Performing first in the Eurovision Song Contest is one of the most important positions in the contest. It’s the first song the viewer will see performed live, and a country’s moment to prove to Europe & Australia that even though they’re the first on, they’re still worth voting for.
Every year there is a discussion regarding whether being the first song on impacts results. When favourites such as Malta’s ‘Chameleon’ in 2019 or Cyprus’ ‘El Diablo’ in 2021 are chosen to open the final, to then “underperform” in regards to their predicted placements, it raises the question if performing first can affect your overall placing. Here, we take a look back at the contests from 2013 onwards to see if this theory is correct.
Performing first in a Semi Final, but failing to qualify
In 2013, producers took control of the running order. This was previously done randomly, which in 2012 resulted in Montenegro’s ‘Euro Neuro’ and the UK’s ‘Love Will Set You Free’ opening the shows.
Austria’s entry ‘Shine’ opened Semi Final 1 in 2013. The song had minimal staging – a trend we’ve begun to see in opening performances. Whilst it’s a credible a entry, it wasn’t impactful enough for the viewers at home, coming 14th in a field of 16. The televote had it 15th compared to the jury, who placed it 5th. Semi Final 2’s opener ‘Here We Go’, the Latvian entry, was a mixture of rap and pop, once again with little staging. This entry finished last, coming 17th. Clearly, 2013 was not the year to be performing first.
Finland’s ‘Sing It Away‘ came 15th in 2016’s first Semi Final. Whilst their song has become something we have come to recognise as an opener – a crowd pleasing, upbeat song – the standard of songs were incredibly high. In a semi with songs predicted to take the trophy that year, such as ‘LoveWave’ from Armenia and ‘You Are The Only One’ from Russia, it’s unsurprising some countries struggled to pick up points.
Armenia opened 2019’s Semi Final 2 with ‘Walking Out’. If recent patterns are anything to go by, it’s not the type of song we’d class as an ‘opener’. It was in a half including ‘She Got Me’ from Switzerland and ‘Too Late For Love’ from Sweden – songs that could be considered more ‘accessible’ to the average viewer. A pre-contest favourite with the fans, it came as a shock when they finished in 16th place. Some people began to wonder if opening the semi final had caused their result to be lower than expected.
Not qualifying is always unfortunate, but even more so for those who place 11th in their semi finals. Could performing later in the competition have been their way to gain a ticket to the final? As the contest expands, so do the semi finals. It’s no surprise that some songs get left behind after being the first of 17 or 18 songs that evening. 3 songs in recent years have fallen victim to performing first and placing 11th. Moldova’s ‘I Want Your Love’ was the first song to be performed at Eurovision 2015. It was a male-led pop song that was full of energy. It was a respectable effort, but the song quality of 2015 was stronger than previous years. They missed out on qualifying by 21 points.
Serbia placed 11th after opening Semi Final 2 in 2017 with ‘In Too Deep’. They missed out on qualification to Denmark’s ‘Where I Am’ by the small margin of just 3 points.
In 2018, Azerbaijan opened Semi Final 1 with ‘X My Heart’, finishing 11th and becoming the first Azeri entry not to advance to the grand final. A solid entry from Azerbaijan, but maybe not one strong enough to remain a favourite amongst viewers for the whole show, placing 12th in both the televote and jury. It also may have suffered from being in the same Semi as the eventual 2018 top 3, Israel’s ‘Toy’, Cyprus’ ‘Fuego’ and Austria’s ‘Nobody But You’.
Performing first in a semi final and qualifying.
In 2019, Cyprus was given the first slot in Semi Final 1. Tamta provided a polished performance of ‘Replay’, a perfect pop song that we’ve come to expect from Cyprus in recent years. She qualified in 9th position, a result no one had predicted. They arguably had one of the toughest running order positions in both the Semi and Final, performing just before 2019’s winner ‘Arcade’ for The Netherlands. Luckily, this didn’t affect them as they managed to place a respectable 13th.
San Marino gave us ‘Adrenalina’ in 2021, and was chosen to open the second Semi Final. Senhit provided the energy needed to entertain viewers, and Flo Rida surprised viewers who didn’t know of his feature on the song. Tipped to become San Marino’s best ever result and a potential winner, they only managed to qualify in a borderline 9th position. In the final, they controversially only managed to finish 22nd, receiving just 13 televote points. Did performing first in Semi 2 impact them to the point of potentially not qualifying?
San Marino’s result is still widely discussed, and you can see a great in-depth article on it by clicking here.
When performing first had no impact.
2014, 2017 and 2021 saw all the first performers in Semi Final 1 have successful results. Armenia‘s 2014 entry ‘Not Alone’ was a quality, engaging song that kept the listener hooked throughout. They safely qualified in 4th place, repeating this result in the final. It’s Armenia’s joint best result in the contest along with 2008’s ‘Qélé, Qélé’.
Robin Bengtsson placed 3rd after opening the first Semi Final in 2017, and came 5th overall in the Final. ‘I Can’t Go On’ may be one of Sweden’s most divisive entries, but it is one of their most successful, helping to continue Sweden’s success in the contest.
