Eurovision myths

Every year I get frustrated by comments made about the Eurovision Song Contest and so I thought I’d collect a few together and dispel some myths:

They’re neighbouring countries so of course they vote for each other: Neighbouring countries are as likely to dislike each other as they are to vote for each other, after all, who are they most likely to have invaded over the years?  For many years Greece and Turkey would have never voted for each other (although that is less common now), Armenia and Turkey have hardly been best friends, and Georgia and Russia both being ex-Soviet countries doesn’t mean very much.  It’s more complicated than geography, which I’ll come on to.

Everyone hates the UK:  If they did, why does our music sell so well throughout Europe?  Also, we won in 1997 which is a hell of lot more recent than most countries.  There are 33 countries competing to be in the Eurovision final and we won 18 years ago, which if think that some have won more than once is actually not bad going.  Russia isn’t exactly flavour of the month but they also seem to do OK.

It’s our placing in the contest:  In 2012 we were placed first in the running order and we said it was too early and everyone had forgotten about us by the end.  Last year we were the last to perform and we said, well the problem was that we were too late and everyone had made up their minds and the Netherlands who came shortly before us were so good we looked rubbish in comparison.  You can’t blame the position.  Yes, later songs have generally done better, but an outstanding song trumpets all of that.

So here are some more plausible reasons:

It’s about airplay: Outside of the UK, many countries go round promoting their songs in the run-up to Eurovision, and so by the time they get to the contest itself they’ve heard other country’s songs over and over again.  It also perhaps helps that most countries have to go through the semi-finals as it means that much of Europe has already heard their song and seen it performed on the big stage.  The UK however just doesn’t seem to do its promotion, and the last time I specifically remember us talking about promoting our song it was Katrina and the Waves, and they won!

Many countries share language: This has a bit of a link to the last comment, but when a country shares a language they often listen to each other’s music.  The Scandinavian countries understand each other’s languages so they often hear music from each other’s countries on radio and they also share some TV programmes.  German speaking countries understand each other’s songs, as do French speaking countries and so on.  In fact, the UK can’t criticise this as they have a tendency to vote for Ireland and vice versa for the same reason.  Even these days when most countries sing in English, the tradition of listening to music from countries that share your language, or have a language you understand continues.

Look at minorities:  Neighbouring countries might not vote for each other, but residents of a country whose family hail from another country or who come from a minority group within another might.  After all, I still feel a loyalty to Sweden despite having grown up in the UK (although I’ve been pretty lucky in that Sweden does generally enter good songs) but a good example is how much Germany votes for Turkey, which presumably has a connection with the large Turkish minority in the country.  Whilst I’ve dismissed the “neighbouring countries vote for each other argument” this is actually partly true when it comes to national minorities but it’s far more significant than simple proximity.

We enter rubbish songs: Generally, our entries have been pretty rubbish.  If you enter crap songs, what do you expect to happen?  We’ve assumed that mediocrity with a good singer will do, but actually one big shift in recent years is that most entrants can sing well (it’s very rare you hear a poor singer these days) and so you need more than that to win.  There is definitely a Eurovision type song, but all sorts of things do win, and so whilst some songs that do well commercially may not stand a chance at Eurovision, many songs would.  Perhaps we need a Swedish-style five-week long televised competition as they seem to do pretty well out of it and we like shows like X Factor or The Voice.

Our best writers are going abroad:  Have you noticed how many Eurovision entries are clearly written by British composers? Just look at the captions that appear.  So we can write Eurovision entries that are credible, but we just give them to other countries, perhaps because they take it more seriously and so care more about having someone good to write entries.  In some cases there is a long tradition of British pop or dance writers working abroad, but it’s not as many as there are entries.  Why do we not entice some back home?

We’re all so liberal here in Western Europe:  We like to think we’re all liberal in the UK and some other countries aren’t.  But whilst the UK voted for Conchita Wurst last year, the phone vote went for the writhing sexually provocative female Polish entry, and with Austria third.  It was the jury that tipped the UK in to voting for Austria.  Russia however, that was supposed to be all buttoned up and anti LGBT rights had a public vote that also placed Austria third, it was their jury that stopped them voting for Austria in the end.

But to be honest, whatever happens, do we really enter this to win?  No, we enter because it’s fun, it feels neighbourly and the Eurovision Song Contest is one of the most popular TV programmes in the UK, in Europe and the world as a result. Yes, I’d love us to win some time soon but more than anything (and certainly more than the Olympics) it is the taking part not the winning that counts.

