Måneskin lifting the trophy aloft, May 2021.
I've been following the Eurovision Song Contest since 1966. I've written about it in auto fiction, in plays and in the press. For all that, I wouldn't call myself an expert. I'm not one of those fans who can sing any song you name from 1992 or tell you how many points The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia received from Russia in 2014. However, I am passionately in love with the pan-continental musical bun fight, and I find it hard to fault.
It has always been an expression of diversity and unity through difference, qualities it now explicitly celebrates. One of the contest's earliest winning songs, Luxembourg's 1961 Nous les amoureux, contained references to a gay relationship at a time when homosexuality was still criminalised in many European countries (including the UK). Now diversity is openly exalted in almost every song as the contest continues to stay one step ahead of the continent’s cultural shifts. Think of Dana International in 1998 or Conchita Wurst in 2014.
One truth has remained throughout. The UK looks down on Eurovision, and yet it is horrified when it doesn’t win. This year I saw the show in Germany, blissfully unaware of the outrage being felt in the UK as the British contestant garnered no points from anyone. The next day on social media I encountered a shitstorm of hurt feelings and bitter hatred towards the contest and Europe in general for snubbing the UK. All sorts of theories contended for space, the most popular one was that we were being punished for Brexit.
Well, don’t we deserve to be? Anyway, the fact is that James Newman’s horrible song got zero points because it is a horrible song. And it was a horrible song because the BBC who chooses the UK entry, is paralysed by the conflicting attitudes of entitlement and am-I-bovvered?ness. It is fossilised in rubbish thinking about what we ought to enter and what might do well, and unable to convince anyone half decent to focus on writing something proper. With all its might, it can't persuade a writer with any talent to create a song and employ a singer who can sing to a stadium. It wasn't always the case. In the late 60s when I first watched the show, it was the big stars who performed for Britain. And the UK's scores reflected that. Between 1967 and 1981, the UK came 1st four times, 2nd five times and 3rd twice.
Now, we’re regularly stuck at the bottom of the (shameful) right hand side of the table among the losers, who are often other large, perhaps equally entitled countries like Germany and Spain. The minnows, conversely, triumph. San Marino, Malta and Moldova all did better than the UK this year. They usually do. And the reason is simple. They have meaningful competitions to find songs or hire regional stars who have stadium experience and TV charisma. They hire stagers and choreographers and video makers who summon up Eurovision magic with big budgets and a great deal of thought. They tour their song round the continent for months before the event. They campaign, they engage and they work their asses off. We just rock up, all nonchalant and chippy, privileged to miss the cut and thrust of the semi-finals, and expect everyone to bow down before our piece of crap. And this year, as it was last year, it was seriously crap. Listen, if you can, to Embers by James Newman without any prejudiced thinking. I bet you can’t get to the end of the third minute without switching off.
And that’s how you come last in Eurovision.