And so the fervid ranting tabloid backlash after Saturday materialised yesterday, exactly as expected. The usual suspects were roped in, of course, to condemn and bemoan our involvement in Eurovision as a hideously irrelevant waste of time. Well, Eurovision’s always been like that: that’s where most of the fun lies. The songs, while entertainment in themselves, can sometimes pale in comparison to the fun of the voting. This year was not an exception. Those currently having an aneurysm about it do, however, have one point: the dynamics of Eurovision have changed almost beyond recognition in the last decade.
Firstly, the political and social complexion of Europe is now vastly different to the way it was a generation ago. The east is no longer a (poor) joke. Lots of the old Soviet republics now sit at the “Europe” table. And yes, as a result there’s an awful lot of block voting. Why then isn’t it as widespread amongst the West European nations? There are small Scandinavian pockets where Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland and Denmark can be relied upon to be generous and do some mutual backscratching with each other’s entries. And of course one always expects a mutual points exchange between Greece and Cyrus for example. Are we upset because we are, especially since 2003 and Iraq, pretty much entirely friendless on the continent? No-one is willing to sit in a block with us. It’s true, Britain is the Billy-no-mates of Europe and we don’t like it.
On a related point, it’s not much of a surprise that near neighbours will vote for each other’s sings. The now-quoted example of the Serbs/Bosnians/Croats etc exchanging votes is, to me at least, only natural, especially when you hear most of the songs. Slavic music is different in character in many ways to that of the west of the continent, with different cadences, traditions and structures. It doesn’t surprise me that audiences will go with what they know and understand.
And then there are our songs. Poor Andy Abraham. He did indeed, as Wogan said, give a great performance. But it couldn’t disguise the horrible truth: the song was dull beyond belief. It wasn’t even bad, just so appallingly unmemorable that even now, as I write, three days after the competition, I’m struggling to remember a single bar. Conversely, as awful as the Spanish entry may have been this year, I can certainly remember it. It was difficult to forget!. It was also responsible for Wogan’s best line of the evening this year, “God, even Franco couldn’t help this one” The UK’s trouble can be summed up simply thus: we treat Eurovision not as music, but as Light Entertainment. As long as we keep doing that, it’s hopeless.
Each year, we roll the choice out to a prime-time Saturday audience. This is a guarantee that the blandest, least offensive, granny-friendly entry will make its white-bread way to the contest. Our inability to realise that this simply insufficient to guarantee any attention at all is yet to permeate many brains here. Lots of countries now realise that they need to try something different, to go out on a wing if they want to have a hope. Or, like the Irish, they perhaps realise they don’t have a hope and just want to take the piss. Dustin the Turkey really was inspired for just that reason because, while being very funny, it cut away at the ludicrous and bloated underbelly of the whole deranged circus.
So, what do we do? Pulling out is not really an option, though the Italians don’t bother. We would just look like a petulant kid throwing its toys out of the pram. Can we keep doing what we are now? We could, I suppose, but it would be utterly futile, not to mention repetitive. As far as I can see we have two viable options for our involvement:
- Try to enter something cutting edge and do it with a heavyweight. The Russians used probably their most currently successful performer this year and it worked. Not just that, but cut the dull MOR slop we usually believe will do well. There were rumours that Morrissey was on the brink of having a pop last year. What happened? And for God’s sake give the artist something decent to sing. Go for something bit more cutting edge and let a different audience choose the song. Does anyone really think an audience under 30 would have gone for our entry this year? Nope, me neither.
- The second course is to realise that it doesn’t matter what we do and, accordingly, take the piss out of ourselves, entering songs like Dustin the Turkey. Perhaps they should have just gone the whole hog and entered My Lovely Horse (and on video). As for us, a change of direction can’t be any worse than we do now and the joke wouldn’t be on us. Perhaps that might be the most effective form of protest. It almost seems plausible that that is precisely what Spain did this year even though, unlike Wogan, I actually liked it.
I still thought the French song was the best though: a little bit Beach Boys, a little bit 80’s electropop, a little bit Air on happy pills. I liked it so much I actually bought it!