Another Eurovision passes, with the inevitable and plaintive squealing in the UK press about how our entry deserved so much more than he got, and how all those other countries hate us now. Of course, the annual inquest into “How could this have happened?” started. Again. The BBC published an article outlining some of the issues. Quite a lot of the points raised in it are perfectly fair, but to put emphasis on one single factor is a mistake, because there are lots of competing and reinforcing factors at play:
- Politics. We can’t hide from the elephant in the room. The unholy mess of the dreaded B word isn’t helping, but it’s not making things much worse either. The idea that the rot set in after the Iraq war is actually a much more plausible one, and the effect seems to be even more pronounced after the financial crisis in 2008. We are certainly viewed with rather more cynicism than we used to be.
- The selection process. Ah yes. The BBC still plugs on gamely in the Light Entertainment mindset, and this year continued its practice of not even putting the selection on its main channel, relegating the selection, auch as it was to BBC2. It’s become a haven for musical theatre performers, jazz hands, and safe, dull songs. Which leads us to…
- The song. It was, let’s be honest, a pretty dull song. I could barely remember it by the time it had finished, never mind by the time to vote. But to be honest, the winner wasn’t that much more memorable. Michael Rice’s vocal performance was perfectly acceptable, but it’s difficult to elevate a terminally dull song. It’s also interesting to note that the winning song has apparently already been a hit in continental Europe, so viewers in some places were already familiar with it.
- The voting. Yes, OF COURSE THE VOTING IS BIASED. But that is not some kind of “everyone hates us” conspiracy. It is simply a consequence of the fact that people like things that sound like things they already know. So, shockingly, Cypriots vote for things that sound a bit Greek, and slavic countries vote for things that sound vaguely Eastern European. Ditto the nordic countries. In the period since 2003, for example, the Irish, who have had a very strong record, haven’t finished higher than 8th (that was Jedward in 2011), and in 8 of the 16 years since then haven’t even made the final. Culturally, we have always attempted to distance ourselves from the “cheesiness” of the continent, and have cast ourselves with a slightly superior air. That hasn’t helped either. We seem to have no tribe to hang out with. We have had surprising allies, however. The coutry who has, over the years, given us most in voting is…France. Who knew, eh? We couldn’t hide, because neither the judges, nor the public vote, gave us anything. There’s the biggest sign. Simply put: everyone thought the song sucked. And they were right.
The Eastern expansion of the EU and of the Eurovision entrants has changed the centre of gravity of Eurovision quite a lot. The contest is also more of a visual spectacle to go with the song now, and we do that very badly. The notions of “what is a good song” have also changed over time, and the fact that our selection process still seems to be mired in the cosy, old-style Radio 2 world of plodding balladry, or insipid half-warmed through pop (the atrocities of Jemini and Scooch aside, because there are arms treaties and Geneva Conventions those things contravened) means that the continent doesn’t like what we do very much any more. It’s possible fashions will change again, but they may not. Frankly, we’re dull.
But it’s the agonised self-examination that makes me laugh, and the pmpous discussions about how culturally meaningful it is. It’s not. for a week or so every May, the continent comes together, for what is essentially a night of camp karaoke. It’s supposed to be fun. And it is. Even the finishing last part.
And wasn’t Madonna just hilarious?