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XTRA Debate: Why Australia Decides was exactly what SBS needed

Away from radio pop - here comes the diversity!

Australia and radio pop

SBS first entered the Eurovision Song Contest back in 2015. They were invited to participate as a long standing associate member with a passion for the biggest entertainment show in these parts of the world. For their first ever competing entry, the broadcaster chose local star Guy Sebastian to fly their flag. His modern pop entry “Tonight Again” immediately brought them their first ever top five result.

In the years to follow, the idea of modern pop songs seemed to be the key factor for Australia when internally selecting their entries. Dami Im’s ballad may not have been the most logical radio pick, but “Don’t Come Easy” and “We Got Love” by Isaiah Firebrace and Jessica Mauboy definitely were.

Therefore, it is relatively safe to say that ever since their first entry in the Eurovision Song Contest, Australia’s entries can be described as radio pop. That in itself is not a bad word at all, if it weren’t for the fact that Australia’s entries came across as rather safe picks – especially the last two years. It seemed that they, in general were lacking the creativity.

That also started to show in their results. Yes, they still qualified and yes, they still managed to do better than a good set of countries, but televoters didn’t appreciate them anymore. Jessica Mauboy was last with the televoters. Isaiah was second last, with just two points. We looked into the matter of Australia, and others, scoring well with juries back in December, which you can read about in our article here:

Time for a national final

After the misfortunes of 2018, SBS decided it was time for a national final. Eurovision: Australia Decides would be the title and ten acts would line up to battle it out in one big show. That show took place last Saturday.

SBS have outdone themselves. No matter what we think of the song that won, “Zero Gravity” by Kate Miller-Heidke, we must compliment them on the national final. The show contained acts of many, many varieties. From alternative pop/opera by Kate Miller-Heidke to indigenous electronic music by Electric Fields. We had a drag queen like Courtney Act and an amazing young talent like Leea Nanos. From a chart cracker of the 90s, Tania Doko, to the chart crackers of today, Sheppard – they were all there in that national final. None of those acts felt ‘too big to enter a national final’. And that, sadly, is something we’ve heard too often in Europe.

Now, of course, SBS deserve a compliment for their line-up. But the compliment I want to make them is for the winner. It is quite safe to say that “Zero Gravity” would never have been picked as an internally selected entry. The song and the performance are so out there that only a public vote can justify this being sent to Eurovision. The margins of its victory were so immense that one cannot doubt: Australia wanted Kate Miller-Heidke in Tel Aviv. And they’re getting their way.

The courage SBS have shown by putting up ten very different acts in their national final has resulted in a winner that would never win an internal selection. It has shown SBS why a national final was exactly what they needed. It has helped them to break away from the radio pop they’ve been sending – no matter how decent the results were – and steered them in a new direction.

A final say

National finals don’t work for everyone, as we saw back in December as well. But they sure do work for Australia. I hope SBS hold on to this concept, because it’s promising to be a fantastic ride in the upcoming years. Hold on to this diversity and open minds and they will be a force to be reckoned with.

Oliver

I should probably preface my views by stating I’m very ‘pro’ Australia in the contest, welcoming them with open arms back in 2015. Part of it was selfish, knowing that if they did well the BBC/the UK would have to step their game up. I would argue this has been successful. In the event Australia won, there would be a chance the UK would host. Almost in 2016, shame.

Rite of passage

First and foremost, a huge congratulations to SBS and all of the acts that participated in Australia Decides. It genuinely was a fantastic, entertaining and on the whole, well-thought out show.

However, four years on and with three top 10 placings to show for it I think it was about time Australia switched things up. Not because a different selection style would ensure more consistent results (to the contrary, as Nick has referenced!), but to further tie ‘Eurovision’ and ‘Australia’ together. National Finals are a part of the Eurovision process. A rite of passage for any broadcaster who has the intention of refinement or recovery from selection to Eurovision stage. I disagree with Nick in regards to Dami. ‘Pop’ is a bigger spectrum than most take into consideration, something recent chart successes has proven. Miley Cyrus’ ‘Wrecking Ball’, for example.

Nevertheless, looking at Australia’s results, the obvious elephant in the room is that 2018 marked the first time the nation did not enter the top 10. Much like Sweden not qualifying back in Oslo, I suspect this really bruised the broadcaster, even though it was a high record to maintain. In offering a platform for Australian public to indicate the future direction, Australia Decides acted as a means to galvanise the public once more to gain a buzz about the contest.

Over the last four years SBS have established a successful foundation of the wider narrative they would like the nation’s acts to follow. Music and acts reflecting the wider diversity of Australia. It is no coincidence that between 2015-2018 the Australian act has represented different diasporas and voices on stage.

Outrage!

This is exactly why, for me, Electric Fields absolutely should have won the national final. It would have marked the first time an aboriginal dialect is performed on the Eurovision stage. Aside from linguistic representation, the English lyrics were sublime…

You’re the beauty of lunar-lit feathers, like an opal with eight billion edges

Electric Fields, ‘2000 and Whatever’

The duo ooze a refreshing sensibility of encompassing many demographics, yet actively choose not to align themselves with anything. In an interview, the group have outlined their desire not to be placed in a ‘box‘:

Zaachariaha has said we are not an Indigenous band. We are not a queer band. We are not any of these things. Whatever box or word you want to attach to what we do, it doesn’t matter to us because we are just doing and being

Michael Ross, Electric Fields

The group’s resistance to naturally align to a set of characteristics, traits or assumptions is fascinating on a personal level. However, it also would have fed directly into the greater narrative SBS are clearly working towards showcasing on the Eurovision stage.

I’m so glad they did well, but I wanted them to win. I couldn’t help but rage-quit for a few minutes when the results came through. I’m know fans of Sheppard, Courtney Act and the other other acts did the same.

Although no national final aims to create frustration, the passion roused in fans and casual viewers alike is a good thing. It marks a moment where the public is truly behind the process and acts selected. Whether you enjoy it or not, a slight scandal is inherently connected with the contest. It is almost entertaining see the fandom get very strong feelings for #justice.

Pacification

I am under no illusion there is a sector of the fandom that have always remained sceptical about Australia’s participation. It’s sadly not uncommon to see remarks/memes about Australia and a generous jury vote, for example, something we have previously broken down and analysed. Though seemingly unrelated, an internal selection doesn’t help. Unless SBS announce Kylie Minogue or The Veronicas, this degree of indifference can too easily fester into manifestations of resentment. It isn’t fair or okay. There is nothing worse than turning up to a party and feeling unwelcome. A national final was a welcome solution. The timezone difference, usually working against Australia, worked in its favour. Europe had access to an early morning weekend national final. No distractions of multiple screens or mad social media dashes to find out who qualified for what. Amazing!

Keen social media fans would have noticed #Ausdecides became the number one worldwide trend on Twitter, and for good reason. Whimsical jokes were made at the contest, but in an endearing and affectionate manner. The tone was light-hearted, yet with a serious undercurrent of what is at stake. Hosts Myf and Joel were perfect at blending the two.

Conclusion

SBS needed this national final. Superficially, to secure a good result. But also to recalibrate and galvanise a fanbase both on a local and global level. Obviously, we won’t know where they will place on the scoreboard for months. Nevertheless, I think they have absolutely succeeded in the latter.

Do you agree with us? Was Australia Decides a successful national final and has or will it make a wider, long-term impact?

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