Strongest, toughest ever? 2018’s first #Eurovision semi-final in context

“Brutal.”

“A bloodbath.”

“So unfair.”

“Toughest semi-final in history.”

These were but a few of the comments made in the Lisbon bubble about the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest first semi-final. The overwhelming consensus was that Tuesday’s line-up of entries was much stronger, there were more than 10 entries deserving of a place in this year’s Grand Final, and that the Saturday night audience would miss out on some great music. Including:

Robbed…even in 13th (Source: YouTube/Eurovision)

On all most of those points we concur…though perspective can be glorious with a bit of hindsight. But it was this last statement—toughest semi-final ever—that merits a more forthright analysis. So, we asked ourselves:

Was the first semi-final of the 2018 Eurovision Song Contest the strongest and toughest one, ever?

Aside from marvellous music and unique television moments galore, the Eurovision produces reams of data. We love data here at 58Points, so we decided to dive in. Before we answer our question, we should explain how we conducted our analysis

Worthy (Source: YouTube/Eurovision)

Method

Like most of our analyses, we are limiting ourselves to the most recent Contests. In particular we only looked at the double semi-final era: those years where two semi-finals were used to select 20 Grand Finalists (10 from each), beginning in 2008 in Belgrade.

In some of these years scoring was via televotes only, or mostly televote (with up to two jury “saves”), or some version of the current system, which integrates televote and jury scores. We didn’t focus on the nuances of the various scoring systems: for this analysis we focused on ordinal rankings and not scores. Whether the difference between tenth and eleventh—or third and fourth—is one point or 50 isn’t consequential here.

After consideration of a range of criteria, our two primary criteria for “strongest” were:

  • How many in that year’s Grand Final top three were from each semi-final?
  • How many in that year’s Grand Final top 10 were from each semi-final?

If the answers to both these questions implied a skew towards one semi-final over the other—defined here as two or more qualifiers than the other semi-final that year—we also looked at the opposite of success: how many in that year’s Grand Final bottom 5 come from each semi-final?

Finally, we also considered how many songs were competing in each semi-final for one of 10 qualifier spots as a measure of “toughness”. There is a difference between a 15 song and a 19 song semi-final, even though each results in a list of 10 qualifiers (almost a 15 per cent difference, in fact).

Let’s crack on.

2008

As it turns out, our first dual semi-final year proved to be very interesting. The split in the top three in Belgrade was close. Russia (1st) and Greece (3rd) were from the first semi-final. Second place Ukraine had won the second semi-final. However, the 4th and 5th ranked finalists were also from the first semi-final.

In fact, only one other song from the second semi-final made the top 10: interestingly, Turkey qualified in 7th on Thursday night, and still finished 7th in the Grand Final as well—leaping over entries ranked 2-6 from its semi-final. Pre-qualified hosts Serbia rounded out that year’s top 10.

Fresh (Source: YouTube/Eurovision)

The 2008 bottom five came from Big 5 (UK 25th and last, Germany 23rd), semi-final one (Poland 24th and Finland 22nd) and semi-two (Croatia 21st): in something of a paradox, the first semi-final produced more top and more bottom ranked grand finalists. Interesting sidebar: the UK, Germany and Poland all had 14 points, but since Poland got points from the most countries they were ranked ahead of Germany and UK (and Germany ahead of the UK for the same reasons).

In 2008 each semi-final had 19 entries, so each had a 10/19 chance to qualify: a super tough 53 per cent chance. Overall the 2008 Contest was significantly skewed in favour of the first semi-final in a super tough year.

2009

The Moscow Contest, it turns out, wasn’t terribly skewed. There were four qualifiers from each semi-final in the Grand Final, along with two from the Big 5, the UK and France. So, we left it at that.

2010

Oslo’s winner was the only from a Big 5 nation in the double semi-final era: Germany’s Lena with Satellite. That left two slots in the Grand Final top three: both of which were qualifiers from the second semi-final—runner-up Turkey and third placed Romania.

Are you running away? (Source: YouTube/Eurovision)

In fact, seven of the Grand Final top 10 were from semi-final two. Only the winner of the first semi-final Belgium (6th in the Grand Final) and runner-up Greece (8th in the Grand Final) were from the Tuesday night show.