Eurovision Song Contest 2015 – preview

I go slightly Twitter mad when the Eurovision Song Contest is on.  I always liked it, even as a child, I think at that time it was the faint air of European exoticism and it was about the only thing in a year that would make me feel Swedish (there’s many more things now, but that’s another post) but after hiding it for a bit, it’s now becoming sufficiently popular albeit in a camp kitsch type of way, for me to embrace my inner Eurovision geek again.

What this year’s Eurovision entries has made me realise is how spoilt we were last year.  All the talk was of Conchita Wurst, but there were so many potential winners – Netherlands with their country duet, Russia with a catchy song with strangely follicly-conjoined twins that would have done better if they hadn’t just invaded Ukraine (that’s the country not the twins), Sweden with an outstanding ballad performed very well, Iceland with a bit of quirky colourful punky pop, and Spain with Ruth Lorenzo’s dramatic vocals.  In another year any of those could have won.

This year the choice is so much poorer. I’ve come to the conclusion that generally (although they all have off years) that the countries that really get what works at Eurovision are Sweden, Ukraine, Greece, Armenia and Iceland.  Sadly this year, none of them have put in a particularly good entry, and Ukraine have stopped participating. So here’s my top picks (and yes, I have listened to all of the entries at least once):

United Kingdom: OK, here’s my confession.  Yes, I do like the UK entry and it’s a long time since I said that. It’s fun but it’s also performed well and it’s catchy. My main concern is that it might need a lot of people on stage to create the spectacle that the video does and you can only have six on at a time.  Watch it here.

Slovenia: Imaginary instruments, wearing large headphones, quirky voice, catchy song… it might have just enough to do well. If you only hear the song it’s perhaps catchy enough to grab the attention although it takes a while to build, although I also wonder if the oddities actually add something and so a quirky stage set might also help it win.  It’s got a bit of the dance music side of Loreen although not quite at those heights. Air violinist (is there such a thing?)  Watch it here.

Estonia: This was the first song that stood out for me.  It’s a pleasant song that’s got a real story and although pretty dark in its lyrics and even more so in its video, it may be the sort of well written lyrics that the juries will rate. I’d be very happy if this won as it feels like the best song in the contest, but I just don’t think it’ll stand out enough to get even in to the top few as is often the way with songs that are more singer-songwriter duet types.  Watch it here.

Belgium: A bit of catchy dance music with a cute singer who won Belgium’s version of X Factor. This would perform well in the charts if it hadn’t been connected to Eurovision (despite the – to British ears – odd pronounciation of ‘rap’), but older viewers may not be so keen on voting for it but then do they ever anyway?  However, it’s a lot catchier than most of the other songs I’ve picked out and so it should do well and it’s definitely one of my favourites, but how will it come across on a big stage? Watch it here.

Malta:  I’ve picked this despite me not being convinced it’ll get through the semi-finals as I think it’s performed well with incredible vocals and if it wasn’t a Eurovision song it would probably be commercially successful.  It takes a while to build but it’s performed well and by the end it’s a fairly catchy power ballad and it feels as though she’s channeling Ruth Lorenzo which is perhaps no bad thing.  Watch it here.

Russia: Very catchy and a fluffy heartwarming theme about peace and freedom.  It’s also very powerful and dramatic vocals. However, it won’t win as it’s Russia and the theme of the song is exactly what people feel Russia is not at the moment, but on the quality of the song it really should be a challenger.  I always feel a bit sorry for the Russian entry as again they’re good but just won’t win. Watch it here.

Italy: This has amazingly strong vocals and it’s exactly what you expect Italy to enter.  I’ve never liked those popular opera type acts like G4 (it’s amazing how they went from opera to poor security at the Olympics) and Il Divo.  It has the dramatic vocal abilities of Conchita Wurst, which may be what they’re relying on, but it just doesn’t have the backstory that works.  But the video is funnier than you’d expect for this sort of thing, with a singer who seems to think he’s Gok Wan, and if they can pull off the performance on the night, then maybe it’ll be a contender.   Watch it here.

There’s a few tracks that have been highly rated that I really don’t so here’s my thoughts:

Finland:  Why? Why? Why?  Actually, I know why, it’s because it reminds everyone of Lordi.  But Lordi was both heavy metal and with a catchy lyric so could appeal to two different Eurovision demographics.  This is just bad.  It’ll probably win now I’ve said that but it really shouldn’t despite the interesting back story. I can find nothing that redeems it at all.

Norway:  I can sort of see it’s clever, a well sung duet and would perhaps be popular in other circumstances (I’m struggling to think of which) but I just can’t see it.

Iceland:  Quite a nice song and again it’s well sung.  She is a cross between Björk and Lena (German winner from 2010) but it just isn’t catchy enough.

I’ll probably get this all woefully wrong, but this is my take.