There were tense scenes during the vote count at last night’s Eurovision Song Contest in Vienna as the 60th annual competition quickly emerged as a two-horse race between Russia and Sweden.
Russia’s entry, Polina Gagarina and her power ballad A Million Voices, had previously been greeted with a warm reception by the crowd. But as she took an early lead in the voting, the mood within the arena quickly turned, with loud boos after her every successive twelve-point win.
Such was the change in mood that the hosts had to plead with the audience not to let politics get in the way of what should be a song contest - and one which, this year, has the theme ‘Building Bridges.’
A nobe sentiment, but it’s perhaps understandable that the overwhelmingly LGBT audience of Eurovision were reacting strongly to the sudden prospect of the 61st contest being held in one of the most notoriously anti-gay countries in the world.
As Russia’s lead grew, the cameras cut to last year’s winner, Conchita Wurst, in the green room with . In an oddly tense interview, Conchita defended Polina from the audible audience criticism, repeatedly stating that she ‘deserved to win’ (despite the fact that less than half of the votes had been counted). A last-minute tactical move, perhaps, to send in the Reigning Queen of Gay Europe to defend this year’s possible winner?
It wasn’t necessary after all, because just over the halfway mark, Sweden's Mans Zerlmelow began slowly and decisively clawing back into the lead - their every new batch of points being met with huge applause and chants of ‘Sweden, Sweden, Sweden,’ across the arena. In shots from the green room, Russia’s entry at times appeared visibly shaken at just how much the audience favour was against her.
In the end, Mans swept to victory with a decisive 62-point lead. It should be noted that our new Swedish Eurovision winner isn’t without gay controversy himself - he made some suspect remarks about gay people in the past - but, as his many fans pointed out, he quickly apologised and has worked hard as an LGBT ally.
Later that night, Mans took to the stage at the Euroclub after party, for a surprise 4am rendition of his winning anthem, Heroes. Speaking on stage, he insisted that he’d expected Russia to win all along.
A dramatic Eurovision, then - but spare a thought for poor Austria in all this. After Conchita’s landslide win in 2014, last night they went home without a single point (despite their entry including multiple beards and a flaming piano). That means they’re now tied with Norway for the most times scoring the dreaded null points (five apiece).
Makes Electro Velvet’s five points look positively impressive, doesn’t it.