It happens every year: as sure as the rising sun, as predictable as the summer rain, as tiresome as Bank station at rush hour. The United Kingdom scores poorly at the Eurovision Song Contest, and out come the cries of “well, they all just hate us”, “it’s far too political now” and – a favourite! – “why do we even spend license fee money on it?”
#Eurovision how much does this daft farce cost the BBC as we languish last with nil points
— Andrew Pierce (@toryboypierce) May 12, 2018
To be fair, if ever there was a year to feel like maybe – maybe! – we were a little hard done by, it’s 2018. SuRie – sweet, pure SuRie – took to the stage in Lisbon on Saturday night as the rank outsider; given microscopic odds by bookies of finishing dead last, armed only with a song as exciting as a raunchy Michael Gove calendar.
But as she serenaded the continent on Saturday night, along came a stage invasion so unexpected it probably made Lee Nelson and that girl who threw eggs at Simon Cowell shit themselves with envy. It must have been scary for SuRie, but boy did it put her on the map: the roars of support from the audience were deafening, and she massively stepped up her game: the final chorus of Storm was delivered with the kind of hunger and determination I haven’t seen since the last time I queued for McDonald’s on the Strand in the small hours of a Saturday morning. “This is it!” people cried. “Our ship’s come in! The sympathy vote cometh!”
The sympathy vote did not cometh. The UK finished 24th out of 26. And fair dos: SuRie did deserve better. Even putting aside The Incident on Saturday night, those who were at the Jury Final on Friday seem to agree that she smashed it there, too. So it’s no real surprise that the the British viewers who want an end to our participation are even louder than usual. “Well then,” they huff. “If we can’t even do well AFTER THAT, what’s the point anymore? Why are we spending so much of the license fee payers’ money on something that’ll only leave us humiliated?”
Let’s look at the business aspect first: Eurovision is an indisputable hit. It may not attract the giant ratings that will put it on year-end best-of lists, but make no mistake: as Saturday night prime-time shows go, the numbers are fantastic. This year the final averaged 6.9 million viewers on BBC One, peaking at 8.1 million as the winner was announced. For comparison that’s 200,000 higher than last year, and 100,000 higher than Britain’s Got Talent – currently the biggest show on TV – which was airing at the same time on ITV.
Sure, the BBC puts a lot of money into Eurovision, but the value is insane when you consider the amount of effort they have to actually put in to the night itself – and it’s still considerably cheaper than whatever other big Saturday night broadcast would take its place if they dropped it altogether. The attention it still gets is still enormous, too: did you see the Twitter trending list on Saturday evening? And according to the Google Trends graph below, the difference in search volume between Eurovision (blue line) and BGT (red line) was huge (that big peak is Saturday night, and yes the data is from the UK only):
Bottom line, fact fans: people care about it. They may get frustrated, they may hate the vast majority of the entrants, but they’re still tuning in. And if those of us with little-to-no interest in sport, Mrs Brown’s Boys and Sunday night dramas called Oh To Look Longingly Across The Meadow In A Big Hat can accept that the license fee is spent on a varied range of programming, the anti-Eurovision brigade can damn well allow us a lovely camp-as-tits song contest one weekend a year.
Because make no mistake (and forgive the generalisation): as far as the gays are concerned, Eurovision is the World Cup, and you don’t hear us ranting about misuse of taxpayers’ money whenever England’s football team crash and burn.
The Gays will be reminding you of this tired ass question when we inevitably do shit in the World Cup https://t.co/53YBxpqmaj
— Philip Ellis (@Philip_Ellis) May 14, 2018
Let's get this in perspective. The BBC paid Chris Evans between £2.2m and £2.25m in 2016-17. So all the pomp and drama and excitement of Eurovision costs less than a seventh of his annual salary. BARGAIN. https://t.co/gnCjUvV9ME
— Nick Levine (@mrnicklevine) May 14, 2018
So if we do stay involved (and we will), how can we actually score more points?
