Britain has finally fallen in love with Eurovision – but for how long?
Eurovision is everywhere in Britain right now. Screening parties in pubs and cinemas, massive TV and press coverage, the airwaves cleared for BBC1 broadcasts of the semi-finals as well as the main event – the Brits love Eurovision, it seems. What a turnaround from *checks calendar* last year and every year in the last 30 decades where Eurovision was officially seen as the worst thing ever, an embarrassment of European awfulness where dreadful foreigners failed to acknowledge the natural superiority of British music – because what have they given the music world, eh? – due to bitterness, jealousy and fury over everything from the war in Iraq to Brexit (if nothing else, Britain has a neverending list of things that the rest of Europe can conveniently hate us for).
Why oh why do they hate us so, asked UK host Terry Wogan as he drunkenly talked over and mocked the entries (and presenters) from other nations while coming out with much-repeated conspiracy theories about ‘political voting’ to explain why countries with similar cultures might like the music produced by their neighbours (an argument that never extended to Britain and Ireland giving each other disproportionately high votes) – the fact that many of these nations were hardly on friendly terms with each other being conveniently overlooked. Wogan’s increasingly xenophobic and booze-addled ranting might have made him ‘a legend’ for some British viewers – and set a format that current hosts seem determined to follow – but it hardly endeared the UK to other nations and if anything beyond the remarkably substandard and unimaginative songs and performances of most British entries was to blame for the Nil Points that increasingly embarrassed our acts, I suspect it was that – no one likes a blowhard.
As the UK slipped into the also-rans of Eurovision, only making the finals at all because of a historical financial agreement with the other ‘big countries’ of Europe that guarantees a place, so Eurovision was officially declared the height of awfulness, of value only as an opportunity to laugh at foreigners and their terrible taste in music and as a high-camp affair beloved of gay men in a knowingly ironic way. “It doesn’t matter if we don’t win”, was the general commentary, “because it’s so awful and political anyway”. Yet it always felt like the ‘heroes of Shelbyville‘ moment in The Simpsons – and beneath that braggadocio, there was an obvious, pathetic desperation to be crowned champions and so when Sam Ryder effectively won in 2022 – coming second to Ukraine, who were obviously going to win that year with whatever they entered – and the event came to the UK and Liverpool as hosts – Eurovision suddenly, instantly became credible again. It was not only OK to like it, it became practically de rigueur. Suddenly, everyone was officially excited about Eurovision, and if it was still seen as camp, it was the good sort of knowing camp, as if every nation in every event before this had been blissfully unaware of the nature of the beast. But then, the fact that British entries often just didn’t get it and played it safe when other nations were making social commentary and pushing the envelope in other ways has long been overlooked by the contest’s critics.
I suspect that this sudden embracing of all things Eurovision will be a short-lived thing because this year’s UK entry is a spectacularly awful number performed by a spectacularly awful singer, showing that precisely nothing has been learned from last year’s almost-victory – any points gained here will, I suspect, be sympathy votes for the host nation. If the UK entry crashes and burns, then once again there will be the dismissal of the event and the excuses sought for why we have failed so miserably that will rarely include the quality of the song and the performance (or, for that matter, the quality of the acts that triumph over us). There are many issues with the Eurovision voting system – the use of ‘expert’ juries for half the votes is especially egregious as it often overrides the public vote for dubious reasons – and we can always argue over the final results. I mean, isn’t that half the fun of it all? It would be nice to believe that the UK has finally and permanently come to terms with Eurovision (what it is as opposed to what we want it to be) and our own place in the global music world, though I imagine flag-waving nationalism and a misguided belief that everything that we do – music, TV, film, you name it – is inherently better than everything from everywhere else will still run rampant. Nevertheless, as someone who has long enjoyed Eurovision as a not-remotely-guilty pleasure for many years, I’m glad to see this moment of celebration and acceptance, brief as it might be. We’ll still be watching at home though, with beers and a few friends – sitting in a cinema for this just seems too much.
In any case, to end on a positive note – here’s the best-ever Eurovision half-time show featuring a brilliant and provocative performance from Aqua in 2001, one that probably had Wogan pissing his pants.
UPDATE: After the UK entry came second-to-bottom, things are starting to revert to their normal state as people scramble for a reason for such an embarrassing failure. Amongst the theories are the old classics – “everyone hates us because…” – in this case including the intriguing suggestion that Britain has terrible LGBT+ equality – and the old classic “political voting”. Missing from the conversation is the fact that our terrible song was performed very badly by a deeply unappealing singer. It’ll be business as usual by next year, clearly.
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