I know, it’s Tuesday and it’s a bit late, but I thought I’d just look back to the weekend and ruminate on the events in Azerbaijan now that the Eurovision circus has blown in, then back out of town again.
Poor old Eng. Once again we found ourselves (almost) as pointless and friendless as we have done in previous years. On Sunday morning the inevitable inquests began. But this year they were noticeably muted. Why? Perhaps we knew that the outcome in Baku wasn’t that much of a surprise, for several reasons. First, fielding a 76 year old was always a risky strategy, even one with a long career and a big fan base. I suspect that that latter reason was something of a post hoc rationalisation for the choice, and was clutching at straws a bit. The song itself was a fairly muted affair, as was the stage direction: unfussy, black, understated. Perhaps not the way to go given that we were first on, a veritable kiss of death at the best of times. However, the performance itself was fine. He didn’t risk the big note across the key change that turns up on the recording, but he still did a creditable job: a proper trooper. And there were some other, more memorable moments: Bjork’s mental Albanian cousin; Sweden’s Claudia Winkleman-alike belting out Europop while trying to dance like circa-1978 Kate Bush, not to mention the eternal car crash that is Jedward (nuff said) dressed like aliens from the Smash adverts. Still, by the end of the evening Spain, Greece and even Italy could all breathe a collective sigh of relief that next years’ show wouldn’t be heading their way.
Then of course, there’s the voting. Once again there were the predictable grumbles about bloc voting. Perhaps there was, and some of it might be political. The real reasons for voting patterns are much more prosaic: audiences in countries vote for the music that’s most familiar to them. Slavic audiences vote for things that are recognisably Slavic; so do Hellenic audiences. And Scandinavian ones. And, if we would only admit it, Western Europe. Look at the votes we give the Irish year after year, and the Irish give us some too. But we’re isolated in relative terms, lacking these large families of similar countries and cultures to group around. Of course we’re going to lose out there. But this hasn’t stopped the Eurovision winner’s list looking very varied over the last 15 years (the last time the UK actually won it), when critics claim the block vote has been most prevalent. In the end, the song that wins is usually the one that most people like, much like Sweden’s this year: a pre-show favourite.
So, we have to ask: why does the UK do so badly? I think it’s primarily for two reasons, both related to each other. The first is concerned with our relative cultural isolation within Europe. Whether we like it or not, we are in many ways, on the periphery of the European project. In many ways this has been by choice. We have always tried to put distance between ourselves and the more enthusiastic members of the European family.
Just a single generation ago countries like Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania were part of the old Soviet Union. Serbia and Bosnia were still part of a Yugoslavia behind the Iron Curtain. Europe looked very different. Many of these countries emerged into the post-Communist world with blinking and uncertain eyes, in some cases in highly traumatic and tragic circumstances. They pushed to become members of this European family, and now enjoy the rituals that families enjoy. Eurovision is one of those rituals: a communal popular gathering of the family of Europe. Taking part is a big deal, and for that reason it is taken seriously by many of these nations. because it [European-ness] has become an important part of their national identity and psyche.
And then, secondly, there’s us (the UK), where Eurovision is largely seen as a camp, slight joke. Our attitude to the competition is perhaps noted by some of our European friends and our entries are treated in a commensurate way. We send entries that sit firmly in the safe, Light Entertainment end of the spectrum and try to second guess what it is the continent wants, instead of just choosing something peculiarly British that we just, unironically, like. Just think of Jemini or Scooch if you doubt that for a moment. Even our TV and radio commentaries, as professional as they are, are laced with a peculiar whiff of irony and a sense that we’re laughing behind our collective hands at the whole endeavour. No wonder no one wants to vote for us.
Still, off to Stockholm next year: let’s see what we put forward for consideration next time…