The Politics of Eurovision? –
By Maddy Jeffrey
Eurovision is supposedly a song contest however in recent years the music competition has morphed into something far more complicated and arguably more political.
It has been 21 long years since the UK last won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1997; Katrina and the Waves stole the show promoting peace and love with the song ‘Love Shine a Light’ at Dublin Point Theatre. In recent years our luck in the Eurovision Song Contest has been not been particularly wonderful as despite the fact that we automatically qualify to the final, within the last 10 years, the closest we have come to winning was in 2009 coming in 5th place with the song ‘It’s My Time’ sung by Jade Ewan which was written and produced by Andrew Lloyd Weber. Even within the short time of 9 years, Eurovision (and Europe as a whole) has changed. A simple song promoting world peace is no longer enough to win the trophy. So what makes a Eurovision winner? An impactful song and well planned staging with a strong, universal message is surely the perfect package. Well… that may no longer be the case.
There’s no doubt that in order to win Eurovision a strong song is needed however whether or not the country is a ‘liked’ country plays a huge part in the voting process. If we’re completely honest with ourselves, the UK is not the most loved country in Europe. Our lack of interest in integrating with the rest of Europe hasn’t led to us being celebrated in the sparkly, diverse world of Eurovision; the results of a certain political vote in 2016 probably isn’t going to improve the perception of the UK in years going forward either. Whenever we do poorly (near enough every year), we often claim that it is political however even after the results of that certain political vote previously mentioned, in 2017 Lucie Jones came in 15TH place – the best the UK has done since entering Blue in 2011 who came in 11th (which is still not great considering the fact that Jedward placed 8th). So maybe Eurovision isn’t that political after all. Maybe it really is about having a catchy song and engaging staging.
In a perfect meritocratic Eurovision world, the best song would (win no matter where it was from) and the points given from all countries would genuinely go to what they thought was the best performance. However, in truth, it is rather comical to watch the voting as chances are you can predict how the majority of countries would vote without actually hearing the songs. Belarus almost always gives their 12 points to Russia: Norway, Sweden and Denmark kindly help each other out; Eastern European countries pass on the points to their neighbours and Greece and Cyprus could enter a horrific mess but somehow still they would give each other 12 points. This has not gone unnoticed. I’d highly recommend listening very carefully to the results from Greece and Cyprus as in 2017 the audience vocally booed when the not-so-surprising points were given. One of the only anomalous results of the ‘voting for your neighbour theory’ is the UK and Ireland as we haven’t given Ireland 12 points in recent years and they haven’t given us 12 points either.
Political voting doesn’t just affect the results of the UK. Take one of the most controversial Eurovision results in the 62 years of its existence – the head to head fight between Ukraine and Russia in 2016. Going into the competition, Sergey Lazarev (representing Russia) was favourite to win with a rather generic, western sounding pop song, complimented by impressive technological staging. In direct contrast to this, Jamala (from Ukraine) performed a song called ‘1944’ which told a personal story with a strong Eastern European sound with basic but powerful staging. If this was any other year then this showdown would be a bit less awkward however considering the annexation of Crimea in 2014; the increasing tension between the two nations; the fact that Jamala’s song was written about the deportation of Crimean Tatars in the 1940’s by the Soviet Union and the featuring of the impactful line ‘they kill you all and say they’re not guilty’, this was going to be controversial. This became true when Ukraine won. Many people claimed that people were just voting politically against Russia however many people defended Jamala’s song claiming that her win had nothing to do with politics. Ultimately, this controversy led to Russia not participating in the 2017 competition, but they are back again this year so hopefully they will be welcomed back with open arms as making reference to the 2016 slogan, Eurovision (idealistically) exists to help people ‘come together’.
Thankfully, looking past the Russian elephant in the room, the main Eurovision event in 2017 was a very entertaining, politically neutral show. The main highlight for me was Portugal winning with a beautiful ballad performed with extremely minimalistic staging and a lot of heart. After Salvador Sobral won, there was no political outcry and people were (mostly) united in the fact that he was the rightful winner. Considering the fact that the song was sung entirely in Portuguese, it is rather incredible that the song went on to win especially when observing the fact that political voting was still running rampant. Hopefully this trend continues into the future as the extravagant, welcoming world of Eurovision truly does have the power to unite Europe through music, even if it is only for one week every year!
A year has passed since Eurovision 2017 and the stage is being prepared for another fabulous show in early May. Despite the fact that it shouldn’t be political, chances are we aren’t going to send Russia many points and they won’t send the UK points either. To attempt to predict the winner of Eurovision has always been almost impossible but what we can always rely on is that Greece will give Cyprus 12 points; Cyprus will return the favour; Norway and Denmark will vote for Sweden and the UK will place in the bottom 5. If this proves to be true, I think its pretty safe to say that Eurovision is more influenced by politics rather than the song quality and entertainment value but isn’t that what makes Eurovision such trashy fun?