I am writing this on the day after the 2012 Eurovision Song Contest, which was held in Baku, Azerbaijan. Sweden won it, and the UK entry, sung by Engelbert Humperdinck, came last but one (25th out of 26). Interestingly, Norway got the ultimate wooden spoon, and earlier on the same evening, England beat them 1-0 in a friendly football game, in what was Roy Hodgson’s first outing as manager. But I digress.
I used to enjoy Eurovision. Many of the songs left much to be desired musically, but it was always an enjoyable evening, and the voting was largely done on merit. All that changed a few years ago, which seemed to coincide with the introduction of the ‘new’ countries from Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia to the contest. Voting by cartels became commonplace, with neighbours and political allies voting for each other. The contest started being hosted in such unlikely locations as Baku. And in so doing, the definition of Europe got stretched to include such obviously Asian countries as Azerbaijan.
You only have to look at the songs that have won the contest in the past to see that the criteria for success have changed. Would Abba win now with ‘Waterloo’, or even Katrina & The Waves (who won as recently as 1997) with ‘Love Shine a Light’? I think not. This year, the UK’s song, sung impressively by that accomplished veteran performer, Engelbert Humperdinck, ‘Love Will Set You Free’, failed dismally, getting only 12 points. So what do you need to stand a chance? According to one of my students (@tlittleford on Twitter), what you need is to have a ‘Europop track that can be played in clubs’. Well, I feel rather like a high court judge when I say ‘what’s a Europop track?’, but I get the general idea – something that would have been played in discos in my younger days, perhaps? So, if this is generally acknowledged now, why was our entry so obviously inappropriate? And why put Engelbert through such an embarrassing ordeal? It has also been pointed out to me that we have tried the quirky pop numbers before, and they have done badly too. So is it just that we can’t win (literally)?
The ultimate insult is the amount the BBC spends on the contest. In 2008 it was £173000, and is probably more now. I think that we have to seriously consider withdrawing this funding. If we really still want to take part, let’s go into the semi-finals. That will at least eliminate a really bad (or simply inappropriate) entry. And let’s use the money for something more worthwhile!