For as long as I can remember I’ve been a fan of the Eurovision Song Contest. I recall, when I was young, being wowed by the spectacle and the amazing fact that it was a show being broadcast all over Europe, bringing so many different people together in a moment of continental hilarity. And in later years it was something special too; something that hit the nostalgia nodules of the brain just right, something different from all the usual crap on television, something gaudy and kitsch and unashamedly us. America couldn’t do this. This was Europe.Parties! People like parties! People all over Europe like parties! Not so long ago we had a party every year with people who wanted to sit through, eat, drink, and enjoy the Eurovision Song Contest. But now there are fewer people and less enjoyment. The competition is broken; it’s been corrupted by greed. Right now we’re at a point where the whole event is just a few years away from yet another in the long, long line of generic “talent” programmes designed to find the next star of limited interest, with practically nothing to distinguish it from some Simon Cowell-produced tedium. And that moment of continental hilarity has been usurped by one of political complaints and bickering.
Here’s what’s wrong with the Eurovision Song Contest:
1. The Jury Vote
It used to be just the national juries who voted. Then it was just the people who voted. Now it’s the jury and the people in a 50/50 split. And it’s not working.
When the jury used to vote it was at a time when people would accept that there may well be people who knew better than they did. We accepted it as much for that reason as the fact there was no practical democratic way to do anything else. The problem with a jury vote is that the members of the jury may not accurately represent the will of the people and, quite often, this was exactly the case. Luckily, there was no internet on which to complain. A second problem with a Eurovision jury is that it’s very easy to fix results. Juries are corruptible.
When the people voted we hit another problem which I want to address in my list of suggested remedies for fixing Eurovision. People vote for things they like but the things people like are borne out of the environment in which they live. People who hear nothing but folk songs will tend to prefer folk songs to disco. People who hear nothing but ballads might suffer a heart attack if subjected to thrash metal. People listen to music available in their countries and, to some extent, those neighbouring them; they become used to that type of music; it becomes familiar; it becomes unstrange. Scandinavian countries vote for Scandinavian-sounding music. Balkan countries vote for Balkan-sounding music. Former Soviet countries do as Vladimir Putin orders them to do. The UK and Ireland vote for one another. It’s not political voting but it is a problem when a large block of countries that share musical appreciation all make it through to the final.
Now we have the jury and the public voting. This is supposed to reduce that not-political political voting by adding in the weight of national juries who will allegedly vote on song writing and performance. But the juries are still swayed by their environment and they’re still corruptible. Worse: there’s little room for the surprise element. If the jury comprises five people, none of whom like love songs about women, then a sudden swelling in that jury’s nation’s people’s appreciation for love songs about women is going to have negligible effect; a potential 8 or 10 points might be reduced to a 2. This is bad enough in the final but the fact that the jury holds that same power in the semi finals too means there’s a high chance of very similar-sounding and arguably dull songs making it through to the Saturday; that clearly doesn’t make for interesting listening or viewing.
The Eurovision jury simply has too much power.
2. The Favourites
What makes a song or a group of songs the favourite or favourites in the eyes of the bookmakers? Do bookmakers have some inner sense of what European viewers are going to like? The answers are “simple analysis” and “no” respectively.Which do you think would be more likely to win a music competition? A song that’s been performed a few times in public in Estonia or a song that’s sold hundreds of thousands of copies in a dozen countries in the months leading up to the event? Oh, that’s a tricky one!
So, then, why has one song sold so well and the other hasn’t? The latter one probably wasn’t even released. It may not be performed by a well-known star. The artist possibly has only a small management team. He or she may not even have a record contract.
Essentially, some songs get a running start on the competition. It used to be something that happened on a Saturday night. It became a week-long event. But in reality, for some entries, they get months of advantage; months in which to be heard, months in which to become familiar, months in which to tip the voting habits of people and, worse, the too-powerful jury.
A competition with a foregone conclusion as to the outcome is not a competition at all.
Which leads me to my suggestions for preventing the death of the Eurovision Song Contest. These suggestions would turn the show back into something surprising, exciting, and entirely different from those ubiquitous, next “great” “music” “stars” shows. These suggestions would help to unite Europe in hilarity and mockery which are two wonderful tools for peace.
Suggestion #1: Jury Vote Power Reduction
The final will be more interesting if more interesting acts are in it. A final where every other act is just another version of the same thing doesn’t hold the attention. To this end the jury should have reduced voting power in the final and severely reduced voting power in the semi final. I would suggest 35% of the vote in the final and only 15% in the semi final. Give the odd choice of the Latvians a chance at continental fame on the Saturday night! Let Europe come together in open-mouthed awe at what Slovakia decided best represented their chance at glory. A surprise will get people talking more than an inevitability. This still means that countries are more likely to vote for songs that sound similar to what they hear – the classic “political” voting issue – but the next suggestion should help to lessen that problem somewhat.
Suggestion #2: No Pre-Released Tracks
Only allow tracks to be performed that have not had a release prior to the contest anywhere in Europe. This removes a great deal of the advantage of familiarity giving songs a more even starting position. This doesn’t stop hardcore fans from listening to the songs or viewing the video, sharing it, raving about it, and it won’t prevent a clever PR firm from working some viral marketing magic into promoting their artist’s track. But it makes it harder; it won’t just be about throwing money at promotion for fear of a viral backlash. It gives the smaller countries a fairer crack at the whip. It makes the final interesting for more casual viewers as everything will sound new.
Suggestion #3: Helping The Big Five
The big five countries – the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain – rarely fare really well and it’s hard to put a finger on the reason why. Part of it could be a sense in Europe that despite forking up most of the money for the production of the contest these countries don’t really deserve to be there. It’s difficult to counter that. Another reason could be one of unpreparedness for the final; unlike the other entrants on the Saturday evening the big five (and the hosts) will only have performed in dress rehearsals and in front of smaller audiences. It shouldn’t make too much of a difference for good artists but it might do. I would suggest getting those big five and the hosts to perform in the semi finals too (but without the ability to be voted upon, obviously); this gives them a chance at some Eurovision week exposure and experience in front of the arena crowd. It’s not much but it could help and without a little help there’s a danger that those big five nations could become disenchanted with the event and that would mean the death of the Eurovision Song Contest.
The interest factor in Eurovision is slipping for me and if the contest doesn’t halt its slide towards being an X Factor or Pop Idol clone then that interest will vanish entirely. It needs tweaking to bring Europe together and the show needs to be about eye-opening entertainment, just like it used to be.