Tonight sees the 2014 Eurovision Song Contest beamed out around the world to see a collection of singers and embarrassing performers strut their stuff to the television voters of Europe.
The Eurovision Song Contest originated in the 1950’s as a way to try to bring Europe together and in that way, with the exception of the European Football Championships, it’s probably the most succesful way of doing this and this has the benefit of no riots or street fighting as can occur with football.
Whilst much of Europe takes the contest to various levels of seriousness, in the U.K. it is generally seen as a comedic and often bland farce. This is primarily down to the fact that few European countries vote for our entries even when they are good and that whereas other nations put forward their best talent, we opt to forgo big names which in the last 10 years could have included Kylie, Blur, Oasis, Take That or in my opinion the awful James Blunt and Adele and instead go for those big names Andy Abraham and Jemini. Whether we take it so lightly because the rest of Europe seemingly hates us or they hate us because of our entries is all rather a chicken and the egg situation.
Despite the U.K. not having done anything in the contest since its last win in 1997, we are still one of the most successful countries with several wins until the voting practices were changed and more especially since the entry of former Communist nations. Previously, the voting was done by a panel of experts from each nation but since the late 70’s the whole event was opened up to telephone voting.
Eurovision is operated by the European Broadcasting Union which is primarily financed and operated by the BBC and the state broadcasters of Germany, France, Spain and latterly Italy. By notion of their financial support the big players gain automatic entry to the Finals though have had only one winner between them in the 21st Century. All the other European counties as well as some north African and middle-east nations have to qualify (yes it’s hard to believe that there are worst acts that don’t make it).
Originally songs could only be sung in the language of its country but for the last 20 years or so this ruling has been dropped so that now most songs are in English. You might think I might like this but actually I really don’t. One of the joys, if that is the right word, of Eurovision is to see other nations cultures and languages but instead we get 20 countries singing in a uniquely bland English which means that if you’re looking for good music then you won’t find much here. In order to attract votes from across Europe, the lyrics are as simple as possible. Maybe that is why it has something of a joke status in the U.K.
Most of the music seems to be powerballads, awful dance music, Europop with just the occasional quirky bit of ethnic music. The obvious exception to this was the Finnish group Lordi who smashed all the rules in 2006 to easily win the competition. Looking like a cross between Vikings and Klingons, their extreme hard-rock was everything that Eurovision isn’t and so won easily. Sadly though nothing similar has happened since and so instead we spend the night laughing and joking at the entries, including own of course, and wondering why we didn’t keep our promise of never watching it again from last year. Sometimes there will be unusual acts like dancing Siberian Grandmothers or cross-dressers that try to get votes seemingly by cuteness or shock-value but without actually being able to sing a note.
No country can vote for itself and the one that wins then gets to host the next event. This can be very expensive and several times smaller nations have opted out of this normally leaving the U.K. to host it. Ireland is the most successful nation in Eurovision and went through a particularly strong period several years ago when it seemed to win all the time. This was stopped by a particularly awful Irish entry, the rumour being that the Irish State Broadcaster couldn’t afford to host the event again and so picked an entry that obviously couldn’t win.
All the songs are performed in the first half the show with a 20 minute recap as the votes are counted. Then the rather long-winded process of tallying the votes begins. Eurovision is full of quirks in it and when all the countries vote they have a national presenter who gives the scores. For some reason the French ones totally refuse to speak any form of English. Another annoying but sometimes hilarious feature of Eurovision is that these presenters only have to give the names of the three top nations that their country voted for. This should take about 30 seconds but for some reason various presenters for some reason think they are hugely talented and making jokes which no-one else seems to care about, after all we barely care about the scores. It’s all rather like when the weather or traffic presenter on the tv or radio suddenly decides they are a big star and go off-topic except this time it is a woman from Azerbaijan who thinks that 300 million viewers actually care what she is saying let alone love her as if she is Beyoncé or Cheryl Cole. Just give your scores and go away, that’s my opinion anyway.
In recent years there has been much scandal about political voting practices wherein for reasons totally unknown to me, countries always seem to vote for certain other nations no matter how bad the songs are. So Britain, Ireland, Malta and sometimes Israel will seemingly vote for each other. Scandinavian states favour each others songs, France benefits from French-speaking countries, Germany from those few German nations but bizarrely the former Communist nations often not just vote for each other but for Russia too, this despite the fact that most spent 45 years trying to escape from Russian rule and that there was a bloody war between the states of the former Yugoslavia.
The fact seems to be that the U.K. France or Spain could have the best song in the world but if there is a really bland song by a pretty face from Croatia then it will win every time. Despite the chumminess of the ex-soviet block, international politics does have an effect on voting which is another reason why Britain and France sometimes do so badly. It’s been reported this year that the Ukranian singer was loudly cheered whilst the Russian entry was severely booed. Having invaded Ukraine it would make sense that the East European States would definitely not vote for Russia but knowing them, they are just as likely to vote for them. Either way, look our for Russian tanks on the streets of Copenhagen under the pretence of safeguarding their citizens!
Despite all this for some reason the U.K. has finally taken this camp and bland singing combined with hostile voting to heart with Eurovision parties now being held where people invite their friends round and make an evening of it. Even if the music is bad, being held in huge arenas, no expense is spared with pyrotechnics or often bizarre background dancers or artists which often seem to have nothing to do with the song.
Whatever happens, it’s guaranteed the U.K. won’t win and my wife and I will spend several hours both laughing at and criticising the whole event before deciding that maybe Portugal might have deserved to win, Lithuania might have done better singing in their own language and what were the people of Moldova thinking with their selection. People in Britain will think that our entry wasn’t brilliant but by far not the worst so how did we lose to a cross-dressing, animal juggling, scantily dressed dwarf Slovakian boy scout singing a bad 70’s power ballad.