Tuesday, 23 May 2017

The Politics of Eurovision

by Katie Sharp

Love it or hate it, the Eurovision Song Contest is one of the biggest international events. The 2016 Contest in Stockholm saw 204 million watchers around Europe (and Australia), making it the most watched event of the night in the majority of the countries taking part.

The Eurovision Song Contest (originally Eurovision Grand Prix) was created in 1956 in Switzerland to try to unify war-torn Europe through light entertainment, as it would give the countries in Europe a shared low-stakes event to compete against each other at.

However, owing to its international popularity, there are controversies surrounding the contest- particularly about politics. It is often argued that it isn't a competition of music, instead competition of who is popular and unpopular in Europe. Terry Wogan, the UK’s former presenter of Eurovision, stepped down from his role in 2008, saying “The voting used to be about the songs. Now it’s about national prejudices. We (the UK) are on our own. We had a very good song, a very good singer, we came joint last. I don’t want to be presiding over another debacle.” After the UK’s involvement in the Iraq War from 2003, the UK has failed to score very highly, entering the top 10 only once, in 2009. While it could be that the quality of the British contestants is the cause of this, it is most likely a result of the UK’s unpopularity in Europe after the invasion of Iraq, as shown by the UK receiving its first “nul points” in 2003, immediately after the beginning of the Iraq war.

The effect of politics is also shown in the “voting blocs”, where competing countries form alliances to vote for each other. These voting blocs were so influential that in 2009, national juries were introduced alongside the televote, providing 50% of the points for each country. However, the voting blocs are still recognised in Eurovision, as during the presentation of votes there is often booing from the crowd, particularly during the former USSR countries’ votes.

Another controversy surrounding Eurovision is the introduction of the “Big Five” (originally the “Big Four” until Italy competed in 2010 after a fourteen year absence) in 2000, which is five countries- consisting of the UK, France, Germany, Spain and Italy- that don't have to compete in the semi-finals to earn a place in the final. These countries, as the biggest financial contributors to the European Broadcasting Union (which produces Eurovision), automatically progress to the final. This is particularly controversial as many feel that these countries are paying to be in the final, whereas smaller and poorer countries must work hard and be popular to be in the final. This is shown in the generally low scores for the Big Five, and there has only been one contestant from the Big Five- Lena, for Germany- to have won the contest since the automatic qualification to the final.

It could be argued that the idea of Eurovision celebrating different cultures and allowing countries to show off their heritage is no longer true as almost all of the songs are sung in English- in 2017, only 4 songs in the contest were entirely in languages other than English. This is often because songs that aren't in English typically score less than English language songs (though the winning song of ESC 2017 was Portuguese, breaking this trend).

The 2017 Contest in Kiev also involved Russia withdrawing from the competition, as the Russian contestant, Julia Samoylova, was issued a ban from entering Ukraine after she was selected as the Russian entry, as she had illegally entered Crimea through Russia in 2015. The Director General of the EBU criticised Ukraine’s actions, saying that Ukraine was “abusing the Contest for political reasons”.

However, while Eurovision may be full of politics and controversies, it is still just a song competition, full of cheesy songs and unnecessary pyrotechnics and bizarre costumes- which is what the Eurovision Song Contest is really about. So, here is the interval act from the 2016 contest, which shows how to make a successful Eurovision song, complete with contestants from the years before.

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