Bear in mind, however, that the 2010 grand finalists ranked 4th through eight all scored between 140 and 149 points—so the difference score-wise between 4th and 8th was negligible. Think of it as a top three, a lump of fourth, and then ninth and tenth.

Yet…four of that year’s bottom five grand finalists also came from semi-final two: Cyprus 21st; Moldova 22nd, Ireland 23rd, and Belarus 24th. The UK were last (25th).

Both semi-finals had only 17 entries each, so each semi-finalist had a 10/17 chance to qualify: 59 per cent, in a tough year.

So 2010 was significantly skewed, in a year where qualifying for the Grand Final was tough.

2011

In Dusseldorf we only saw a slight skew. Five entries from the first semi-final ended up in the Grand Final top 10. Three from the first semi-final did, as did two from the (now) Big 5.

In terms of the top three for Saturday night, one came from each semi-final…though overall winner Azerbaijan was only second in its semi-final. Winner of the second semi-final, Sweden, finished third. Big 5 Italy were runner-up on their return to the Contest.

 

We were always team Dino (Source: YouTube/Eurovision)

In terms of the bottom five, three also came from the first semi-final: Finland (21st after 3rd in semi-final), Hungary (22nd; 7th), and Switzerland (25th; 10th). Second semi-final qualifier Estonia were 24th (9th ); big 5 member Spain were 23rd.

In 2011 each semi-final had 19 entries, so each had a 10/19 chance to qualify: a 53 per cent chance in a super tough year.

But…even with larger semi-finals, there was only a bit of skew: a tough, but not tough and strong, year.

2012

Baku hosted our first 26 song Grand Final of the semi-final era: all Grand Finals have had 26 entries since.

The top three in that year’s Grand Final were evenly split. The winner of semi-final two—Sweden’s Loreen with Euphoria—won the Contest with a nearly an all-time record score. Russia’s Buranovskiye Babushki won the first semi-final. Second semi-final runner-up Željko Joksimović (Serbia) was third overall.

Best. Key change. Ever. (Source: YouTube/Eurovision)

Baku was an outlier in terms of the overall top 10, however. First off, four of the top 10 were pre-qualified: hosts Azerbaijan (4th), plus Big 5 entrants Germany (8th), Italy (9th) and Spain (10th)—the best Big 5 results in the semi-final era. Four more qualified from the second semi-final: only two were from semi-final one (Russia 2nd and Albania 5th). So there is a bit of skew towards Thursday.

In terms of the bottom five big 5 France were 22nd. Denmark (23rd; 9th in semi-final) and Hungary (24th and 10th) were from the first semi-final. Big 5 entry UK were 25th. Norway were 26th (and last), having qualified 10th from second semi-final. So no skew at the bottom either.

Both semi-finals had 18 entries, so each semi-finalist had a 10/18 chance to qualify: a 56 per cent chance. Not a strong semi-final, though it was a very tough year.

2013

The Malmö Contest also wasn’t skewed. There were four semi-final one qualifiers in the Grand Final’s top 10 versus five from the second (Big 5 member Italy yet again made the top 10). Two from that first semi-final, however, made the top three: eventual winner Denmark and third place Ukraine. Azerbaijan won the other semi-final and finished second. That’s almost as even a split as possible. Onward…

2014

A year later in Copenhagen, the skew was back. Six of the Grand Final top 10 were from the first semi-final; only two came from the second semi-final, with hosts Denmark and Big 5 member Spain ranked 9th and 10th. The winner of that second semi-final, however, was Austria’s Conchita Wurst with Rise Like a Phoenix. The winner on Tuesday night (the Netherlands) and Tuesday’s runner-up (Sweden) filled out the top three.

Great songs can be arranged multiply ways (Source: YouTube/Unknown Creature)

Looking at the bottom five, they were evenly split. The Azeri (22nd after being 9th in their semi-final) and San Marino (24th; 10th) were from Tuesday night. Malta (23rd/ 9th) and Slovenia (25th; 10th) were from Thursday night. France finished 26th.

But 2014, had relatively small semi-finals. The first semi-final had 16 entries: that gave entries a 63 per cent chance to qualify. The second semi-finals had only 15: a 67 per cent chance.

