A couple of weeks ago, in light of the upcoming EU referendum, YouGov conducted a poll to find out the British people’s thoughts on one of the most pressing social/political/cultural questions of the day, with SHOCKING RESULTS: a majority of Britons, if given the choice, would leave the Eurovision Song Contest. What has this country come to?!?!?!
Actually, my summary of the results there is not strictly true. 47% of people polled (out of a sample of 2033) said ‘Don’t know’ or ‘Wouldn’t vote’, and the remaining split was 60-40 in favour of leaving Eurovision – that’s 646 people, or 32% of the total sample. Now, 646 people may not seem like much, but, assuming that YouGov conducted a stringent poll with a representative sample, the future looks bleak for Eurovision.
Those who know me will correctly surmise that I find this VERY upsetting. First of all, if you don’t like Eurovision, you don’t have to watch it – but that doesn’t mean that no one else should be allowed to watch it either. Why would you vote to stop other people enjoying something? I’m not a massive fan of organised sports, but if there was a vote on whether the Home Nations should leave UEFA, would I vote ‘yes’ just so I wouldn’t have to find something else to watch whenever matches were broadcast? Would I…? (Hold on, I’m thinking…) No, of course not. What nonsense.
Anyhoo, now that I’ve got that off my chest, let’s discuss exactly why leaving Eurovision would be so terrible. There are SO MANY REASONS. The outfits. The choreography. The special effects. The body positivity. The chance to practice naming the capitals of Europe. The inexplicable subtitled translations of the songs not in English. The awkward switching between languages during the presenters’ pieces to camera. The moment of excitement when you discover which British celebrity (always unrecognisable to viewers in any other country) will be announcing our scores. The little videos of tourist attractions and cultural experiences in the host country, dubiously linked to whichever song is coming next. Did I mention the outfits?
And then there’s the fact that it’s one of the few things I actually prefer to watch with other people. I’d much rather watch a drama on my own, so that no one can see me alternately getting super excited when nice things happen to my favourite characters and bawling my eyes out when disaster strikes. With comedies, I’ll go either way – seeing other people laugh can make something funnier, provided there’s no unnecessary chichat that causes you to miss the next joke. But Eurovision – that requires camaraderie, companionship and concord (and preferably a few drinks). If your friends take the same view, then everyone can get together for that most enjoyable of television-based social events: the Eurovision Party.
Of course, the Eurovision Party is not a heterogeneous phenomenon. Such events may vary considerably, since there are, understandably, numerous ways to celebrate one’s love for all things camp and European. A couple of years ago, the party I attended was food-based, and guests brought along a selection of foodstuffs themed to one or more of the participating countries. (For reference, possible choices include French bread, Danish pastries, Swiss cheese, Belgian chocolate, Polish sausage, Greek yoghurt, Swedish meatballs and Turkey. Much eating was done that day.) A few years before that, we went for the sweepstake angle: each participant was assigned a random country around which they would theme their outfit and foodstuffs, and if their country won they’d get the kitty, to which everyone had contributed. (My country was Portugal. I dressed like Carmen Miranda and brought Nando’s. I did not win the kitty.)
This year (Saturday 14th March 2016, BBC1, 8pm – jot that down in your copybooks now), the theme is going to be Serious Scoring. The procedure is very simple: there will be a Master Scoreboard, upon which the countries will be listed in order of appearance; guests will score songs according to personal preference; and points will be totted up at the end in order to ascertain how far the mood of the room matches that of the good people of Europe. And lest you think that this doesn’t sound particularly spontaneous and fun, let me point out that we haven’t decided yet whether we’re going to score all countries as they appear OR wait until the end and use the official Eurovision points system (12, 10, 8, 6-1). We’re crazy like that.
What should be clear from all this is that Having A Good Time does not equate to Using Eurovision As An Excuse For A Party And Not Actually Watching Any Of It – no no! Rapt attention must be paid to the actual show, songs especially. Now, note that in my list of ‘great things about Eurovision’ above, I didn’t actually include ‘music’. After all, one man’s Elvis is another man’s scraping a rusty cat across an old barrel of chalkboards; and, it must be confessed, many Eurovision songs are really not very good (and I absolutely include a number of British entries in that). But this is not true of them all. Some of the winners have become astronomically famous (generally for the right reasons) – Lulu, ABBA, Celine Dion et al. – and don’t even try to tell me that Love Shine a Light wasn’t an absolute belter of a song. (Here’s a link to it, in case you need reminding.) Plus there’s pretty much guaranteed to be a few great poppy numbers to get you dancing, as well as at least one surprisingly impressive ballad sung by an unprepossessing woman from somewhere like Iceland or Malta. I mean, there are twenty-six countries in the final – you must be able to find something you like (especially since the range of genres is starting to open up since Lordi burst onto the scene with their ridiculous outfits and crazy heavy metal classic ‘Hard Rock Hallelujah’ – yes, I’m still impressed).
Plus, viewers in the UK will obviously need to be listening closely in order to catch Graham Norton’s snarky commentary gems, which have quickly become as legendary as Terry Wogan’s. I do occasionally wonder if Norton is occasionally too mean, which would be a slight affront to the jolly Eurovision spirit, but then I remember that he’s just as bitchy when it comes to guests on his show and elsewhere. Hell, he got in some zingers at the BAFTAs last week, in particular throwing shade at Aidan Turner’s hair (“A man bun at the BAFTAs. How very modern.”) and, indeed, at the whole of the UK’s television production industry (*deadpan voice* “Yay. Us. Aren’t we great.”). So really that’s just his way, and our way, and it is pretty damn funny, although if the other countries are listening in then that might explain why we always do so badly…
So, with the party organised and the food prepared, what are we expecting from the show this year? Well, Sweden are hosting, which is a promising start – their presenting game when they hosted in 2013 was exceptionally strong, in particularly Petra Mede’s fantastic half-time song ‘Swedish Smorgasbord’ (“Our people are cold but our elks are hot”; cue three girls dressed as meatballs). As for the actual songs, I haven’t watched the semi-finals so I really haven’t got the faintest idea what’s going to happen or who’s singing what. The only exception is the UK’s entry, Joe and Jake’s ‘You’re Not Alone’, which I’ve heard on the radio – it isn’t exactly my cup of tea (I find the cross between ballad-y singing and a heavy beat a bit confusing) but is certainly much less appalling than some of the dross we’ve put through in the last few years.
Suffice to say that we probably won’t win, but then there’s no special reason that we should – we have a tendency to enter half-arsed generic songs, we never have any particularly eyecatching costumes or staging, and, oh yeah, we spend the other 364 days of the year complaining about those bloody Europeans. Quite frankly, it astonishes me that so many Brits spend so much time whingeing about Europe, its countries, its people, its governance, its food, its weather, its music and its languages, and then wonder why people don’t vote for us in Eurovision once a year. Honestly, the nerve of those Eastern Europeans / Scandinavians / Iberians / Balkanites, always voting for their neighbours with whom they share a border, a culture, a history, an outlook, a language and a tendency to actually be nice to each other! Why do they hate us so much?! What’s the point of even being a part of Europe if we don’t get to win automatically just for being British?!
So in conclusion, Eurovision is great. It brings people together both at home and abroad. It gives Brits the opportunity to hear other languages and see other people doing stuff a bit differently. It has catchy music (sometimes). It’s a massive continent-wide party. And it’s an opportunity for eating lots of delicious food. I vote ‘In’.
One last treat: I shall leave you with my favourite Eurovision song of all time: Ukraine’s 2007 entry, Verka Serduchka with ‘Dancing Lasha Tumbai’. Good luck getting that out of your head for the next twenty years.
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