Hungary: A Dal 2020 – The Show That Goes On Behind Hungary’s Closed Eurovision Curtains
Last last year, Hungary announced their withdrawal from the 2020 edition of Eurovision to be held in Rotterdam. I was not surprised, but I was disappointed, nevertheless. The non-qualification of Joci Pápai, flagging public interest in the contest, and poor ratings for the national final, ‘A Dal,’ led the Hungarian broadcaster (MTVA) to decide against renewing their participation this year. Even so, ‘A Dal’ has continued with a new focus – promoting the local music scene’s up-and-comers within Hungary at festivals and broadcaster-supported events. The winner also receives 75,000,000 Hungarian Forint or ~$360,000 AUD! (Most of that comes from the former Eurovision budget)
MTVA has tried to make A Dal a standalone show, and this article will look at their success so far in doing this and the impact on Hungary’s Eurovision participation, review the recently completed heats and preview the semi-finals and final to come.
So, what else has changed? Is the show in the same format?
From a distance, the show looks the same. 30 songs, competing in three semi-finals – 10 songs in each. Four jurors give their opinions and a score each from 1 to 10. Six songs advance from each heat to the semi-finals, and four from each semi-final to the final. Same, same. Right? No. This year, the final ranking of the songs in each show is heavily affected by the public vote.
The past – the public sit on the jurors’ bench
In recent editions of A Dal, the public has been the ‘fifth juror,’ adding their own set of 1-10 points to the 40 points offered by the professional jury, for a potential total of 50 points. This gave the public 20% of the say, disabling their ability to overturn some questionable jury choices over time. This system also made it difficult to truly gauge which songs had the support of the Hungarian public – how can you decide which semi-final song is more popular out of, say, six who all got nine points from the public in the heats? The new voting system addresses both points.
The present – the public are the judge, not the jury
This year, the audience is not the fifth juror in the heats and semi-finals. It’s now, essentially, the jury-override function. The public votes at the end of the 10 performances by SMS, and points are awarded on a sliding scale in order of each song’s popularity. The juries can advance songs to the next stage if they all award a song 10 points, as they did in Heat 2 for Nene’s ‘Későre jár’ (more on this later).
First though, about 10 minutes into this voting period, the artists are all called back out onto the stage. The last-placed song with the public at that point gets eliminated immediately. The jury then, without regard to how the televote is progressing, chooses a second act to be immediately eliminated (so far, this has been the remaining act with the lowest jury score).
Voting is then re-opened for another short window and carries on without the jettisoned pair.
At the end of the voting, the songs are awarded points in line with their ranking with the public vote. 40 points are awarded for the most popular song, following an even scale down to the least popular which receives zero. The final ranking is decided by the sum of the jury points and televote points, and the top six songs advance. The volume of points allocated by the public theoretically gives the public more power.
So, how’s this worked in practice?
In the three heats, the public ranking has largely determined the six qualifiers and the overall rankings. In Heat 1 and 2, the public and overall rankings matched exactly. In Heat 3, the public vote caused a tie between Olivér Berkes and Attila Kökény which the jury voted together to break, sending Berkes home. The new system is addressing the biggest fan concern with past A Dals. The jury has lost most of its power in the pre-final stages.
The most obvious examples of this public override are the Heat 1 demotion of Muriel’s song ‘Kávés’ from 2ndwith the jury to elimination in 8th (blessedly) and the promotion of HolyChicks’ song ‘Pillangóhatás’ from 9th with the jury to safety in 5th. Mark Ember also moved from 9th with the jury to a safe 4th in Heat 3.
So that’s the heats and the semis, has the voting in the final changed?
No. The jury still chooses their own top four to advance to a super final, and the public then has full say on which song of those four wins A Dal 2020. This sounds like a mistake, but the new system for the pre-final stages should create a final free of the occasional jury bait that has divided audiences previously (‘Fall Like Rain’ and ‘#háttérzaj’ defeating ‘Hosszú idők’ in 2017 would likely have never occurred in 2017 with this voting system). We wait in hope.
Has the new focus and new voting system led to new interest?
