Editorials & Opinion

UK media say “Europeans have no taste” in Eurovision fall-out

Nathan Waddell and Oliver Lewis look at the difficulty the British media has in its communication about the Eurovision Song Contest

This editorial is written together by Nathan Waddell and Oliver Lewis.

To understand why the United Kingdom does not do well at Eurovision, we must look at the dialogue created by the British media about the contest. The clip below is an excerpt from weekday morning magazine television programme Lorraine, broadcast on ITV. It is presented by self-confessed Eurovision lover Lorraine Kelly. The clip perfectly summarises the issues faced by the UK surrounding the Eurovision Song Contest. Joined by ‘showbiz reporter’ for The Sun, Dan Wooton (originally born in New Zealand), the pair obnoxiously tear the contest to shreds and say “Europeans have no taste” in describing why the UK came last in 2019.

We would say enjoy the following clip, but you won’t:

“What kind of stars have North Macedonia ever produced?” Well… the winner with the professional juries to be exact…

It says a lot that the magazine show suggested that North Macedonia as a country which has never produced a star when they literally won the jury vote in Saturday night’s Grand Final.

In one sense, the question of leaving/remaining in the contest is not novel. It is not exclusive to the UK either. After any perceived failure – it is only natural to consider whether it is worth carrying on with something or cut loose while you can. In fact, we know that this annual debate occurs across the continent and beyond, being a reason several countries have withdrew in the past. However, any reader who has the slightest awareness of UK political psychodrama would know that binary questions can and are often used as a means to mask the nuances and complications of a complex issue.

Personally, Oliver thinks questioning of our participation in the contest is somewhat valid, providing it is logical, objective and reason based.

However, Wooton points out that the contest pulls in a huge audience – more on that later – but it is also a low-cost production for the BBC.

Comparatively, the funding used for the contest is cheap TV for the BBC. Eurovision is often described as the ‘Olympics for singers’. Well, this analogy is apt. Much like the sporting event, the host country ends up paying for the bulk of the contest. For Eurovision, non-hosting countries only need to pay for a participation fee, staging, delegation costs etc in exchange for 9 or so hours of television broadcasting mostly arranged by an external broadcaster.

Linguistic choice

As someone who specialises in literary analysis, Oliver can’t help but look a little more closely at the word choice, meaning and wider implications. The dialogue between the two is fascinating and we think this encapsulates where this ‘debate’ went wrong… on many levels. The premise of the argument setting up the debate is essentially ‘the UK came last, should we pull out’? However, very little attention is actually spent discussing the UK: Michael Rice, “Bigger Than Us”, the UK results as a whole, selection process etc.

Early in the feature, Michael Rice’s performance is described as ‘fine’. Really? Is that it? If the premise of the debate is that the UK was somehow robbed or disadvantaged or ‘hated’ (we’ll get to that later), you would kind of expect a slightly more emphatic and passionate case for why that is the case. ‘Fine‘ does not imbue any confidence or energy towards success. Music is subjective – but acts who storm the charts, break records and find international success are not ‘fine’. Whatever your personal thoughts on Madonna’s performance on Saturday, her musical and cultural legacy is not just ‘fine’. The word ‘fine’ also is frankly an insult to Michael, who has an exceptional voice and should be rightly commended for his vocal capacity.

There is a suggestion that ‘when people heard (Michael’s) song’ they thought it was ‘alright’. I’m pretty sure that like every act in the final, Michael performed for 3 minutes in the final. Knowingly or unknowingly, this statement reveals the problems with our entry this year. In a year of Michela, KEiiNO and Hatari, Michael’s performance did not stand out. Again, the use of the word ‘alright’ speaks volumes.

At the end of the day, viewers vote for their favourites and whilst you may be ‘liked’ by the public, ‘like’ does not equal a paid-for vote. Michael could have been everyone’s fifth, eighth or even eleventh favourite – but if you’re only going to vote for a certain few countries, how many would pick up the phone to vote for the United Kingdom in these cases?

Eurovision is a song contest that commends the brave, the extraordinary and the unique, as we’ve seen so many times before.

Hate will prevail?

No, sadly this will not be a section to about Hatari. At least not for long. Hatari’s entry was many things for many people. But at its core, “Hatrið mun sigra” is a warning how hate will prevail unless actions are taken to prevent strands of society collapsing. It is a warning, yet a reminder this is a trajectory we could slip into. However, this excerpt suggests we should ’embrace the hatred’ against the UK. Frankly, this is lazy journalism. The phrase was thrown around a few times, with very little (read: none at all!) reasoning or explanation to how this assertion was made. We think it feeds into a wider domestic discourse and narrative of isolationism, appealing to the British ‘blitz spirit’/’us vs. them’ mentality. Is this helpful to the question at hand? How would this operate in practice?

I suppose the natural suggestion is to send a joke/gimmick entry. Anyone who has followed the contest properly would know this is not the way forward. You only need to jump back to Helsinki to see the last time the UK tried a ‘gimmick’ act…

Wooton says that he loves that “we were last” and “that is because I don’t want any of their support, you know, from those countries that have terrible cheesy acts”. It’s probably fair to say that Scooch were a “terrible cheesy act” for some people.

Of course, there was no mention of a 5th place in 2009, 11th place in 2011 (5th in the televote!), a top 10 with the juries in 2017… Instead audiences are being drip-fed a sensationalist perspective with selective reasoning and flawed logic. There are 40 or so of us in the ESCXTRA team. Yet we doubt any of us could say that the UK is the best Eurovision country of the 2000s or 2010s. This self-imposed victimhood has to stop.

