May 09

Eurovision: One Year Later

FT/19 comments • 654 views

Almost a year ago I wrote this post – “5 Point Plan For The UK To Win Eurovision”, defining “win” as “maybe come a respectable fifth”.

And here we are: a respectable fifth. So let’s see which bits of my advice were proved right.

Erm, well, NONE AT ALL seems to be the answer. I suggested ditching “Making Your Mind Up”: instead we expanded it. I suggested using a real pop star: instead we sent an unknown. I suggested playing to our pop strengths: well, a big Lloyd Webber ballad might qualify but only at a very wide stretch. I suggested working on our stagecraft: plonking Sir Andrew at a piano doesn’t count. And I suggested entering the semis: no such luck, though Jade did put the Eastern European promo hours in.

Of course (he says shamefacedly), what I hadn’t reckoned on was Eurovision changing the rules and bringing in juries again. My advice was for the phones-only era – and if you’ve got juries of biz insiders looking for a particular kind of songwriting then almost none of it applies. The pendulum looks like it might be swinging back against stagecraft in particular – a risky move since I’d guess that’s an element which accounts for a lot of the TV appeal.

But it’s far too early to tell – a 400-point landslide for Norway can’t only be accounted for by jury votes, after all. The size of the victory is probably down to their hitting a formula the juries loved – easy-to-grasp theme, charismatic (if hugely annoying) performer, folksy arrangement and reassuringly traditional songwriting. As other countries grok what they need to do, margins will narrow right down again. What we can hypothesise is that the juries seem to have achieved what I assume was their main aim – breaking down all but the most set-in-stone bloc vote effects. In the longer term though, I wonder if this isn’t a “beware of what you wish for” situation.


  1. 1
    mike on 17 May 2009 #

    I’ve been having similar worries today, but the 50-50 jury/televote split might offer the best rockist-songcraft/poptimist-spectacle compromise in the long run (and I’d argue that a good final needs both).

  2. 2
    Tom on 17 May 2009 #

    Yeah, Mark is wisely arguing over on Poptimists that people will learn how to game the new format as they did the old. My worry over the songcraft isn’t that bad songs won’t be rewarded, but that songs across a variety of *styles* might find it harder to prosper: Lordi might have been spectacular, but their song was a solid pop-metal effort too. The phone votes had the side effect of encouraging more modern stylistic decisions (including that brilliant rash of ethno-disco winners in mid-decade)

  3. 3
    all eurovision songs on 17 May 2009 #

    all eurovision songs http://www.failiem.lv/list.php?i=qjgxwn

  4. 4

    i realised just now, as i was mulling this over while describing last night to my sister and listening to my niece tilly (18 months) teaching herself to sing in the back of the car, that my main interest these days is

    A: “here’s the system”*
    B: how do we game it?”
    C: “what species of music-and-or-performance does this favour?”

    if it produces a great song or launches a great career that’s someone else’s joy/problem — my job (and pleasure) as a critic is relating to C to B to A

    *and actually this is a bit unclear to me — presumably each country chooses its jury as part of its gaming of the system”; was ALW on the UK jury?

  5. 5
    Pete Baran on 17 May 2009 #

    The sekrit of not gaming the system of course is to KEEP CHANGING THE SYSTEM. Not seen any of this Euroviz yet, though surely plonking ALW at the piano = hiring a celeb! As long as the juries are briefed in different ways every year due to these fears, its all gravy.

  6. 6
    koganbot on 17 May 2009 #

    Have any major careers other than ABBA’s been given a significant boost by Eurovision?

  7. 7

    ruslana‘s certainly was — though it’s not “major” outside eastern europe (yet)

  8. 8
    Jonathan Bogart on 17 May 2009 #

    France Gall, surely. Possibly Sandie Shaw counts as well.

  9. 9

    hmmm, not convinced re sandie shaw — her initial uk pop career certainly wasn’t turned round by puppet, though the record itself sold well; her 80s semi-resurgence was an entire cultural age later, and she really had a pretty low-key 70s

    it depends a bit exactly what frank means by “major” — breaking out of the “local” circuit into the anglophone pop sphere? (this is what abba did, after all) i think there are a lot of rising stars in countries that aren’t the uk who barter a solid eurovision performance into bigger (non-anglophone) stardom, and of course a lot of other eurovosion nations happily put forward their best stars anyway… it’s a weird anglo conceit that we haven’t done since cliff (it’s why i don’t take the manics seriously)

  10. 10
    Tom on 17 May 2009 #

    I dunno the arc of Celine Dion’s career but her Eurovision win (1988) must be pretty early on in it!

  11. 11
    Tom on 17 May 2009 #

    In terms of a single Eurovision performance changing a genre’s game though, you need to look away from music entirely. ;)

  12. 12
    edward o on 18 May 2009 #

    If you look at the apparent margin of victory of Norway in the semis – by less than 20 over Azerbaijan (which was a better song, even my 64-year-old mum thought it was great) solely by phone-in votes (and by Eurovision die-hards at that), you’d guess that the juries went far more strongly for Norway than the general public. My guess is that a song like Ukraine probably got very few jury votes, but then again they only came 6th in their semi.. and Estonia which I thought was a jury-favourite actually came 3rd in their semi on phone votes.. when I have time I will do a bit of a comparison.

    For what it’s worth, I think 50/50 is too heavily weighted towards a jury. There was still neighbourly voting everywhere. All that happened this time that was different was that a lot of votes went to one country in particular. (And Russia, who are a recipient of lots of the neighbourly voting CLEARLY tanked it this year with that entry). Really, having moved to phone votes, they’re now saying that a panel of people should count as much as thousands of votes from viewers, the ones who the contest is there to entertain, and frankly, I don’t buy it.

    Norway could have done with this level of help last year when they actually did send a superb song.

  13. 13
    mike on 19 May 2009 #

    “Have any major careers other than ABBA’s been given a significant boost by Eurovision?”

    As well as the aforementioned Celine Dion, Secret Garden have done well since winning for Norway in 1995, and Dima Bilan successfully capitalised on his runner-up position in 2006 (before winning outright in 2008). Gina G also scored a respectable run of hits, following “Ooh Aah… Just A Little Bit” in 1996.

  14. 14
    mike on 19 May 2009 #

    (Pop fact: Westlife’s best known #1 “You Raise Me Up” was originally a Secret Garden song.)

  15. 15
    Tom on 19 May 2009 #

    “Best known #1” eh? We will have MANY OPPORTUNITIES to examine that very claim. :(

  16. 16
    Erithian on 19 May 2009 #

    Tom #11 – the interval act at Brighton in 1974 was the Wombles, and they did pretty well afterwards too. Let’s keep the W******e era in the distant future while we can, eh?

  17. 17
    mike t-d on 19 May 2009 #

    Just released: those jury-only votes in full: http://www.eurovision.tv/page/news?id=2803 (Same Top Two, UK up to 3rd place, France up to 4th place.)

  18. 18
    edward o on 20 May 2009 #

    Juries liking Denmark and hating Albania = proof that the phone-voters might actually know more than given credit for. There’s no universe in which Denmark’s was better than Albania’s.

  19. 19
    Malice Cooper on 22 May 2009 #

    All that ridiculous choreography and Baron Greenback on the piano couldn’t hide the fact that Lloyd Webber took 1 minute to write this back in 1978 and the soap opera script of the selection process was ludicrous at best, dishonest at worst. Yes she can sing. Yes the song was crap.

    Lloyd Webber trolled her through as many European countries as he could to try and buy votes. The Cd was given free with magazines across eastern Europe and still only managed 5th place, which might be an improvement in recent years but it is still not very impressive.

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