The Folly of Eurovision

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!


One thought on “The Folly of Eurovision”

  1. Good comments although I disagree with a few points. Firstly I don’t accept the political voting is as dominate as it was. It can’t be for Sweden to have won this weekend (Germany two years ago, Norway three years ago.) It isn’t as simple as Eastern countries voting for themselves. Also, if you look at the songs what have won in recent years they have all been good. While not to everyone’s taste, out of all the entries they were the better ones. I really liked Running Scared from last year and love Fairytale from 2009.

    I don’t think you can look back at winners from decades ago and say the criteria for winning has changed. Those songs were of a time. Music taste changes, and so no Waterloo probably wouldn’t win if it was entered now. Just look at the Top 10 every week across Europe, the style of music now is very different from that of the 90s, 80s, and certainly the 70s.

    I agree Engelburt was a mistake, but I suspect he was chosen for two reasons. 1) A ballad won in 2011 and 2) he was all the BBC could get! Unfortunately, the BBC can never seem to persuade a current star to perform our entry these days.

    I also disagree that we always do badly. In 2011 we came 11th with a good pop track that was badly staged. In 2009, we came 5th! So we could win if we get everything right. A good song that goes down well in Europe, a personality that people like, and a staging that makes the song stand out on the night.

    One point I agree on is the amount of money we pump into it. We should reduce it next year and go through the semi-final process. I actually think getting automatic entry into the final acts against us. Eastern Europe probably see it as unfair and it’s just Britain thinking they are better than everyone else.

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