On balance, this is a somewhat strong year—but with the odds of qualification so high, not a tough one.

2015

We were on the ground in Vienna—our first time since Istanbul in 2004—and it was an exciting Eurovision week. However, it was a very even Contest in most respects. Four qualifiers from each semi-final made the Grand Final top 10, with the top three split between the winners of the two semi-finals (Sweden and Russia), along with Big 5 Italy.

Still feel she was robbed…but the numbers never lie (Source: YouTube/Вечерний Ургант)

2016

Stockholm produced perhaps the best three Eurovision shows of this century. And with the introduction of the Melodifestivalen method of reporting jury then televote scores, we had our first nail biting result since 2003!

Only two qualifiers from semi-final one made the Grand Final Top 10, including its winner (and eventual third place finisher) Sergey Lazarev from Russia. Six entries from the second semi-final made the top 10, including eventual winner Ukraine and runner-up Australia—though on Thursday night their order was reversed.

Pretty sure Jake liked it (Source: YouTube/Jake’s Face Reacts)

The bottom five confirms this skew…slightly. Two songs from the first semi-final—Croatia (23rd; qualified 10th) and Czechia (25th; 9th)—joined three of the Big 5 entrants: Spain (22nd), UK (24th), and Germany (26th).

This was also a year with relatively large semi-finals: 18 entries each and a 56% chance to qualify. On balance, 2016 was a strong and very tough year.

2017

In Kyiv, things were not skewed. The Grand Final top 10 included five qualifiers from the first semi-final and four from the second: prohibitive pre-Contest favourites Italy wound up 6th. The winners from each semi-final finished first and second overall and were joined by the runner-up from the first semi-final in the top three.

So pretty even—even in a year with two, 18 entry semi-finals.

The magic started here (Source: YouTube/RTP)

2018

In Lisbon the entire Grand Final top three came from the first semi-final. However, the five semi-final one entries in the Grand Final top 10 isn’t remarkable. But they mostly were in the top five: the highest ranked grand finalist from the second semi-final was Sweden (2nd in semi-final; 7th in Grand Final). The winner of the second semi-final, Norway, ended up 15th on Saturday night! Big 5 members Germany (4th) and Italy (6th) rounded out the top 10.

The Grand Final bottom 5 was evenly split. Hosts Portugal were last (26th); big 5 members Spain (23rd) and UK (24th) also did poorly. Otherwise Slovenia (22nd; 8th in second semi-final) and Finland (25th; 10th in first semi-final) filled out the rest. A perfect split, in other words—and only one bottom five entry from each semi-final. So this is something of a strong year.

As well, the first semi-final had 19 entries; the second had only 18. So entries on Tuesday night had a 10/19 or 53 per cent chance of qualifying. Super tough.

Comparison

In the end we have five semi-finals that seemed to be, to varying degrees, tough. Let’s line them against one another:

Year Semi-final Chance % Top 10 GF Top 3 GF Bottom 5 GF
2008 One 53 6 2 1
2010 Two 59 7 2 4
2014 One 63 6 1 2
2016 Two 56 6 2 0
2018 One 53 5 3 1

The 2014 semi-final one was the “easiest” in terms of chance of qualifying. It only produced one top three entry and still produced two of the bottom five: eliminated.

The 2010 semi-final two produced the most top 10 entries, but also the most bottom 5 ones. They were also just behind 2014 in terms of ease of qualification: also eliminated.

The 2016 second semi-final was very tough. It produced the majority of top 10 and top three grand finalists that year. And they also produced no bottom five entries, in what only a tough year. Only the lack of bottom five Grand Final entries is particularly noteworthy. Eliminated.

Both 2008 semi-final one and 2018 semi-final one had super tough chances of qualifying (53 per cent). They each produced one bottom five result. 2008 had one more top 10, but 2018 had all three in that year’s Grand Final top three. But in 2008 only one pre-qualified finalist made the top 10 (Serbia). Whereas in 2018, both Germany and Italy did. So…

Strongest and toughest

Our winner for the toughest and strongest semi-final ever is…2008 semi-final one!

In a somewhat more difficult year they dominated top 10 and the top three. But it was very, very close.

 

You can read our 2018 semi-final one review here. And for the Grand Final here.

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