1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Italy wins 2021 Eurovision Song Contest in Rotterdam

May 23, 2021

"We just want to say, to the whole of Europe, to the whole world, rock 'n' roll never dies," Maneskin's frontman Damiano David has said after winning.

2021 Eurovision Song Contest: Maneskin aus Italien | Sieger
Image: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

Lots of sequins, pyrotechnics and supersonic belting: Some aspects of the Eurovision Song Contest are reliably predictable each year, perhaps even formulaic. After all, the event is the world's largest non-sporting TV event, drawing millions of TV viewers annually, and requires a certain amount of pomp and circumstance to succeed in keeping people from Reykjavik to Sydney tied to their screens each year.

But all bets were off in 2021, as people in the Netherlands cautiously dared to return to attending the live event in Rotterdam while the COVID-19 pandemic continued to rage on across the world.

Entrance to the Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam
The event took place at the Ahoy Arena in Rotterdam - taking many COVID-related safety precautions into considerationImage: Bernd Riegert/DW

The 3,500 viewers watching the event live at the Ahoy arena, however, made enough noise to fill the arena and transport the unifying and transcendental power of music beyond the Netherlands, which hosted the event after winning the last Eurovision.

In 2020, at the height of the pandemic, organizers in Rotterdam had been forced to cancel the Eurovision Song Contest for the first time in the 65-year history of the event, making sure this year that this edition would make up for the time lost since the last Eurovision held in Tel Aviv in 2019.

And the winner is…

It came as somewhat of a surprise when Italy shot to the top of the 2021 Eurovision chart after a long night of music and even longer rounds of complicated voting. Represented by singer Maneskin and his band with the mostly spoken glam-rock track "Zitti e Buoni," Italy got a landslide public vote in the last few minutes of the show. Maneskin could hardly believe the victory, as the band had looked earlier like they had resigned themself to defeat.

"We just want to say, to the whole of Europe, to the whole world, rock 'n' roll never dies," Maneskin's frontman Damiano David said after the win.

Maneskin's win was Italy's third-ever victory in the immensely popular contest and the first since 1990 when Toto Cutugno took the top spot — which came at a time when the competition took place in a country that no longer exists: Yugoslavia.

Italy was the bookmakers' favorite to win but trailed Switzerland, France and Malta after the national juries delivered their votes. It was a tight race between Switzerland and France for much of the voting period, in particular during the jury voting stage. By the time the national juries' votes had all been cast, it looked like the evening was going to be won by Francophone power ballads, with France and Switzerland leading the competition with their more dulcet tones.

Barbara Pravi singing live at the European Song Contest
France was one of the juries' frontrunners but in the end didn't make the cutImage: Soeren Stache/dpa/picture alliance

Public vote that makes or breaks the winner

While ballads like the ones sung by France's Barbara Pravi this year have indeed occasionally scored well in the competition in the past — most recently in 2017 when Portuguese singer Salvador Sobral won the competition with his ballad “Amar Pelos Dois” — this kind of music is rather the exception and not the norm in the top positions of the popular music competition.

Rock tracks like Italy’s "Zitti E Buoni" also typically feature less frequently as winners, with most Eurovision trophies going to pop music interpreters; however, there is also a history of bands like Finland’s Lordi winning the competition in 2006 with a decidedly harder sound that even goes beyond heavy metal. Ultimately, it's always the public vote that brings in a surprise result, which is also true for the element of disappointment:

The UK, Germany, Spain and the Netherlands all received zero points from the public vote this year — much to the amazement of the audience at the Ahoy Arena, which expressed its support for these low-scoring candidates with applause and cheers.

Jendrik performing at the Eurovision Song Contest
Germany's Jendrik received no support at all from the public, along with the UK and Spain Image: EBU/Th. Hanses

An opportunity to 'Open Up'

Inclusion was meanwhile a big theme at the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest this year. While the motto of this edition of the competition "Open Up" was primarily a reference to the world beginning to return to a sense of normal by gradually reopening events and businesses, there was a lot of opening up to new ideas in general — not just in the music.

Hosting nation the Netherlands was represented by singer Jeangu Macrooy from Suriname with a soulful rendition of his song "Birth Of A New Age," which was performed in multiple languages — including Sranan Tongo, the English-based Creole language spoken in his native country.

