Eurovision Song Contest 2016: Seven things you didn't know about the competitionIBTimes UK

Well, that was a lot of drama. Last night's nail-biting, popcorn-munching, last-minute photo finish between Russia and Ukraine was Eurovision at its best. Host Sweden said the new voting format would make things more exciting, but I doubt they imagined how much it would stir things up. Saying Russia is not happy at the results is a bit of an understatement.

Russia's Sergey Lazarev put in an absolute stormer of a performance last night. Everything was there: mind-blowing 3D stage effects, great singing, rhyming "Lightning" and "Exciting" – in brief, Eurovision gold.

He got plenty of votes from the party I was at, was the bookies' favourite, and got some enthusiastic tweets from Russia's official Twitter account. It last won in 2008 with Dima Bilan and the single-guy-with-massive-stage-show format – he had the ice skater – worked for Putin's home team then. Hopes were high.

While the countries announced the results of the Eurovision jury vote in the usual format, Australia streaked ahead. Dami Im's futuristic staging was a hit with juries, making the most of the special effects available onstage, and with a dress apparently inspired by a diamante-encrusted Sydney Opera House.

There was much consternation on Twitter about what would happen if Australia won – unlike with #brexit, there was a plan: next year's Eurovision would probably have been hosted in Germany with an Australian production crew – but then came the public score announcements, which ended up placing Ukraine first, Australia second, Russia third and – I have to mention it, because it was my favourite – Bulgaria fourth (I'm a sucker for a light-up outfit. Poli Genova would be very safe on a bike.)

Cue lots of angry tweets about how the people voted for Russia, but "politicians" wouldn't let them win. The first part is certainly true: Russia got the most televotes, with 361 to Ukraine's 323. But in the second part, not so much. We've been through this. Jury votes were reintroduced in 2009 to balance out the effects of bloc voting and, let's be honest, the public's tendency to vote for things other than the song – such as Poland's busty milkmaids of 2014. The UK public vote put them first, while the UK jury vote had them absolute last. (It's not called the Eurovision cleavage contest, is it?)

To generalise, juries think about the qualities of a song and the technical aspects of performance, while people at home like hotties, strobe effects and countries that are on their side in regional conflicts. The full details of the new system are here.

When the changes were announced, Ewan Spence of ESC Insight foresaw this situation. "There has been a bias towards entertainment in recent years that has devalued the competitive side," he wrote. Well, nobody could say last night wasn't competitive. He explained it well: "This year's Eurovision Song Contest is effectively two contests in one with the juries scoring all the songs from one to 12 points in the first contest, and the public scoring the same songs from one to 12 points for the second contest. The scores are then aggregated together, like a two-legged football game, to give the final score and the winner."

Jamala spoke about the song's meaning at the winner's press conference afterwards. "It's very difficult to explain how I feel. I would prefer that all these terrible things did not happen to my great-grandmother, and I would even prefer if this song did not exist."

She added she was inspired by the Schindler's List soundtrack – hardly lightweight throwaway pop. Ukraine now get to host next year's competition, while Twitter is full of remarks such as: "Eurovision juries gave Lazarev low marks because the West aims to belittle Russia as a leader of modern civilisation".

Before the jury vote came back, people whinged about "bloc voting" and said the Balkan/former Eastern bloc/wherever group of countries would just rotate the competition between them. Now the juries are back, they complain about "overruling public opinion" and question who gets to sit on them. (One of the Russian jurors was removed for recording performances during the first semi-final).

In my view, Russia absolutely deserved to win the public vote: their show was amazing. So was Australia's, but they probably suffer from a lack of neighbours: the sympathetic kind, not the Ramsay Street kind. If you look at the jury vote, eight of the 11 countries that gave 12 points to Ukraine gave none to Russia. Several of them were very generous to Australia, so it's not that they have a problem with flashy stage shows which make the most of the available technology.

Is it political? You could be forgiven for thinking so. That's a shame, as the juries are meant to rise above politics. But it could equally be they felt it was too similar to Sweden's entry last year, or that they preferred Ukraine's intense performance, or that juries do tend to prefer technical singing skills to flashy stage shows. There are five jurors each from 42 countries and they've all got a personal preference – it's the same debate there's been every year since juries came back, with an added dash of geopolitical piquancy.

If you want it explaining in a much more fun way, Sweden summed it up perfectly in this opening number from the second semi-final: "Getting votes from your neighbours is a sure way to have your song disgraced / But when Sweden gives 12 points to Norway, that's clearly just good taste".

If you think of it like that, Australia won the first, jury, contest, Russia the second public one, and Ukraine did well enough in both to clinch victory. But things never seem that simple when the song comes with a healthy dose of #politics.

The Eurovision rules state no lyrics, speeches, gestures of a political nature, and the Ukrainian entry, Jamala's 1944, is really at the absolute limit of whether a song can be considered political or not. Officially, it's about history: specifically, Stalin's enforced wartime deportation of Crimean Tatars. The opening lines are "When strangers are coming... They come to your house / They kill you all and say, / We're not guilty, not guilty."

Getting the right balance between public and jury votes, competition and entertainment, fun and politics, has always been a challenge. "All competitions are enhanced by creating a dramatic finish," said Eurovision Song Contest Producer, Christer Björkman, when announcing the new system back in February. Well, Sweden, you certainly did that. See you in Kiev next year?


Frances Robinson is a freelance journalist covering technology, expat living, food and beer. She lives in London and is a regular contributor to the Evening Standard's Londoner's Diary.