Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Why can't the English...win Eurovision?

A while ago a colleague of mine posed the question to me:

The UK has given us so many great bands and artists. So how come they hardly ever win Eurovision?

It's a fair question. This year marks the 57th year of Eurovision's existence and the UK have participated in all but two contests in that time. They have won 5 times, come last three times, and first runner up 15 times. Even Ireland has won it more often, with 7 wins to their credit.

I think there are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, Eurovision has always had a culture of kitsch surrounding it. It has been more about bad fashion and cheesy pop songs designed to appeal to a mass audience. In the eyes of some critics, it tends to be regarded as kind of cultural freak-show; a train-wreck of a contest that showcases the best and worst of the music the EU member states have to offer. As such, the British musical aristocracy would consider appearing in Eurovision as a sellout.

It's also regarded in some circles as a "one-hit wonder". The only winning act to ever go on to massive international success was ABBA. Mind you, a number of other acts have made a small mark on the world since their wins, such as Bucks Fizz and Celine Dion. Some of Britain's winners have found that their entrants have had their careers take a nosedive after appearing in it. Consider this: what happened to Lulu after she performed in 1969? Others, like Cliff Richard survived, but the odds of lasting success after entering Eurovision are not in the artists favour.

Since the year 2000, Britain has been one of the "Big Four" Eurovision entrants. This means that, along with Germany, France and Spain (and now Italy, making it the "Big Five" in 2013), because they contribute the most money to the European Broadcasting Union, they now go into the finals without having to contend in other rounds, potentially getting knocked out. They're assured a place in the grand final automatically, so there's no contest for them and as such they can treat it with contempt. They can submit any entry they want and it goes in untried and untested.

The contest has become very political now, especially since the fall of the Soviet bloc. There are a lot of neighbouring countries that are less than friendly with each other, and as member states cannot vote for their own entry, they can deliberately vote against a neighbour. Plus, a lot of songs sung in language have been political statements, thus deterring some voters altogether. Smaller countries in the former Soviet bloc have found that they are struggling financially since the fall of Communism, and a win in Eurovision would be highly sought after. This would bring in much needed foreign investment and tourism, as the winner has the honour of staging the context the following year. England has no real need for such incentives, and as such appear to not put their best acts forward.

With the digital economy in full swing and the Internet making the world more connected, British bands get plenty of coverage all over the planet, and as such they have no real need to be put in front of a massive TV audience guaranteed with Eurovision. Recent UK entrants all appear to be former pop stars who still have some recognisable essence about them, and as such the British Eurovision delegation may think that swings the odds in their favour. Although, last year Engelbert Humperdinck didn't fare very well at all. This year they have cast Bonnie Tyler in the role of representing the UK: here's hoping they choose a better song for her than last years'cowpat of a song...

For a number of years now, Eurovision has been broadcast in Australia on SBS. This year it will broadcast the two semi finals and the grand final on the weekend of the 17-19th of May 2013, live from Maimo, Sweden. 

I'm not much of a fan of some of the music presented and I do think it is a bit daggy but, as far as train wrecks go, at least this one is very interesting.

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