After 2020’s cancellation, anticipation was high for the return of Eurovision in 2021. There was no one better to welcome Europe & Australia back to ESC than Lithuania’s The Roop. Set to participate in 2020 with ‘On Fire’, the band returned with another slick performance of their song ‘Discoteque’. They had huge backing in Lithuania, and were early favourites to win. They qualified in 4th place, finishing 8th overall – the second best result for the country since their debut in 1994. Performing first may have benefited The Roop, as they introduced viewers to a new decade of Eurovision whilst providing the entertainment people were looking for after the last year.
In 2014, 2015 and 2016, Malta, Lithuania and Latvia opened Semi Final 2, achieving their expected results. Malta’s 2014 song ‘Coming Home’ qualified in 9th position. In the final, it placed 23rd – a result that is not too surprising for a borderline qualifier. Lithuania opened in 2015 with ‘This Time’ being performed by one of many duos that year. The performance was fun, seeing them qualify in 7th position, placing 18th in the final.
Latvia’s ‘Heartbeat’ qualified in 8th place in 2016. Slightly lower than expected, but still a respectable result, gaining a qualification streak for the first time in 8 years. Finishing 15th, Latvia also achieved an expected result, being predicted to come 13th in the odds. The song became a fan favourite amongst their recent entries.
So what happened in 2018?
Norway introduced us to Semi Final 2, ‘That’s How You Write a Song’ performed by 2009 winner Alexander Rybak. They won the Semi Final, so clearly the running order didn’t impact them here. But could viewers have recognised Alexander and been more inclined to vote for a familiar face or name? It’s possible. Norway finished 15th in the final, a result we wouldn’t expect for a semi final winner. Was the standard in the 2018 final just too high that some songs just missed out on doing better? Opinions surrounding the song and result still remain highly mixed.
Welcome to the final: Does performing first make any difference?
Israel opened the 2017 final with ‘I Feel Alive’. As Belgium had done in 2016, IMRI performed last in semi final two, placing 3rd. Israel’s result in Eurovision 2017 is one that can be argued for the most when it comes to the theory that opening can impact your results. Finishing 3rd in the Semi to 23rd in the final is a significant drop. However, we do have to take into account ‘Amar Pelos Dois’ from Portugal’s landslide win. It no doubt had an impact on some results, with Israel likely to be affected, paired with not getting the chance to shine further into the running order.
‘Under The Ladder’ was chosen to open the 2018 final. MÉLOVIN provided a powerful performance and impressive staging, something we have become used to seeing from Ukraine in recent years. Once again, they had closed the second Semi Final, qualifying in 6th. Another pre-contest favourite, they only finished a disappointing 17th, the jury having it in last place. The position clearly had no impact on the viewers at home however, as Ukraine finished 7th with the televote.
Malta’s Michaela was given the task of opening 2019’s final with her impressive performance of ‘Chameleon’. Placing 14th overall after qualifying from 8th is a good result, but their low televote result (20th place) had fans wondering if she’d have fared better performing later. This topic was once again discussed as one of the reasons behind Malta’s fortunes in 2021. ‘Je Me Casse’ by Destiny drew 6th in the running order and got just 47 points from the televote despite being a favourite to win.
2021 saw Cyprus’ Elena Tsagrinou introduce Europe to the final of the contest with her flawless performance of ‘El Diablo’. She climbed the odds after Semi Final 1, at points being one of the top 10 favourites to win. A faultless vocal and interesting choreography elevated the song to it’s maximum potential, and it was looking likely that they may reach another top 10 result. By the end of the night, Cyprus had finished 16th. Although it wasn’t too surprising after finishing 6th in the Semi, many were shocked by their low placement. Were Cyprus a victim of the running order? In a final that has been dubbed one of the strongest ever, it’s possible their early performance had been forgotten as the contest progressed.
Songs that weren’t “lost” to the running order.
France kicked off the 2013 final with their dark, rock-blues style song ‘L’enfer Et Moi’. They finished 23rd overall, which seemed to line up with the predictions made by bookmakers who averaged them to place around 24th.
Ukraine’s ‘Tick-Tock’, a classic Eurovision pop song, lit up the stage as it opened the Grand Final in 2014, coming 6th overall. It was an unsurprising result despite coming 5th of 10 qualifiers in its semi final – they were safely ahead of 6th place qualifier Russia by 55 points. Their staging was memorable, and was even referenced during 2016’s interval act.
Slovenia’s Maraaya performed first at the 2015 Final with ‘Here For You’. It qualified in 5th place, and ended up a respectable 14th overall.
First up in 2016’s Final was Belgium’s Laura Tesoro, who gave a high energy performance of ‘What’s The Pressure?’. Not necessarily a favourite pre-contest, they surprised by placing 10th in the Final. In the Semi, they qualified from a safe 3rd place – just 14 points away from finishing 2nd, ahead of the eventual contest winners Ukraine and ‘1944’.
Belgium’s 2016 effort is one of the most successful openers of the decade. From closing the semi finals of that year, it seemed an odd decision to have them open the final so soon after. This format was repeated for another 2 years, but as we’ve seen, further results were not as successful.
It isn’t entirely impossible to have your placement affected by the running order. It appears that opening the Final is more likely to impact you than opening the Semi. Do you think performing first can impact results? Let us know! Who was your favourite opener?