands||0 (0%)||34 (89%)||8 (21%)||23.2|
|San Marino||3 (8%)||11 (29%)||0 (0%)||18.1|
Percentages calculated out of 38 televoting nations (the total that ranked each country in the grand final) and rounded to zero decimal places
How does the United Kingdom rejuvenate after nil points?
Nil points is obviously an unfortunate result for the United Kingdom, and one that no participant ever deserves owing to the hard work each and every one of them puts into their performances.
But when a country does find themselves in this position, the only direction they can go from here is up. Exactly how far up the scoreboard is down to their willingness to change tack, learn from their mistakes and rejuvenate their approach.
The key lesson that can be learned from the above analysis is that it doesn’t matter if jurors and viewers think you’re not the worst. Instead, the next act to represent the United Kingdom at Eurovision needs to convince a strong proportion that they’re worthy of a spot in the top ten, as that’s where they’ll pick up points. This means the UK (and every country) should effectively go into each contest with the goal of reaching the top ten at a minimum.
To do this, an act must always find a way of standing out from the crowd, both musically and visually. A pleasant song with a decent stage performance may seem like a solid entry, but if there’s nothing that helps juries and viewers remember it in between the other 25 songs of the final, then it will sadly fade into the background. The top five of Eurovision 2021 were highly varied, but they all managed to pair something musically interesting with a visually arresting stage show that still stayed true to the performer’s own style.
The United Kingdom has a vast amount of musical diversity, and there’s a lot of potential for the country to bring something new and exciting to the contest that remains authentic to the UK. It could be soul, rock, drum and bass, hip-hop, indie-folk, grime, house, or even something sung in Welsh or Scots Gaelic. If the Eurovision winners of late prove one thing, it’s that there’s no singular style that does well at the contest. Take some risks and you never know what might pay off.
There are plenty of examples of other countries that have drastically turned their fortunes around at Eurovision in recent years:
- Netherlands: After failing to qualify for the final eight years in a row (the longest non-qualification streak of any country), they had a resurgence in 2013 thanks to Anouk, who took them to the top ten. Six years later, this rejuvenation paved the way for Duncan Laurence’s victory.
- France: A Big Five member, they found themselves in the bottom five consistently between 2012 and 2015. Then along came Amir, who achieved sixth place in 2016. France have never been down at the depths of the scoreboard since then, and Barbara Pravi’s second place at Eurovision 2021 is their best result since 1991.
- Switzerland: Before 2019, they had only qualified from the semi-finals on four occasions out of 15 attempts (27% of the time). But the nation then revolutionised its selection process and Switzerland has now achieved top-four placings in the last two contests thanks to Luca Hänni and Gjon’s Tears.
The key link between each of these stories is that their was a real concerted effort from the artist or the broadcaster to enact change and aim for the top.
In 2013, Anouk was adamant that she should be internally selected instead of going through the Dutch national final that had failed the country in the years before. In 2016, France appointed new Head of Delegation Edoardo Grassi, who set the team on a new path. And in 2019, the Swiss delegation brought in a 100-member public panel and a 21-member international expert jury to help them decide on the best entry.
There’s no single correct way to rejuvenate the Eurovision selection process, but at the heart of it there must be a real desire to finish as high up the scoreboard as possible. Even if you don’t get a podium finish every year, you’ll still be in a much stronger position overall (and likely to avoid nil points).
We have seen this desire for success from the United Kingdom before. After a string of poor results during the 2000’s, acclaimed British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber was determined to show that the nation could perform well at Eurovision, so he decided to write the UK’s entry for the contest in 2009. Jade Ewen was selected to sing “It’s My Time” and there was considerable effort to promote the entry across Europe, with Jade performing in a number of countries ahead of the contest. The United Kingdom was rewarded for its effort and Jade finished in fifth place.
Unfortunately, this momentum was never maintained. There are embers of that desire still flickering away in some areas of the BBC, but it’s not grown into a full fuego as of yet.
All in all, a nil points result does not mean that the game is over for the United Kingdom at Eurovision. There are clear signs that jurors and viewers at home will vote for the UK when they want to. The nation just has to fuel it’s drive to succeed and bring together the complete package that can appeal to more than just a handful of the European (and Australian) population.
What were your feelings after the United Kingdom received nil points at Eurovision 2021? How do you think the UK can turn its fortunes around at the contest? Let us know all your thoughts in the comments down below!