Yes, It’s Another Eurovision Post
So, the scores are in for another year, and once again we finished dead last. Quelle surprise. It would of course be really easy to make this a long screed about our performance as a metaphor for Brexit. To be sure there is something to be said for our international reputation being a bit whiffy at the moment, but that’s not the main reason why we haven’t been doing well in Eurovision for some time. Oddly enough, way back in late May 2008, I wrote something similar to what I’m about to write now, but I’m not going to let that stop me writing it again.
To start the metaphorical ball rolling, let’s talk about our choice of song. Kit Lovelace talked this morning about the kinds of song that do well in Eurovision:
This analysis isn’t particularly having a pop at our choice of song, merely doing something a bit more statistical to point up what seem to be the trends amongst recent things that have performed well, and how our recent entries compare to those patterns (tl;dr: they don’t really conicide much). It’s clear to see that we don’t really send songs to Eurovision that play well with a pan-European audience, and haven’t done for a number of years. Mitch Benn talks about this in a related vein.
There’s lots of great pop music in Britain, and lots of it would play well in Europe, but it’s not the sort of stuff that will get selected to compete, because the people doing the selecting won’t pitch that stuff in. I wouldn’t mind if Mitch did something, or Bill Bailey, as they’d at least get the point.
As ever, this year our entry wasn’t a terrible song on its own terms (not to my taste, for sure), but not right for the competition. And again out artist, James Newman, was cut adrift. The staging was dull, and there he was, on stage, mafted in his big ol’ jacket, knowing that he wasn’t going to feel the benefit when he got outside. He seems a decent guy, and he clearly has songwriting chops, but why he got this gig with this song is still a puzzle to me.
We do it every year, and part of it is the feeling to me that, at heart this is still basically just a branch of Light Entertainment, so we send something safe that your Auntie Madge can sit in front of and coo that the singer looks like a nice boy. It’s “creativity” by committee. It doesn’t do the performer any favours in the end, especially given what we saw earlier about things that have performed well in recent years. Some of the songs that turn up in the contest have a profile in Europe before the contest happens, because of early releases and airplay, while this year I didn’t even hear a clip of our entry until the first semi-final. The first time I heard it all the way through was in the final itself, and I can barely remember it even now.
Even the Germans, who did almost a badly as we did, didn’t play safe. Alright, it looked and sounded like a Cbeebies song, but at least it revelled in its own silliness. Actually, come to think of it, if we’d sent this we may have actually done a lot better:
We also really need to talk about Amanda Holden. Whoever thought this was a genius move really needs their head examining.
What makes this all the more annoying is that, during the show, there were any number of clip montages played, featuring footage from past competitions. A very prominent feature of those clips was Katie Boyle, who hosted the competition four times, being the effortless multi-lingual antithesis of Holden’s hideous feathery train-wreck jabbering. I have opinions about Amanda Holden, and nearly all of them (apart from her role in the ever wonderful The Grimleys) are not hugely favourable, but this not really the place for them, except to say that she is the textbook example of a void at the heart of mainstream British popular culture right now. This is the picture of ourselves we choose to show to the world: plastic, inane and revelling in her own lack of a clue. That’s not self-deprecating, it’s performative, lobotomised stupidity.
While we’re here, we also need to talk about voting. Every year, once the results come in, there’s an endless parade of people wailing that the dastardly foreigns don’t like us. And really it’s not like that at all. There’s a decent tranche of published academic activity about this stuff (1) that demonstrates that people vote for their choices for lots of reasons, some of which make some kind of sense, some of which don’t, to anyone else. But here’s a shock: people who are culturally cognate, tend to like similar things, and recognise and prefer things that are similar. So yes, expect Cyprus and Greece to give each other lots of points, and for lots of the Eastern European nations to like each other’s cadences and presentation. Some of our current isolationism doesn’t help there, in the most general of terms. The thing you can’t escape from is that you can’t really win Eurovision without broad buy-in. So last night, the songs that did well, like Italy, Lithuania, Iceland and Malta all got a broad spread of votes from everywhere. More importantly, things that made the left half of the scoreboard, like the Ukraine, were positively and joyfully a bit unhinged, and all the better for it, which meant that some people, wherever they were from, liked them.
Eurovision is a party. A big, camp, silly, funny fancy dress party. The kind of party you turn up to, dressed in something daring, with some tunes and a bottle of something good, and laugh along with your friends, wherever they’re from (2). Those who actually watch and enjoy it totally get it. But every year now, in contrast, the song we send is the equivalent of showing up in a nylon anorak, with a bottle of QC sherry and a Vera Lynn record. This was inevitably followed by lots of the angsty usual suspects banging about if it weren’t for us we’d all be singing in German or something, simultaneously cry-wanking how the “foreigns” all hate us. Can’t imagine why.
Actually, it was definitely worth it, just to imagine the developing shade of virulent puce Harwood’s face doubtless turned as the night wore on.
But in the end none of it is really that important. Last night’s show was nice to have back, and it was the best one for years. So, balls to the naysayers! It was great fun, and the winner was brilliant, so there!
(1) There are a number of analyses of voting patterns in Eurpovision Song contests, of which here are just a couple. Basically, things are, as you’d expect, quite complex. People cast their votes for many reasons. Who knew, eh?
- Yair G. (2019), Douze point: Eurovisions and Euro-Divisions in the Eurovision Song Contest — Review of two decades of research, European Journal of Cultural Studies. 2019;22(5–6):pp1013–1029. doi:10.1177/1367549418776562
- Stockemer D, Blais A, Kostelka F, Chhim C. (2018), Voting in the Eurovision Song Contest, Politics. 2018;38(4):428–442. doi:10.1177/0263395717737887
(2) Or maybe something a bit extra if you’re Italian, judging by last night, though he denies it.