Proud? More like pride…

The remark that other countries like North Macedonia don’t have stars is frankly, abominable. It has no place in a discussion on Eurovision. It has no place in any discussion.

I don’t find it particularly funny. I’m not sure many do. But that prompted, superficial giggle is used for a particular role. Here, laughter is used as a patronising affirmative, sneering and belittling at other nations. This absolutely is not what the contest is about. It establishes this anglocentric, warped world-view that success can only be ascertained if it gets the UK seal of approval. We wish that we had the confidence to view the Eurovision Song Contest through the lens of an imperialist world view. The flippancy marks a shift of national pride to a more toxic sense of national exceptionalism.

References to the music being “terribly cheesy” or “Europeans have bad taste” is frankly a boring, dying stereotype at this point. You only need to look at the charts to see this is not the case. At the time of writing, the following countries are in the UK Viral top 50 on Spotify:

  • The Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Iceland
  • Czech Republic
  • Italy
  • Malta
  • San Marino
  • Switzerland
  • Azerbaijan
  • Denmark
  • Slovenia
  • North Macedonia
  • Sweden
  • Cyprus
  • Australia
  • Estonia
  • Spain
  • Germany
  • Belarus

Notably, the UK entry is nowhere to be found. Michael Rice is currently sitting at 81st in the iTunes charts compared to Arcade currently at 33rd. It may be stating the obvious – but perhaps that is part of the problem? A tactic that seems to have worked in almost every successful Eurovision entry in the last 15 years: if your song charts well domestically/internationally, it tends to do better. We are writing this in the wake of the contest, so obviously there will be a hangover buzz. But the point at its core still stands.

Is every Eurovision entry a piece of musical genius? Of course not! But that isn’t entirely what the contest is about. Eurovision is a musical smörgåsbord, and every year there is usually something for everybody.

Please do better.

National crisis?

The absence of facts or stats was not surprising, but it was interesting. It was mentioned that John Lundvik was ‘great’ – primarily because he co-wrote the UK’s entry and he ‘actually won’. This might be a reference to the jury vote win (at the time) but it is a leap to suggest that coming 6th 5th is a win. John is great, absolutely, but so are all the acts that make it to the contest. To imply some acts are not ‘stars’ in their domestic spheres presents a Freudian slip of wider insecurity of not being good enough.

Now, returning to the reference of the huge audience share. According to Kantar, 78% of all Twitter conversations on Saturday were about the contest. That is a huge web footprint. This ‘debate’ would not happen on the BBC, yet other broadcasters have the freedom to critique from the backbenches. It is fair to suggest that could be an element of broadcaster envy that the BBC can capture a high audience share and social media interest, which in turn can inspire such a portion of critique.

As it was rightly pointed out in the discussion, this year’s broadcast of the Eurovision Song Contest received more viewers than Saturday’s FA Cup Final between Manchester City and Watford. Wooton says “this is something that is loved by the UK”.

Cognitive dissonance

The ‘debate’ ends with an odd conclusion:

  1. The contest is ‘too political’.
  2. The contest is ‘too silly’.
  3. Because of point 1 and 2, we should leave.
  4. Despite point 3, the two hosts agree they would still watch it.

Yes, we sighed too. The adjectives of ‘political’ and ‘silly’ are new additions to the discussion, a delightful throwback to typical Wogan-isms that often lacked evidence at the time, too.

As much as the contest and organisers might try to make the event apolitical, Eurovision and politics are permanently intertwined. However, we are referencing wider geo-politics and the contest being used as a pan-European platform for nations, through the guise of acts and broadcasters, to use soft politics to solidify national identity, cultural diversity and jabs at politically contentious issues. We are not referencing the regular swapping of 12 points between Greece and Cyprus, when both share the Hellenic music industry.

At the end of the day, it is this ‘position’ in the debate which ultimately generates this frustration and anger amongst Eurovision fans in the UK. If you view our love, passion and favourite thing in the world as ‘silly’ and don’t even consider standing back, reading the balanced views that us fans generate each year and understand that how the contest works… then you leave yourself open for criticism as strong as this.

Another reason we are going in so deeply on this ‘light and topical’ discussion is to dissect the culture the BBC are trying to counter. Our broadcaster has this year:

  • commissioned a podcast dedicated to building up to the main event: The Eurovision Song Contest 2019 in Tel Aviv, Israel
  • used a panel of three actual musical/Eurovision experts to help select our entry – gone are the days of uninformed ‘opinion’
  • sent their Radio 1 Newsbeat journalists to cover the event extensively both before and during the contest to help change the narrative about the event

We are passionate about the Eurovision Song Contest being treated fairly by the rest of the national media. With ‘big-swing’ reporting such as any narrative based on Brexit being ‘the reason we came last’, you anger fans not just in the United Kingdom but across the globe.

As fans we understand how the song contest works. As well-respected media sources, you should learn too to help better report on ‘bad results’ and support our representatives in an encouraging manner.

In fact, it is critique and derision from the mainstream media in general which causes artists, such as Nathan Trent from Austria and Brendan Murray from Ireland to wipe any reference to the Eurovision Song Contest from their biographies when trying to market themselves to a British or international audience.

You can do better and we’re asking you to try. Stop with the derisory blame culture, learn how the event works before critiquing it and support the entries which rightfully win the trophy.

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