Thursday, 16 May 2013

In response to Jonathan Calder : Eurovision Myths busted!

Now, I'm not a mud-slinging blogger. I'm not one to start fights about silly things. But Eurovision, my friend, is a very serious matter indeed. 

In the post on Liberal England a few days ago, Jonathan put forward a few ideas, which I thought it would be fun to try and debunk. So, along with a couple of others, here's a Eurovision 101 in time for Saturday night!



1. Appearing in semi-finals means it's more likely you'll do well. FALSE
This is an interesting one, and an idea that came from a study by an academic from Sheffield Hallam Uni. The point put forward is that since 2008, only one country from the 'Big 5' has won - Germany in 2010. The point that I'd make first is that the Big 5 were actually the Big 4 until a couple of years ago when Italy came back to the contest after a long hiatus. And, in terms of basic mathematics, if all countries bar 6 (the Big 5 + last year's winner) have to go through the semi-finals then it's more likely that one of the semi qualifiers will win. Not so much because they've performed twice, but because, due to the sheer numbers, it's more statistically possible. 

Norwegian winner Alexander Rybak in 2009
Interestingly, however, this analysis also works on the lines of traditional Eurovision. By this, I mean that most people won't have heard any of the songs until they're performed on the show. Over the past four or five years it's been interesting to see the sheer level of footwork put in by contestants long before the show, to raise a profile and get the song heard. Alexander Rybak is a very good example. He was in European charts for around a month before the contest, and strangely, when people heard a song that they kind of recognised, they voted for it and it won. Tactically, it's a good idea to select your song early, so that it can perform on as many other Eurovision selection shows as possible. The last time we did this was with Jade Ewen's 'My Time' in 2009. Weeks before the contest, Jade performed the song in the Netherlands, Poland, Ukraine, Malta, Bosnia, Herzegovina and a load of others. We finished 5th. 

2. Political voting plays a large part in the final outcome. FALSE
I'm really not sold on this one. There was a big old thing in 2003 because we came last and it was about two months after we'd gone to war in Iraq. The accepted wisdom was either, 1. Europe is unhappy about the war in Iraq, and so they've punished us or 2. We're the UK and everybody hates us and they always have.

Miss Jemini looks like she can hear herself...
On point one, my verdict is a maybe. The Iraq war may have negatively impacted our performance at Eurovision in 2003. However, I'd say that what impacted more on our performance was that our act were called Jemini, they couldn't sing and their song 'Cry Baby' was pitiful. Their general lack of talent was made worse by supposed 'technical difficulties', though I'd hazard a guess at the real technical difficulty being their inability to sing. So, to accept the political argument in 2003, you have to also accept that it had nothing to do with our terrible entry and more to do with a completely unrelated war which, lets remember, was also supported by other Eurovision countries with good songs who weren't adversely affected. 

3. Everybody votes for their neighbour. FALSE

Terry Wogan, Mr Marmite to Eurovision fans.
Not endlessly true. This is an idea that was made popular by Terry Wogan, and one which is pretty out of date. It all comes down to which countries are more predisposed to vote for one another - and it isn't really about proximity. Whilst there are famous examples (Greece and Cyprus, Scandinavian bloc voting, UK & Ireland) neighbourly voting doesn't happen a lot, it's better seen on cultural lines. For instance, the UK and Malta very regularly exchange points, in fact in 2007 they gave us 12 points for Scooch. It's my theory that people vote for a complex mix of reasons, mainly songs, but also countries they might know about. Hense, we tend to give shedloads of points to Greece (almost regardless of their song) whilst we don't very often give points to Estonia or Montenegro. Because their songs are always terrible? No. Probably because in a strange way we like to know where our vote is going. 

4. Eastern Europe dominates the contest. FALSE?
There's a question mark on this one, because there is some truth. Because of the influx of Eastern European countries over the past decade, there is indeed some water in the theory that they dominate, but it's less suspicious than you might think. 

Turkey's Hadise with 'Dum Tek Tek'
Whilst there are more eastern Europeans taking part, they actually don't win any more often than you'd expect. In fact, since 2000, obviously eastern countries have only won a handful of times - Serbia, Russia, Azerbaijan, Ukraine. Latvia and Estonia won once each, and we've had three winners from Scandinavia. But, we've also had victories from Denmark, Greece and Germany - hardly eastern strongholds. 

The eastern dominance can be seen however if you look at the makeup of the top twenty, which will tend to favour the east, leaving central European countries like San Marino, Monaco, Belgium, Switzerland and the Netherlands languishing. But, once again, we need to look at it sensibly. Like the 2003 argument, it could be because the east gangs up on everybody else or it could be because they spend a long time and lots of money putting their entries together because they know that a win at Eurovision could be the making of their country. Simples. 

5. The UK will never win Eurovision again. 

Absolute tosh. A lot of people use a lot of lazy logic when it comes to our performance at Eurovision, when actually it just needs some common sense. 
The bonny Bonnie Tyler

The BBC currently selects the British act internally. By internal selection, what they actually mean is that they find an artist about to release an album and see if they'll represent the UK with a track from said album. Strangely, Bonnie Tyler's promotion for her UK entry at Eurovision has coincided with her promotion for her new album. 

What all of this means is that the song performed on Saturday night wasn't written with Eurovision in mind, in fact, it was written as filler for an ageing star's new album. That's fine - but when you're pitching it against countries like Sweden, it's never going to work. Sweden's pre-selection - Melodifestivalen - is one of the most watched shows in the Swedish TV calendar and sees hundreds of specially penned entries whittled down to a six-week X Factor style series. I might be wrong, but I think they might be better placed to pick a winner. 

This isn't to say that it can't be turned around. Germany is a good example. Between 2005 and 2010, they didn't get above 14th place. In 2011, they won and this year they'll probably come top five again. They're a big 5 country, and they're a central European one. They won't do well because their neighbours support them or everybody loves their politics, but because they have a good song, they've worked hard, and they've shown everybody else that they're taking it seriously. 

In this sense, I'm absolutely sure that if we changed approach, we could win within three or four years. It won't happen this year, partly because coming from basically last to winning in a year is a big ask. People have to consider you a contender country for a year or two. 

We can win, but it won't happen on Saturday night. 

Update - 19/5/13
Ha! It turns out I shouldn't be trusted when it comes to giving betting advice! Germany came 21st, even behind the UK. It's odd really, I did expect her to do better. 
Whilst Claire, a friend of mine has disputed this post on her most recent blog post - I still hold to a lot of it. People aren't voting because a country is next door, they're voting for it because they know things about it, they share values and cultures. I really think it has very little to do with distance. What I would point out is that the top three - Denmark, Azerbaijan and Ukraine gathered votes from right across the board. The simple fact is that whilst there are voting irregularities which we've all come to expect, you can't gerrymander the contest. 

The wonderful 'Only Teardrops' won for Denmark because it got points from the vast majority of participants - not because they have the most neighbours, or they're the most popular. 

Here's to Copenhagen 2014!


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