In the words of Monique Heart, facts are facts – and the facts are that our recent track record at the contest is poor, especially with the voting public. Last year Lucie Jones delivered one of the evening’s best vocal performances and ranked 10th with the juries, but coming 20th with the voting public meant she had to settle for 15th overall. A similar thing happened in 2016, to a lesser extent, when Joe and Jake came 17th with the Jury but second-to-last in the televote. Electro Velvet’s 2015 song was so achingly shit I won’t even look up its scores, but Molly’s decent Children of the Universe in 2014 had a similar fate, coming 16th with the jury and 21st with the public.
Is it really because Europe hates us? Is it genuinely because it’s all “so political now”? Is it even because, as one faceless fucker wrote on Twitter, Europeans “are happy to come take our benefits, but otherwise hate us”?
Putting aside the nonsensical racism in that particular example, there is definitely a slight element of buddying-up in the voting, that’s indisputable. But it’s hard to make a convincing argument for Eurovision being entirely politically-motivated when Israel – Israel!!! After the year they’ve had!! – have walked away victorious. Of course neighbours do vote for neighbours, and we’re no exception: in this year’s televote, the UK and Ireland gave each-other ten points. But to say we’re flopping because we don’t have any close friends or neighbours is way off the mark. Maybe it’s the difference between coming 24th and coming 13th, but it’s not why we’re not winning.
Here’s the thing: to compete for the win, we need BETTER SONGS.
Bear with me here, because there’s nothing ostensibly wrong with Storm, and last year there was nothing bad, really, about Never Give Up On You. Joe and Jake, too, delivered what I thought was a perfectly serviceable bop in You’re Not Alone the year before that. In many instances, we do send songs that are absolutely fine. But the Eurovision scoring system is not designed for fine.
Put it this way: each country’s jury and each country’s voting public will give points only to their favourite 10 songs (12pts to their fave, 10pts to their second-fave, and 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 points for their third-to-tenth faves). So hypothetically, let’s say:
- Country A sends a lovely little guitar-driven acoustic number. Everyone’s like, ‘ah, this is nice’. And in a remarkable coincidence, it ends up being the 11th favourite song of every single jury, and it also comes in 11th place in every national vote. With 26 songs on offer, that’s a great achievement, right?
- Country B sends a man in a chicken suit singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in Shyriiwook, the language of the Wookie. It’s every jury’s 26th (i.e. least) favourite song, and in every single national vote it comes dead last. Except! One national jury actually quite likes it – and it’s their 10th favourite song of the night.
Who scores the most in that scenario? Country A with the lovely ballad or Country B with the batshit chicken man? It’s Country B. Because while being everyone’s 11th favourite song is a very good achievement, remember each jury and each national televote can only give points to 10 songs. For coming 11th across the board, Country A scored 0 points. Country B, despite coming last in most nations, scored 1 point; and finished higher on the overall leaderboard than Country A.
What I’m saying is: let’s send the Wookie chicken.
I’m kidding – my point is that songs as middle-of-the-road as Storm just aren’t going to score the big points. You need to be bolder, more unique; either bang on-trend or so ahead of the curve that you’re setting a trend yourself. Look at Netta this year: Toy is ABSURD, while Cyprus’s Fuego – which came second – is an epic banger with the exact kind of slick staging and choreography that created so much hysteria around Cheryl’s X Factor performances a few years ago.
Standing out doesn’t necessarily mean being as subtle as a brick to the balls, either: last year’s winner, Portgual’s Amar pelos dois, may have been exceptionally uninteresting to me personally (and its singer a rude borelord), but it did give viewers something different. It stood out enough to resonate. I mean fuck, in 2016 Ukraine won with a song about the deportation of the Crimean Tatars by the Soviet Union! And before that, in 2012, Sweden’s Loreen delivered a straight-up pop masterpiece so current and universally appealing that it not only won the contest but became the first winner since 1997 to reach the Top 3 of the UK singles chart.
Long story short, we need to be bolder. SuRie is a very promising popstar, a social media queen and a thorough professional, but she just didn’t have a good enough song. It’s not that politics and neighbourly-relations don’t play a part – they do, to an extent. But it reeks of entitlement to say that the reason the UK has been struggling has “nothing to do with music”.
Eurovision is big; and it’s still absolutely worth our involvement. It’s a highlight of the entire year for many people. But in terms of moaning about our own performance, we just need to do it right.
It’s a song contest – we need better songs.