For the second year running, I found myself tuning in to watch The Eurovision Song Contest (though not from the beginning like the previous year).
To someone outside Europe, the question is: ‘What is The Eurovision Song Contest?’
Well, The Eurovision Song Contest is the longest-running annual international television song contest. It is held primary among member countries of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU,) since 1956 and celebrated its 60th Anniversary this year. The Competition was based on the existing ‘Sanremo Music Festival’ held in Italy since 1951.
How does it work?
I hear you. Eurovision works whereby each country taking part, submits an original song to be performed on live television and radio and then casts votes for the other countries songs (but not their entry,) to determine the most popular song in the Competition. The Competition has been broadcast every year for the past sixty years and is one of the longest running programmes in the world as well as being one of the most watched non-sporting events in the world. Audience figures have been quoted in the region as anything between 100 million and 600 million internationally. Indeed figures for Europe this year alone was put at 200 million across fifty countries.
Eurovision has also been broadcast outside of Europe to several countries that do not compete, such as the USA, New Zealand and China. Israel that lies outside of Europe has competed for many years, winning the competition three or four times over past forty years.
Another exception was made in 2015, when Australia was invited to compete as a guestt entrant as part of the upcoming 60th Anniversary event. This was followed by EBU announcing in November 2015, that Australia would be effected as a participant, after their success of 2015. The Contest is also broadcast over the Internet via the Eurovision website.
It should be noted winning The Eurovision Song Contest provides a short-term boost to the winning artist’s career but rarely results in any long-term success. Notable exceptions are ABBA (winners in 1974, for Sweden,) Bucks Fizz (winners in 1981 for the UK) and Celine Dion (winner in 1988 for Switzerland), who all launched successful worldwide careers after their wins. British Artists such Cliff Richard, Lulu, Sandie Shaw, Olivia Newton-John, Clodagh Rodgers and Scott Fitzgerald were long established artists prior to their representing the UK, and whose careers carried on many years after taking part. One could argue Sandie Shaw (1967), Brotherhood of Man (1976), and Katrina and the Waves (1997) were all winners that didn’t have enduring success, though Katrina and the Waves enjoyed pop success during the 1980s but not after their Eurovision win.
Ireland holds the record for the highest number of wins – Seven in total.
The voting system
The voting system was changed in 2016 where the votes were split between the professional judges and the popular vote via telephone votes of the television, radio and Internet audience. What was interesting was for the first time, one could see and make comparisons between the votes of the judges and that of the popular (telephone) votes.
Via the professional vote the UK did better than they had done in many years. Australia did amazingly well via both votes but was beaten into second place and at the last minute by Ukraine’s entry 1944. Australia did far better via both votes, whereas the UK received not one point of the popular vote.
What can we learn from this?
Plenty. If you are in the game, be in the game to win. Or least show your best. At one time, Eurovision was a big audience puller for the BBC who screened it and while it stills pulls in a large audience, the figures are not as big as they were in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. Why is this?
There are a number of reasons – the one being a British or rather an English skepticism for anything Europe. Since the UK was taken directly into the EEC (European Economic Communities,) by the then Conservative Government led by then Prime Minister Edward Heath, a battle and healthy dose of skepticism has existed among certain institutions and Government about our membership of the ‘Common Market’ (as it was then referred to by the UK). This is a problem that has always existed and a 1975 Referendum which voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EEC, failed to kill off the ‘Out’ campaign.
As the EEC expanded with more European nations from Eastern Europe joining, closer ties, open borders and the EEC evolving into the European Union (EU,) and the arrival of the Pan-European Currency (The Euro,) resulted in the anti-European rhetoric being rammed up by Conservative politicians – The formation of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). This is a brief history in time, an overall view. The situation is far more complex than my explanation above.
On the Eurovision side of things, if you are going to hire someone, hire an anchor man who takes the whole thing seriously – even with a sense of humour and doesn’t get drunk before the show kicks off. Why the BBC let Terry Wogan loose for more than three decades, has always puzzled me. He has never taken the Contest seriously, has been paid handsomely for his efforts (or rather the lack of,) and has single-handedly undermined the whole of the UK’s participation in the Contest. I for one was glad when he stepped down, which is probably why I started watching the Show again, as I don’t have to listen to his half-drunken, idiotic comments anymore.
The 2016 Contest invited Justin Timberlake as a guest of honour to perform out of competition. With the kind of reach Eurovision now has, I think JT will be the first of big name acts that will be only too willing to participate as guest of Eurovision. The size of the audience and the exposure is just too big to resist. Not to mention a bigger audience (especially in Eastern Europe,) get to see major players/performers form the western music industry.
What can we learn from Eurovision? Plenty. Especially if you are British. The results – or rather the lack of any points from the popular vote sends a clear message that the United Kingdom are not seen as major players in Europe as a whole. We may have one of the biggest music industries on the planet and be just as influential but that means little to the people of Europe as a whole.
This is something of a paradox as the big names in the British music industry are immensely successful across Europe, the World even, and yet, we do so badly when it comes to Eurovision. The answer probably lies in attitude.
We the British from the late ‘70s into ‘80s and beyond stop taking Eurovision seriously. Bucks Fizz, the UK Entry in 1981 won but the song itself was the weakest of all their hit records as their back catalogue proves. Bardot the UK’s entry the following year did very well notching up a top five hit in the UK and seemed as if they were a sure bet to win but sadly that was not the case, as they lost out to a young German folk singer. With the exception of Katrina and the Waves late ‘90s win representing the UK, the history of Eurovision in the UK is depressing to say the least. Being an extension of the Terry Wogan Show didn’t help matters either. This only further undermined Eurovision and the search for someone to represent the UK became something that can only be described as ‘Amateur Night’.
Credible artists like Michael Ball and Sonia showed the powers that be were realising the need to get back to a time when we sent our best to represent the UK.
In order to learn anything from Eurovision one has to shift the focus and attitude. This blends also into the whole debate of Europe that has gone on for more than forty years. To win the game you have to be competitive, you have to send your best to bat for your country. In both Eurovision and the EU, we don’t send our brightest and best but second rate performers and politicians respectively.
The people of the United Kingdom are so badly informed about Europe and the whole EU Project that we very seldom vote practically because as a whole we don’t know what we are voting for.
If we can learn anything else from The Eurovision Song Contest, it is to compete, send our brightest, our best, our seasoned statesmen to represent us and get the best deal for our country by being at the heart of matters, rather than sneering from the sidelines, when we send second-raters who are not up to the job.
- History has overtaken events since I initially drafted and wrote this piece. The Referendum has changed history and (in my view,) not for the better. Despite what the ‘Leave Campaign’ would have us believe, it is not a slam dunk. Parliament still have vote on the outcome of the Referendum. As we are governed by a Parliamentary system of Government, Parliament has the final say. We are not governed nor ruled by referenda. The Government can simply ignore the result and continue on as an active member of the EU, using the Referendum result as a bargaining chip to get a deal that sees us ‘Getting our Country back’ without necessarily having to quit the EU. It could be argued if the above came to pass and the Government got a deal that they feel was in the best interests of the entire UK, it could be subject to a second referendum. Or our current Prime Minister could just implement Article 50 and start the process of our quitting the European Union.