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.