After last Saturday night, the Australian newspaper The Age published an op-ed article about the relevance of Australia in the Eurovision Song Contest. The article provoked a strong, bewildered and frustrated response from Eurovision fans across the world, most of all in Australia. Adelaide-based writer Ford Carter gives his response to music writer Jeff Apter and the opinion article:
An open letter to Jeff Apter…
Yesterday, Melbourne-based Australian newspaper The Age published an opinion piece by music writer Jeff Apter titled ‘Australia’s love affair with Eurovision will be our musical Waterloo’. And opinion piece is just about right. The writer certainly has… opinions… about this great song contest. But he doesn’t seem to have any of the facts to back them up.
Why is Jeff Apter hating on the Eurovision Song Contest? Has he forgotten that in matters of credibility, a man who knows nothing about the contest and can’t be bothered to do even five minutes of basic research puts him several notches under even the most casual viewers of the annual spectacular?
Jeff Apter’s scathing review of Australia’s participation in Europe’s greatest song contest opens with similar lines and jumps straight into a question that shows that he hasn’t done either the most basic bit of research or watched the competition in several years.
“Outside of ABBA, Lulu and Celine Dion – and with all due respect to the Brotherhood of Man, Bucks Fizz, a bearded lady named Conchita and some Nordic metal band dressed as vikings – how many past winners have gone on to storied careers?”
I can answer this question in a single word – Måneskin.
You know, the Italian glam rockers who have taken the world by storm and been streamed billions of times in a matter of months?
Of course, it’s a much more nuanced and in-depth answer than just that. While Måneskin has gone on to become one of the biggest bands in the world, Duncan Laurence also found international success with “Arcade” – even in the United States. And 2018 winner Netta found herself on breakfast news programming in the country with the world’s biggest music market soon after her win as well.
While the wins of Jamala’s “1944” and Salvador Sobral’s “Amar pelos dois” might not have made as much of an impact in Australia, the United States, and the English-speaking world, those songs were sung in national languages, and of genres that don’t necessarily transcend well onto music charts. But they became huge hits in Europe and domestically in their own countries.
And that’s something that can never be understated when it comes to Eurovision – the domestic success of entries, even if they don’t win the competition outright. Many countries send their biggest and best, and others make it to incredible success by competing in national finals that put fresh talent on the map.
That “Nordic metal band dressed as vikings” (a Finnish rock band dressed as monsters, for those of you who were also confused) achieved fame across all of Europe. Ruslana, who won in 2004 for Ukraine, went on to become a member of parliament. And Loreen’s “Euphoria” became a global sensation.
But people don’t just go to Eurovision to become famous. Some of the biggest names in the world have appeared on the stage, including the UK’s Blue and Andrew Lloyd Webber, Russia’s Sergey Lazarev, and Katrina and the Waves from the United States. All after they had already gained international recognition.
Straight after this question comes possibly one of the most controversial paragraphs of the entire article:
“Cringeworthy, thy name is Eurovision. And yet, bizarrely, Australia’s Sheldon Riley – a competitor on recent local versions of ‘The X Factor’ and ‘The Voice’ – will soon be slugging it out with the best from Belarus, the cream of Croatia and the wonders of Wales. Whose kooky idea was this?”
Where do we even begin with this?
Cringeworthy, thy name is the man who can’t do even the most basic level of research.
Belarus was suspended from competing in the Eurovision Song Contest following scandals surrounding their potential 2021 entry, Galaxy Zmesta’s “Ya nauchu tebya (I’ll Teach You)”. Wales is represented by the United Kingdom’s broadcaster BBC (who has had somewhat of an aversion to sending Welsh artists over the years). And Croatia is a country with a thriving music scene whose long-running national final ‘Dora’ showcases the best and brightest of the nation’s musical past, present, and future.
Why would a trade-off require us to bring Azerbaijani rock bands to take part at the ARIA Awards (which is not a competition, by the way, just a local awards ceremony)? And why would that be wrong to begin with? Musical diversity showcases something everyone can enjoy, no matter their racial, sexual, or socioeconomic background.
Jeff goes on to mention artists like Helen Reddy, the Bee Gees, INXS, and Silverchair all making their globe-conquering success and international stardom by first playing night after night and building an audience, presumably through tours of the country’s pubs and RSLs (although he doesn’t specifically state as such).
But in this modern world, our artists are still doing this, albeit in a different manner than before. Australian artist Troye Sivan has gone on to become a globe-conquering success by honing his craft night after night at home, posting videos of his progress to social media sharing sites like YouTube, and gaining a following in that way, with a higher potential for global success.
Artists competing at Eurovision – including our very own Sheldon Riley this year – have already done the hard yards. Eurovision isn’t a “shortcut to success”, not by a long shot. Sheldon has an international following by taking part in America’s Got Talent, where he – wait for it – showcased his honed craft, which he’s already worked on night after night.
Eurovision is the ultimate showcase of national talent, no matter how it’s formed, whether by the traditional music industry, through YouTube and SoundCloud, or through the reality shows that have permeated our television screens for decades now.
“There’s the inescapable reality that an Australian act will never win Eurovision . . .”
Guy Sebastian, Dami Im, Isaiah Firebrace, and Kate Miller-Heidke provided this country with four top-ten finishes in five years and made Australia one of the most successful competing nations at the Eurovision Song Contest in the last decade. A win certainly isn’t out of the question.
But sometimes, Jeff, it’s not about the win. Sometimes it’s just about taking part. And the friends you make along the way.
200 million fans use the Eurovision Song Contest as a way to meet up with friends every single year. 20,000 of us meet up in person every year. Sometimes, it’s the only time we meet up with these friends. The Eurovision family isn’t just those who compete on stage, or in the national finals, but every fan of the greatest song contest around the world.
And I hope Paul Keating is looking at reforming the Ramrods, because Australia is essentially in what one would call a voting bloc along with many of the Nordic countries – one of which you just railroaded without the least bit of respect for what was actually going on during their stunning performance.
And as for whose “kooky” idea this was, in response to your earlier question – it was one Marcel Bezencon, a Swiss journalist and media executive who saw the potential for a song contest to bring together a continent torn apart by war. Political plays have been made in the past, and diplomatic issues resolved. All done on a musical stage rather than a bloody battlefield.
And with the situation in Europe at the moment, we need the Eurovision Song Contest more than ever before.
Jeff Apter’s next book is a biography of Keith Urban, due out later this month. This writer won’t be reading it.
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