The ‘Eurovision Song Contest’. Three words that for over 60 years has generally kept the same meaning. A group of songs from across the continent perform, then a group of people vote on it, a country wins, the cycle continues. However, does the competitive component of the event undermine the purpose?
Contest or competition?
First and foremost, there is a nuance in this argument. I don’t mean Eurovision should be abandoned, nor that a ‘contest’ should be removed from the title. Instead, I am questioning the competitive element of the contest. In fact, if you look up the song contest in the OED you get the following definition:
A televised competition for popular songs performed by artists representing different European nations, organised annually since 1956 by the member organisations of the European Broadcasting Union.‘Eurovision Song Contest’, Oxford English Dictionary
Quite obviously, this is an abbreviated definition. However, the use of the word ‘competition’ is revealing. Someone will win, by default everyone else will technically lose. Yet almost any act you speak to will make clear they just want to do the best performance possible, regardless of score or placing. Of course, Eurovision is supposed to be a friendly event. Nevertheless, should the focus of the event really be about who wins?
The post-2016 voting sequence places a lot of drama and tension on the last 10-15mins of the show. Drama, tension, excitement. Great emotions to feel when watching votes pile in. But is that really what the Eurovision Song Contest is about?
There is nothing wrong with friendly competition. However, like many things, there is a very thin veil between friendly competition and the undercurrent of something real. A set of points from anyone to anywhere will almost guarantee someone, somewhere suggesting the contest ‘is all political’. It is a flippant comment that without the context of the act or songs success usually is unfounded. Nevertheless, small comments like this indicate more than just a misguided set of words but instead a degree of animosity.
Ironically, the aim of the contest to promote and advocate peace throughout the continent is somewhat undermined by residual bitterness of not qualifying or coming last on a scoreboard. Yet, by removing the voting sequence or points altogether goes against what the Eurovision Song Contest is known for. A competition can, and in some cases does construct a tribalistic sensibility. As I’ve previously suggested politics inevitably comes into everything, even participation. There are still ongoing conflicts or micro-aggressions across current and previous participating Eurovision nations. For one nation todo better than country X can easily slip from a friendly competition to something more sinister.
Friendly competition needs to be managed.
Friend of a friend of a friend (ad infinitum)
Yesterday at the London Eurovision Party it was evident the camaraderie formed between the acts. Genuine friendships that are not just for the sake of the cameras or good PR. These friendships are real, between other acts, delegations, organisers, press and of course the fandom at large. An appreciation of artistry and at the very least, a basic support network of solidarity for the madness that is the Eurovision bubble.
Rehearsals and press events act as shared compulsory experience where the acts have to be ‘on’. The focus is primarily on finding the camera, perfecting any choreo and speaking to the media. However pre-parties like LEP or Eurovision in Concert offer a platform for representatives to enjoy one another’s company. The final performance was around 11pm, yet a large majority of the acts stayed in the venue backstage. Some for an hour, others until the venue closed. Far from worrying about what country is the biggest competition to the trophy, the acts were enjoying each others company. Conversations, laughter and sing-a-longs… Emulating the fans in the main room.
However, how much ‘friendship’ is shown on screen for the casual viewer? Eurovision is ultimately a tv show and therefore has a tight set of schedules. It would be impossible to broadcast every connection made and the show would be far too long.
Social media has had a large part to play in smoothing out the edges of the potential pitfalls of a competition-based contest. Michael Rice and Sarah McTernan’s regular joint live streams are wholesome content. Perhaps the new voting system will reduce the competitive-edge?
What do other members of the team think?
Nick: Losing identity
Oliver has rightfully pointed out the friendly character of the Eurovision Song Contest. Seeing all these acts, who are set to represent their country at the contest in Tel Aviv in Amsterdam and London shows us that they still feel music is supposed to be a friendly environment to come together. These artists are there to showcase their own music or, in some cases like Tulia this year, a distinct musical character of their country.
However, a key element of the Eurovision Song Contest is the word ‘contest’. Looking at concert registrations all around the world, like for example the ABU TV Song Festival, there’s simply less interest for it. Interestingly, the Dutch word for the Eurovision Song Contest is “Eurovisiesongfestival”. The competition element in the title is gone from the Dutch translation, dating back to the early days of the show where the central point was (and perhaps it still is) to unite Europe after the horrors of World War II.
The interest in the contest is mainly there because we need to discuss who we like best and who we don’t like. Part of the great aftermath of the contest is to speak about who was overrated and who was underrated. Losing that would make Eurovision lose a core element of its popularity.
The unique side of the Eurovision Song Contest is that we have a friendly competition. A competition where the acts cheer for each other and don’t need fouls to get to the top. And that is why I love it.
Aivis: Oliver, don’t touch my fire!
Oliver and Nick both make some valid points. Both point out that the artists express deep friendships. This year, seeing Australia’s Kate comment on Srbuk’s Instagram on gravity hating us really made me smile.
However, the Eurovision parties highlight the multilayered fabulousness of the contest, it shows that the original concept of Eurovision is achieving its goal – it brings together nations across Europe (and Australia) together, having fun whilst showing that despite all our differences, we are all the same.
This is a perfect illustration that we have to experience difference for us to realise just how alike we are. Eurovision provides that so well – and it makes one night (or three) a year the climax of it all. When we get to compete against our friends, we grow and we improve (psychologists agree with me, peepz). We come together and have fun competing- and that is more important than anything else.
The fact that we award songs and take it competitively, does not mean that we are not bringing ourselves closer together. In fact, it shows that we are able to appreciate the differences in style and music, and that we remove our prejudices against countries. We take pride in good results, and we are happy that songs that we like – as a continent – can take the crown! I don’t think we would have the same effect if we simply watched 43 songs performed, all for nothing.
In my opinion, the best example of contest bringing us together dates back to 2009. Despite political conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, there were people in Azerbaijan that loved the Armenian song and voted for it. Despite the consequences, it truly highlighted that no matter what, Eurovision brings us together and makes us appreciate one another.
In the dark a flame is burning – I want it to enlighten the continent and bring us together. A little bit of friendly competition just makes it better.
What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comments or on social media @ESCXTRA!