Updated: Jul 30
The Eurovision Song contest seems to have become a surreal kitsch virtue signalling marathon...but Terry Wogan warned us that would happen...
With the heated and hateful Brexit divorce doing the ‘one step forward, two steps back’ dance, it would seem many European conventions are under scrutiny. Gibraltar has been thrown into the familial breakup as the EU dangles the rock in front of the Spanish, without the consent of its inhabitants, even the Spanish lottery uses xenophobia to encourage sales.
At least we can all put our differences aside and get together for a big ‘ol knees up, in the World’s largest and most loved musical talent contest! As we pit our Nation’s greatest talents against each other, in a mutually respectful challenge to find the next generations musical messiah’s. The winner will indeed, take it all. No? C’est la vie!
The Great Global Sing-a-long
The Eurovision song contest was conceived by Marcel Bezencon and based on the Sanremo Music Festival, it has been aired since its inauguration in 1956. This makes it the longest running international televised contest and one of the world’s longest running television programmes (its ageing alongside Doctor Who, perhaps explaining some of the original kitsch appeal). It is also one of the most watched non-sporting events, with audience figures of between 100 million and 600 million internationally. It even attracts audiences in non-participating countries with broadcasts going out in the United States, Canada, New Zealand, and China.
The golden era of music and entertainment
The original platform was, well, a music contest. During the Second World War the ‘variety show’ in England was a form of light entertainment designed to draw the general publics minds away from the horror of potential apocalypse. Similar entertainment flourished across Europe in swing bars, dance halls and ballrooms. The Eurovision was intended to bring a war torn Europe together again, with a good old sing-along. But it was, after all, a competition and as such, each Nation showcased their greatest talent.
The contest had the impact it intended and it soon became a European annual tradition to gather with family and friends to enjoy the cultural exchange of music. The weird, the wonderful the genuinely talented. Eurovision has hosted some spectacular artists and formed careers. Previous contestants include ABBA, Julio Iglesias, Celine Dione, Lulu, Cliff Richard, The Shadows, Olivia Newton John and Bonnie Tyler. But it wasn’t just the quality of the performers that maintained this tradition, the British broadcast was ritually presented by Sir Terry Wogan from 1971 to 2008. Wogan brought his own Irish charm and flair to the show, a gently mocking and light hearted approach that maintained the kitsch ‘cabaret’ feel, which later formed the very British epitaph on the Eurovision gravestone ‘never take yourself too seriously.’
The fat lady sang on Wogan’s association with Eurovision in 2008, but she had been warming up for some time. It was not just the end of his delightfully entertaining presentation, when he left, he took the final remnants of style with him. Wogan had always been playful with his commentary, making subtle jokes about the ‘neighbourly’ voting "and Ukraine just wanted to be absolutely sure that the oil and the electricity rolls through” he remarked in 2007 when Ukraine awarded Russia maximum points for a paltry performance. The whole affair was like a family get together, his ‘eye rolling’ banter while being its principal commentator drew a larger crowd across the years, with opening lines such as “who knows what hellish future lies ahead? Actually, I do. I’ve seen the rehearsals.” He soon gained a loyal following, likewise, he gained enemies amongst the humourless Eurovision hardcore. He described hardcore Eurovision fans as “anoraks to a man”, who “hate me with a deep and abiding hatred.” But he loved it, or at least he did once, describing it as “magnificently awful” it seemed that in later years the smile slipped, as did the “magnificently.” When he quit in 2008 he justified the end of his 37 year long European love affair in simple terms "it's no longer a music contest.” The show started to take itself too seriously, with an increased budget, the emphasis bled into visual spectacles, dance routines, daring costumes, special effects, bearded women and virtue signalling politics. Wogan saw what was coming next. Unfortunately, he left the planet in 2016 but there’s no doubt he would be unsurprised by the descent of the contest into a pastiche of itself, as he had foreseen.
Music and virtue
In recent years the platform has naturally adapted to the times, with a more modern variety of musical offerings. However, it would seem a handful of contributors have downloaded the same samples studio (grumble all sounds the same grumble). Although, as Wogan pointed out as he exited the building, it’s no longer a music contest. The organisers locked horns with Wogan after the UK hosted the event in 1998 and Wogan had presented the whole contest to its entire audience, with his usual humour. Christer Björkman, the Swedish producer of 2016's contest, claimed that Wogan had “totally spoiled Eurovision” and “raised a generation of viewers believing this was a fun, kitsch show that had no relevance whatsoever... Because of what Terry Wogan did, the UK don’t put in their best efforts.” So, in 2018 we tuned in to see what the ‘best efforts’ of the rest of Europe were. The winning track ‘Toy’ by Netta Barzilai of Israel features inspiring lyrics such as “Ree, ouch, hey, hm, la. Ree, ouch, hey, hm, la. Ree, ree, ouch, ouch, ouch, la” and “My teddy bear's running away. The Barbie got somethin' to say, hey, hey, hey” followed by the profound “Pam pam pa hoo, prram pam pa hoo.” Good music just isn’t enough, the Eurovision is now using its broadcasting power as a platform for social justice and political orthodoxy. The European best effort ‘Toy’ is imbibed with a strong message to all boys that Netta is “not your toy” this message applies to women in general, as the track aims to highlight how men use women. Complete with its own best effort chicken dance.
Ireland’s offering was actually rather tuneful, a strong offering in the form of a traditional ballad ‘Together’ by Ryan O’Shaughnessy. The song caused some controversy when it was banned from broadcast in China as the video and performance feature a gay romance. Ryan had said that the Eurovision scoreboard wasn’t the most important thing for him and he’s proud his message of LGBT inclusivity has been spread around the world. He added “one of the biggest things we wanted to do was push a message of inclusivity.” Making no mention of the song itself, in fact, the media focused on the very same thing ‘the message’ demonstrating that the Eurovision is absolutely no longer about music rather than scoring social justice points.
Meanwhile, the UK’s entry ‘Storm’ by SuRie was interrupted by a protester seeing the singing contest as an opportunity to promote his personal political perspective, grabbing the mic and spouting something about Corbyn before being removed. He received zero votes.
Talent or tales
It is true that we have cultivated an interest in gruelling backstories or oppression points, television is saturated with ‘talent shows’ that depend on the struggle of the individual. Not in terms of talent, who cares if they can sing or juggle, we need suffering and social justice. Wogan saw the departure long ago and perhaps we have finally arrived, are you not entertained?