Norway sent singer TIX to deliver his song "Fallen Angel." TIX has Tourette’s Syndrome and is also a recognized mental health advocate in his home country.

TIX performing at the Eurovision Song Contest
Norwegian singer TIX is named thusly becausehe suffers ticks from Tourette's SyndromeImage: Peter Dejong/AP Photo/picture alliance

San Marino, meanwhile, was represented by singer Senhit — and American rapper Flo Rida. Though this was not the first time in Eurovision history that a performance received a bit of celebrity support like this — for example, Germany had been propped up by model Dita von Teese in 2009 — the small enclave of San Marino did surprise bookies and spectators alike with this unique entry.

Beyond binary ideas

Much of the fashion seen on stage this year also reflected that sense of opening up to progress, featuring bold gender-nonconforming elements that brought home the message of inclusion and diversity that Eurovision has always stood for.

Maneskin's frontman rocked not only with his performance on stage but also showed off a lot of skin with an outfit that represents the kind of gender fluidity that is associated with burlesque and cabaret.

Sweden sent singer Tusse with his song “Voices” into the race, whose bright red outfit was complemented by his elegant elbow-length finger gloves.

Germany's Jendrik stuck it to all the haters by singing "I don’t feel hate" while featuring a lot of rainbow references in his branding and staging, while 22-year-old performer Gjon's Tears from Switzerland donned a dark chiffon shirt with silver patterns throughout, bedazzling audiences as much with his outfit as he did with his outstanding falsetto voice in his mesmerizing ballad "Tout l'Univers."

Gjon's Tears performing at the Eurovision Song Contest
Gjon's Tears from Switzerland hypnotized the audience with his outstanding vocals - and his glamorous wardrobeImage: Vyacheslav Prokofyev/TASS/dpa/picture alliance

But the ladies in the competition also broke with outdated expectations and misguided standards, with Russia and Bulgaria sending in two incredibly talented performers with Manizha and Victoria, respectively, who did not squeeze into elegant dresses but rather took to the stage in comfortable outfits representing a new era of emancipation and gender identity.

Inspiration and imitation

As much as there were many new ideas featured at the Eurovision Song Contest 2021, there were also some tried and tested styles and formulas seen on the stage as well, with outfits that borrowed ideas from other greats in music and popular culture. 

While Belgium's Hooverphonic looked like their lead singer was clearly channeling British national treasure Lulu on stage, 18-year-old Stefania from Greece danced up a storm in a costume that was almost identical to one made iconic around the globe by the late Tejano singer Selena in 1995.

Singer Stefania holding up a large Greek flag
Stefania from Greece inadvertently paid tribute to SelenaImage: Kenzo Tribouillard/AFP

Lithuanian band "The Roop" was inspired by the 1990s UK cult band Right Said Fred and US American pop group Scissor Sisters at the same time. Albania's Anxhela Peristeri, meanwhile, looked like she could be Colombian superstar Shakira's sister, while Moldova's dance moves were obviously paying tribute to Madonna's iconic "Vogue" music video from 1990.

Much of the music, staging and performances reflected aspects of rhythms and styles from days gone by, with a decided 1990s retro feeling underscoring this moment of hope that the Eurovision Cong Contest represented in the midst of the pandemic.

Vaidotas Valiukevicius from The Roop performing at the Eurovision Song Contest
Lithuania's song "Discoteque" was rather reminiscent of the 1990sImage: Vyacheslav Prokofyev/TASS/picture alliance

Perhaps this event is indeed more than just a hopeful moment of reprieve for everyone but indeed a precursor for happier times to come — much like the 1990s were when the world had departed from the frightful days of the Cold War. Or maybe it is just one night of escapism through music, loud outfits and even louder voices.

Only time will tell the importance and role of this particular edition of the Eurovision Song Contest — but maybe by the time we watch the event unfold in Italy in 2022, we will have a better feeling of what the future may hold and whether we all will have been given the chance by then to open up.

Sertan Sanderson Moderation
Sertan Sanderson DW journalist & human seeking to make sense of the world and understand what motivates other humansSertanSanderson