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1:57pm on Sunday, 27th May, 2012:
The UK came second-from-last in last night's Eurovision Song Contest, continuing our long tradition of doing miserably in it.
When I heard that this year's entry was to be sung by Engelbert Humperdinck my heart sank. It's one thing to send an internationally famous singer, but another thing entirely to send an internationally famous singer whose international fame was 40 years ago. That said, I was pleasantly surprised by the song itself: it had a strong melody, a lyrical swing to it, and if it had been a little bit more up-tempo it could have been really something. Despite the fact that it's a song contest, though, the quality of the song was irrelevant due to the fact that it was being sung by someone guaranteed to appeal only to people in their 70s and the blind.
It's hard for Britain to win at Eurovision. We have cultural links with Ireland, in that we always give them 10 or 12 points and they never reciprocate, but we're not part of a wider cultural bloc that ensures we'll get 3 or 4 points from other members no matter how bad our entry is (even Denmark's dismal, nothing song beat us this time round; luckily, other Scandinavians seem to have the same view of Norway that Ireland has of the UK, so at least we didn't come bottom). In the old days, when countries' votes were decided by juries, there was rampant partisanship; when they switched to a popular vote, it got even worse. Now that they have a mixed approach, what's happened is that the populist international entries are suffering as so-so entries from neighbouring countries claim a few places but it's still guaranteed that Greece will give 12 to Cyprus and vice versa. However, when there are stand-out songs then they could actually be boosted by this, so the eventual winners probably are worth their victory. That doesn't make it any less galling to learn that although the UK came 11th last year it would have come 5th if it had all been on televoting (and Azerbaijan would still have won).
Another reason that the UK doesn't do well is to do with the fact that we're one of the "big five" countries that pays for the event, so we get an automatic pass into the final. This means that people haven't heard our song and voted for us in the semi-finals, so our entries are less well-known. I also believed that one of the reasons we did particularly badly this year was because the jury votes are based on performances in the dress rehearseals and good ol' Engelbert missed his key change in that.
Talking of key changes, there were only 3 or 4 of them this time round. Normally a good half of the entries have a key change. There were more entries (including the eventual winner) that sounded like the anthemic dance tracks that came out Ibiza 10 years ago. My wife's view that Eurovision music is always 10 years behind the UK pop charts was thus vividly confirmed.
Sweden's victory this year surprised few people because, much as Germany's entry in 2010, it had been number 1 in the charts across half of Europe before the contest started. I'm not actually in favour of releasing Eurovision entries for sale before the event itself, because it means that much of the competition has taken place before it's supposed to. Most people who buy records are young, which doesn't necessarily match the people who vote at Eurovision, but if you can demonstrate that your entry is a proper, commercial-quality release then that's still half your job done.
If the UK wants to win Eurovision, it's going to have to take it more seriously. We're doing that on and off with the quality of our songs, but we need to get a decent, currently well-known singer to sing for us. Reformed pop groups and the living dead don't qualify. We used to enter the likes of Cliff Richard and Lulu when they were in their prime, so why can't we do that now? If they fail, no-one in the UK will care because we actually expect it to happen; if they succeed, they're going to increase their profile across Europe and sell more music.
Hmm, I wonder if Adele would do it?
Oh, and if you're wondering what I would have voted for, were I the kind of person who actually votes for Eurovision instead of merely complaining about the wacky decisions of those who do vote for it, I'd have gone for Germany or Bosnia-Herzegovina, both of which had tunes with some actual appeal and neither of which were sung by someone older than my dad.
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