Various odd traditions have sprung up around the Eurovision Song Contest. Themed parties, cliché-bingo cards, and thousands of wisecracking tweets nobody reads because they’re too busy tweeting their own are among the healthy and harmless ones. But by far the biggest spin-off from Eurovision, certainly in Britain, is baseless moaning.
Baseless moaning started in earnest in the mid-noughties, when it was confidently stated that Britain should rightly be winning the contest every year, just as it had at the glorious peak of Empire – but that this was now impossible, either because continental voters hated us on account of the Iraq invasion, or because hundreds of tiny eastern European countries, each of them the size of a badminton court, were skewing the vote by giving 12 points to a slightly bigger country nearby that was threatening to invade. Britain were statistically frozen out.
This argument fell down in the face of stats showing that the winner tended to be popular across Europe, not just in the Pickled Herring Bloc. It also ignored that we regularly misunderstand the very nature of the contest and submit the most boring song we can conceive of. Go on, hum a bit of Children of the Universe, Molly Smitten-Downes’ 17th-placed entry. You can’t, can you? Halfway through its airing on Saturday night, I forgot it was on and wandered absent-mindedly out of the lounge in some kind of super-bored fugue state. I even suspended my personal stream of wisecracking tweets.
Anyway, that’s not the focus of this year’s baseless moaning. As a response to the moaning about block voting, the Contest has partially reintroduced the old jury system. Only half of our douze points came from your televotes: they were weighed equally against the verdict, based on the Friday-night dress rehearsal, of a panel of music-industry experts.
“Outrage! These so-called experts didn’t match the view of the public. They were so out of touch with the unassailable rightness of the phone vote that they thought Poland’s entry, We Are Slavic, was the worst of the night, whereas armchair punters thought it was the best. This averaged out at 11th, which meant pas de points for Poland from Royaume-Uni. The Poles had been shafted.
As soon as these numbers were released, the screaming began. Sack the jury, cried people who hadn’t quite thought it through and realised that offering a different view to the public is sort of the point of having a jury. It reminded me of the annual reaction to our RT critics’ list of the best TV shows of the year. Why doesn’t it have all the biggest-rating programmes in it, you snooty buggers? Well, because that list already exists and this is something different, dummy.
In the case of the Eurovision Song Contest, it strikes me that the juries perform an essential function. Rather than completely leaving it to the public to vote for what they like, for whatever reason that might be (remember: five minutes ago, you were moaning about that), the juries reward… songs. The UK panel, led this year by no less a figure than Carrie Grant from Fame Academy and CBeebies, favoured Malta – the unexciting but accomplished folky one, where the only gimmick was the singer whapping out his dulcimer halfway through. They also liked the late-Britpop thrash of Finland’s entry, and the solid Bond-theme pastiche sung by Austria’s Conchita Würst. The latter became the UK’s official choice, and indeed the overall winner.
The British people, however, were voting with their penises and rewarding Poland for their on-stage antics. Distracting us from We Are Slavic – a rigorously tuneless, shouted effort that was aurally reminiscent of being trapped in a lift with geese – were two moist, pneumatically busty models, provocatively doing laundry and churning butter, in a will-this-do parody of olde worlde country wenches.
Now, there are gimmicks and there are gimmicks. Voting for fun staging, political statements and kitsch appeal are all fine and dandy. Conchita Würst probably picked up several hundred thousand votes across Europe from people who wanted the fabulous transgender diva to win. Sparkly, forward-thinking sexual politics are, so long as they’re tied to a more than decent song as they were here, very much part of the Eurovision magic. Poland’s tacky visual representation of a Nigel Farage fever dream very much isn’t. If a mysterious cabal of music-biz insiders is what’s needed to stop Britain’s hot-fingered, Zoo-reading berks Getting Eurovision Wrong, I say so be it.