The Eurovision Song Contest. Let’s look at it objectively. It’s probably the world’s largest live light entertainment show. Up to 600 million viewers according to some estimates. And with its being broadcast online since 2000, it additionally has a very large number of people following it in countries where it is not televised. It has given ex-Soviet states a chance to shine on the global stage and certainly contributed towards the Baltic States growing closer to the rest of Europe. It has created stars in the world of music. You know their names.
Let’s look at it from the heart. It’s an opportunity for all those countries who used to go to war with each other to vie for superiority, to do so safely from the pizzazz of a glitzy stage. Games without frontiers, war without tears. It’s a feast for the senses – an overwhelming amount of colour, light, sound, audience, competition – it’s live, it’s exciting, it’s funny, it’s emotional, it’s just a marvellous, wonderful thing.
And although it’s just light entertainment, it deserves to be taken seriously. Not po-faced: that’s not entertainment. Not anorakky: that’s alienating. I simply mean treat it with the same respect you would have for any other Saturday night entertainment show. Don’t deride it. Don’t be ashamed of it. Unfortunately I think the BBC over the years has simply come to the conclusion that it doesn’t know how to deal with it.
Last year could have been a turning point but I fear we’re not going to capitalise on the extra interest it created. Graham Norton was a vast improvement on Terry Wogan. He still made it funny, he still stuck the critical boot in where it was needed; but at the same time he did show that he had done some research, did give relevant background facts about some of the people appearing, without being an anorak about it. We had a pre-selection contest that had been well trailed (with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “People of Britain” broadcasts), conducted over several weeks, eliminating contestants X-Factor/Pop Idol/Strictly/Maria style, sweeping the UK viewers along with it and encouraging, legitimising their enthusiasm for the contest.
By this time last year we were well into the pre-selection period. But what of this year? This year we have only just started watching “So You Think You Can Dance”, and it’s no doubt got a few more weeks to go. Eurovision, that show that only clocks up 600 million viewers, has been sidelined again.
I feel the BBC don’t know whether it is something to be taken jokily, whether it deserves to derision heaped on it, and to mock its followers; or whether they think it has any credibility and should therefore be supported, promoted and financed – not only their contribution as one of the “Big 4” but also financing a big lead up pre-selection series.
They should also take responsibility for our subsequent performance and our result. No more of this blaming Europeans for our disappointing results. How much more assertive and productive to say, “We chose to put forward this song, this singer, it was the wrong choice, we offered the public the wrong options, we didn’t approach the right performers and writers and we didn’t publicise it sufficiently – it’s our fault and it’s up to us to put it right”. How unlike the usual Eurovision moaning, which admittedly came mainly from Terry Wogan, but which the corporation seemed to lap up with glee.
Quite rightly, many Europeans think of the UK as the birthplace of great music. This year they will be thinking Lily Allen, Robbie Williams, The Killers. When we send someone considerably below that level of entertainment value they get annoyed with us. In 2008 Russia sent Dima Bilan. UK sent Andy Abraham. Je reste ma valise. And yes, I know, people will say Lily Allen and Robbie Williams won’t enter because they’ve got “too much to lose”. But surely the same applied to Dima Bilan and Patricia Kaas, and probably at least half a dozen others over the past few years. There’s also “an awful lot to gain”.
Oh and look at the top 5 last year:
That has to put paid to the argument that only the East wins nowadays because “they all vote for each other”. Three of the top five are from the west. In the past few years the winning song has been one from the East that has appealed to voters from the West. Last year it was reversed, a song from the West that appealed to voters from the East. But that appeal has to be subtle. Much as I enjoyed the charms of Javine in 2005, her song was trying to be Turkish. Norway’s winning song this year had an instant appeal, but it wasn’t trying to be anything other than it genuinely was, upbeat, from the heart, honest. Iceland’s highly regarded song that came second was as simple and honest and straightforward as it is possible to be. Me, I couldn’t write a song for toffee, so I plead with you Eurovision songwriters out there, just write a good song. One you can be proud of to stand alone as a good, honest, lovely song. It’s good songs that win and are remembered.
Phew! That’s a lot off my chest. I only say it because I care. I care very much how the UK perform in the Eurovision. I want us to be proud of our entries; to be able to say that we offered the rest of Europe the best we had. Other countries do. We used to.
And I should add that we don’t yet officially know what the BBC propose for this year. They might surprise and delight me. I really hope so. But if it is a megastar it would have been great to have known earlier. The excitement would have been building around Europe too and that could only have been to our advantage.