Briefly, no. Ratings are at their lowest point ever, despite some well-known artists (Kati Wolf and BIGA have returned) and the new system for empowering viewers. The first heat attracted 204,000 viewers, or about 5% of the viewership, and the second garnered 211,000 which is also roughly 5% of the general population. Worryingly, only 1.6% of 18-49-year-olds watched the first heat. This improved to 2.5% in the second heat, but it is still lightyears behind A Dal’s golden years. Both weeks, the show was beaten by ‘The Hobbit’ films.
These figures are concerning for Hungary’s Eurovision future, because if MTVA can’t keep the national final going along strong, the foundations to build on for promoting the contest itself crumble further, already a reason for withdrawing in the first place.
Gee, that’s bleak. What’s positive?
The songs are good. Hungary’s selection jury usually does a good job of picking 30 viable entries for the show, and within this list are some gems. Fortunately, this year, most of them seem to be succeeding (It’s fun what happens when the jury is hobbled). Let’s take a look at some of the songs that have been successful in the heats.
Fatal Error - ‘Néma’ (‘Dumb’ - Heat 1 winners – 38/40 Jury, 40/40 Televote (1st))
Fatal Error have returned after last year’s final berth with a song that melds spoken word verses with killer instrumentals and fiery choruses. The song is richer and relies less on a single catch-cry than ‘Kulcs’did, and it’s better for this. The jurors seemed to be having a blast, and the fans at home did too. Given the prizes for A Dal this year, Fatal Error would be a certain festival draw if given the chance.
Nene – ‘Későre jár’ (‘It Is Late’ - Heat 2 Jury winner, 40/40 Jury)
This is the song that makes me the most upset that Hungary’s not participating this year. It’s not a ‘Eurovision song’ by any stretch, but the instrumentation in this is very well arranged, focussing the electronic and percussive elements into the parts of the song that need the impact of each the most. Coupled with Reni Orsovai’s gritty and emotive vocals, ‘Későre jár’ delivers three minutes of enjoyably diverse pop-rock. The jurors didn’t see the need to explain themselves, giving this ‘negyven pont’ and sending it onto the semi-final immediately. For once, I can’t argue a jury call at A Dal. This is a strong favourite to win, but the public’s sentiment is untested.
Gergő Rácz and Reni Orsovai - ‘Mostantól’ (‘From Now On’ – Heat 3 Winners - 38/40 Jury, 40/40 Televote (1st))
This is Reni’s second song in here this year, but it’s a big step away from ‘Későre jár’ and into a dramatically played-up story of relationship despair. For TV drama, it works. The public voted this its favourite song in Heat 3, and the jurors nearly gave it a perfect score. How it stacks up in the semi-finals will be anyone’s guess, but this song’s music video does have 8.8 million YouTube views and the reaction to its success is positive.
Kies – ‘Az egyetlen’ (‘The Only’ – Heat 2 Winners – 35/40 Jury (3rd), 40/40 Televote (1st))
This is the kind of song I wish other Eurovision countries would try a bit more of in their national finals. It is a little repetitive but the band’s charisma and the song’s excellent instrumentation carry it along into a highly enjoyable three minutes of pop-rock. This probably isn’t a viable candidate for the win given the jury score, but it should do well. If they’re reading… “Gratulálunk a Kies Band-nek, kérjük, látogasson el Ausztráliába.”
These are the songs most likely to do well, but honourable mentions from the heats go to Kati Wolf’s ‘Probald meg,’ Tortuga’s ‘Mámor tér 3,’ and Horus x Marcus ft. Bori Fekete’s ‘Tiszavirág.’
You can find the full playlist of this year’s heat performances here.
So that’s how A Dal is carrying on, even as Hungary has carried themselves out of Eurovision. Hopefully they can find a way back soon, this edition of A Dal has songs in it that deserve to be on the stage in Rotterdam. If you’re like me, and enjoy watching what Hungary has to offer, you can watch the A Dal semis and grand final here from 5:35AM AEDT each Sunday morning. Until then… Viszlát, és élvezze a dalokat! (Goodbye and enjoy the songs!)
Found any favourites you will miss seeing on the Eurovision stage? Would you like Hungary to return soon? How should they return, with a national selection or internal selection? Should that national selection be A Dal?
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