Eurovision: a real English victory

This is slightly late for a post-Eurovision post but maybe it could be considered pre-the next one. Every year, I sit down with my family and much of Europe to watch the Eurovision Song Contest 2014 because its the one night of the year when being European turns from concept to realisation.

The United Kingdom did not do as well this year (2014) with Molly’s “Children of the Universe”, admittedly one of its better entries in the last 10 years, but it still did not get enough points to be placed on the left-hand side of the results board. This is where lots of people – not me – grumble about political voting. I would argue that political voting is not such a big problem any more, if it ever was.

The U.K. is actually one of the most successful countries to perform at Eurovision. Since 1959, it has taken part every year but most of its success has been before 1999. It won five times, came second 15 times and, before 1999, only twice did it end up outside the top 10. Still, even the points scores since 1999 contribute to its success, as it has the one of the highest cumulative scores for the contest (joint second). If you are geeky like me, you are going to love the Wikipedia pages on Eurovision.

So why has the U.K. not done so well since 1999? I would argue it is because the contest has both become more competitive and fairer. The oft-made complaint of juries and judges, in whatever context, is always going to be bias – whether its true or not. But, as with X-factor, its far more difficult to make that complaint of the public voting. Indeed the U.K. won and gained a record number of points for any particular year in 1997 when televoting was introduced.
On top of the greater number of people who can have a say through televoting, there are many more countries taking part. That increases the randomness, although this is controlled to an extent by the introduction of semi-finals. Of course, this helps with management and timekeeping. But there are five countries, including the U.K. that have never had to go through the filter of semi-final stage on account of being the biggest contributors. Is this fair? On the basis of recent results, the U.K. would probably not even qualify for the final and perhaps that’s the problem. It could also be argued that the automatic qualification of the Big Five is not fair to them either because they do not have the same level of exposure and relationship building with the audience. On the other hand, it could also be argued that the Big Five do not to have to win because they already have a more important impact. Without their contributions, Eurovision would be half the show it is.

I would argue that the big change has been the dropping of language requirement for songs to be in a country’s official language. You are most likely to like and vote for songs you understand. What is often referred to as political voting is really an example with sticking with the familiar. Now overtwo thirds of Europeans speak English, but i suspect that there has been a drive to learn English for a long time. It is not surprising that most entries at Eurovision are in English. This suggests perhaps that before 1999 the U.K. had an advantage, now it does not.

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Posted in Events, Opinions

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