The Year the Eurovision Song Contest Stopped Being Fun

Published on 25 May 2008 in , ,

There was a telling moment during Eurovision last night. Right at the end of the programme, Terry Wogan was talking in rather depressed terms about the state of the contest, and that his producer was leaving the BBC.

There was a pause. A noticeable pause. A pause which sounded very much like he was deciding whether to announce publicly that he would stand down.

In the end he didn’t make a firm commitment, ending instead with the less committal

He and I have to decide whether we want to do this again. Indeed, western European participants have to decide whether they want to take part from here on in because their prospects are poor.

And he’s right. He’s absolutely right. For the first time ever, I seriously began to doubt the value of us bothering to enter the Eurovision Song Contest.

The previous reasons were there

In previous years when we’ve done poorly and others have cried foul (the never-ending accusation that it’s all related to the Iraq War was growing increasingly tiresome), I personally have been able to point to something valid to justify why we did poorly.

And let’s not beat around the bush here. Scooch in 2007 was a truly awful song. Daz Sampson with dancers dressed as schoolgirls in 2006? Embarrassing. Javine in 2005? Poorly performed due to throat issues.

This year

The excuse this year? Err… I can’t come up with one. There is none. Andy Abraham’s sang it well, and it was a good song. I confess I never thought we’d win, but I was very hopeful of a reasonable result – to pick up a few points here and there.

In the end we got just two votes and came joint 23rd. We got the same points as Germany who, and let’s be honest here, had one singer singing off key. We got the same points as that scary-looking woman from Poland with the unfeasibly white teeth.

We can’t even use the excuse that songs early in the running order do worse than those later on, as the frankly dreadful dirge that was the Romanian entry were first on and they got three times the votes we did. Spain – with an unmemorable and frankly dull song, sung by someone with a ridiculous wig – did substantially better than us.

Then there’s the matter of that this is a song contest not a spectacle contest. Ours was one of the few entries even to have a band on stage. For the rest it was dancing, costume changes and, for some unknown reason, ice skating. What does this have to do with music?

Location, Location, Location

Of course, we can’t deny that location plays a part in the voting. Whilst Russia did pick up votes from across the Eurovision community, almost all their big scores were from the east. Let’s not witter on about “oh they only vote for their neighbours” – it’s a cultural thing. I’ve been to Russia, and I’ve heard the music on their local radio stations, and frankly it’s a world away from what you hear in Western Europe. And that clearly is reflected in the votes they received.

Of course there have always been musical differences in the Eurovision area. We can’t deny it. And therein the problem. Eurovision has grown – the musical differences between countries too varied. We’re talking about an event that now stretches from Iceland in the Atlantic, to the furthest tip of Asia and the Pacific. Whilst we’re all part of one global community, we all have differences to and musical taste is one of them.

Time for action

Frankly something now has to be done, because for my mind, if you’re going to enter a song contest, you’ve got to have a chance of winning. And no one in the west now has a chance of winning. I’ve denied it in the past, but the evidence is now damming. Look at the results for the last few years – it’s obvious. This year, just one country from the west came in the top 12.

The trouble is that nothing is done. There was a tinkering of the voting this year, with the aim of making it fairer, but the results were still the same. Sadly I fear that nothing will truly happen until someone makes a stand.

And that has to be us. We have no chance in hell of winning Eurovision. Even Morrisey couldn’t have saved us this year (sorry Mozza). It has become a waste of time and money us entering – as Terry Wogan rightly alluded to.

Of course countries withdraw from Eurovision all the time – this year Austria didn’t bother – and it doesn’t change anything. The UK not bothering would however send some serious signals.

Send the signal

We are one of the big four. France, Germany, Spain and the United Kingdom all get guaranteed entry into Eurovision on the basis of the fact that we are all the biggest contributors to the European Broadcasting Union. Without the financial contributions to the EBU (which, incidentally, do get us far more than Eurovision! I certainly wouldn’t advocate leaving the EBU) that the big four make, the Song Contest would find it difficult financially.

Which means the withdrawal of one of the big four will send shockwaves through the establishment. If one of your biggest funders no longer wants to play, you have to take notice. We don’t have to stop showing Eurovision in this country, but shouldn’t enter it.

Somehow I doubt this protest action will happen – at least not for now. But ironically the fate of Eurovision in this country may sit very firmly on the shoulders of one man. Sir Terry Wogan.

It was clear last night that he is getting fed up with it all now, and even if he sticks with it for a bit longer, it seems clear that he will stand down sooner rather than later.

Whilst some in this country complain about Wogan’s Eurovision style, there can be little doubt that he is one of the reasons millions of people actually tune into watch the Song Contest in this country, and the BBC would find it very difficult to replace him.

If this was the song contest of old, and it wasn’t all so predictable, replacing him would be an easier task. However in this environment it won’t be. Replacing him with someone who takes it seriously would inevitably lead to a ratings flop, and finding someone who can moan about it to the Wogan caliber, would be very hard.

Without him, the Song Contest in this country could easily begin to wither and die – giving us enough of a reason to pull out.

It could take years for the point to be made, but it would finally be made.

The solution?

Even if the point is made, what is the solution? Some have suggested returning to the jury system with experts to make the choice rather than the public. It may help, but at the loss of telephone vote revenue. Chances of it happening seem slim.

Another suggestion is not to tell the world whose entry is whose although it’s difficult to see how that could work in practice – songs would have to be chosen behind closed doors.

Reducing the style of the event too may help – songs happen with musicians but you’d be hard pressed to see any at Eurovision these days. Instead it’s all about “impact” – angel wings and dance routines. We’ll never remove that, but at least insisting the people playing the music more at the forefront of the performance, it could reduce it.

But personally I see little option other than splitting it apart – draw the line down the middle of Europe. East vs West with those in a central region able to pick which contest they wish to enter into. Bring it back to the contest it once was for Western Europe, and have a new one for the East. After all, that’s all it’s become now. The west seem now to be little more than bystanders, and eventually more countries will withdraw.

Sadly I can’t see anything happening soon. Which is a shame because a contest which was about bringing Europe together, is slowly being torn apart.


  • My housemates and I were having this very discussion last night. Firstly, we questioned the value of the UK sending four acts to the Song Contest – ie: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This would certainly redress the balance back in “the West’s” favour in terms of countries entered. It would be no different to having all the former Yugoslav states… even Serbia and Montenegro could only cast one vote last year!
    Secondly, we agreed that the only way the UK (or Ireland, France, etc.) could win is if we were to enter a superstar. Say Ireland sent U2, for example: surely their popularity across Europe would be enough to win votes! Surely only if they didn’t win would you be able to say it really isn’t about the music anymore?
    That said, France *did* enter a superstar this year, and it didn’t really do them much good. Hmm…

  • Martin Belam says:

    It was a very different perspective here in Greece, where the TV presentation style is to take it seriously. They were very over-excited at the prospect that they might win as the votes unfolded.
    And I think we are all doing a disservice to Dima Bilan here. He has already had a lot of hits in Russia and Eastern Europe, the winning track was produced by Timbaland, and his new album has duets with Nelly Furtado and a host of name producers on it. Dima *is* a superstar for a lot of Europe, and we put up someone who didn’t even win the X-Factor…

  • Andrew Bowden says:

    It can’t be denied that Dima Bilan would have done well anyway – he picked up votes from most countries – the exceptions being Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, San Marino and the UK, which is an interesting mix. San Marino’s scores are interesting as they’re quite geographically spread but then with a population of less than 30,000, every vote counts!
    Whilst Russia did well, unfortunately it was the predictable nature of all the voting that let it down. There were no surprises. If we’d had a scoring-prediction drinking game in our house, we would have been calling the ambulances!

  • Phil Wilson says:

    “He has already had a lot of hits in Russia and Eastern Europe”
    is that not, in effect, a reinforcement of the point Andrew makes? Splitting the Eurovision down the middle seems the only way it could possibly continue to make sense.

  • Jemma says:

    I think that we should pull the money and still enter the contest. Who cares if we wouldn’t be guaranteed a place in the final, we don’t seem to get anywhere anyway.
    With the new voting rules in the two semi finals, can they not do it so only those in the final can vote? This would surely cut some of the political voting, e.g Cyprus didn’t get through to the final so they would be unable to vote in the final (where would Greece be without their 12 points from Cyprus). This way it would be a bit fairer and cut the amount of time spent dishing out points.