Eurovision Song Contest @ Wiener Stadthalle, Vienna 23/05/15

Ah, Eurovision. Founded in 1956 as an annual event based around the Sanremo Music Festival to celebrate the best of European music. Now political voting and cringe-worthy performances made slightly more bearable for the British public by Graham Norton’s ruthless mick-taking and sarcasm. This year’s show, held in Vienna, saw the song contest hosted by 2014’s winner, Austrian bearded lady Conchita Wurst and Sweden’s Mans Zelmerlow come up trumps to beat 26 other acts, including the UK’s Electro Velvet, with his electro-pop song ‘Heroes’.

Swing duo, Electro Velvet’s song ‘Still in Love with You’ was selected by the BBC as the United Kingdom’s 2015 entry to the song contest. Expectations, or hopes rather, were not quite fulfilled by vocalists Bianca Nicholas and Alex Larke as they finished in 24th place with a grand total of 5 points in comparison to victors Sweden’s of 365. The BBC is yet to confirm a contestant for next year’s contest which will be hosted by a Swedish city. British singers Will Young and Olly Murs have been quick to dismiss speculation of their involvement.

Sweden’s win at Eurovision’s 60th final was their sixth- the last time being Loreen’s successful 2012 dance hit ‘Euphoria’. Mans Zelmerlow’s winning song Heroes was one which wasn’t really anything special. The only thing that made it stand out from the crowd was the choreography. The 28 year-old singer and Swedish TV presenter danced in time with animated gnomes projected onto a black screen behind him. It makes you wonder how many people voted for the song because of the song itself. Russia’s second place song ‘A Million Voices’ performed by Polina Gagarina was a shamelessly political song about war and peace, with images of guns displayed on the big screen. If we have learnt anything from Eurovision, it’s that political messages, animated backdrops an women with facial hair are vote winners. Just how much comes down to the music? 19 year-old Belgian Loic Notette’s song ‘Rhythm Inside’ was the best song of the night in my opinion. I was disappointed  see it only manage a fourth place spot, despite this being a good result for Belgium. Germany’s entry Ann Sophie performed a song written by British chart-topper Ella Eyre but still managed to end the night on zero points and finish last.

Mans Zelmerlow of Sweden performing 'Heroes'

Mans Zelmerlow of Sweden performing ‘Heroes’

Russia’s right-wing government will be relieved that Polina Gagarina’s song was beaten by Sweden as they have avoided having to host the song contest, which this year especially celebrated diversity and LGBT rights, next year in Moscow. The patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church once called Eurovision ‘repulsive to our soul and our culture’. Winner Mans Zelmerlow had been accused of being a homophobe himself in the run-up to the contest. While appearing on a cooking show on Swedish TV, he said that sex between a man and a woman was more ‘natural’ than sex between same sex couples. He has since dismissed accusations of homophobia and claimed he was ‘clumsy’ with his comments. The audience booed Polina Gagarina due to Vladimir Putin’s anti-gay laws, despite having been asked by the presenters to refrain from booing and to respect all participating countries regardless of politics. This wasn’t the first time Russian President Vladimir Putin had found himself being dragged into the world of Eurovision.

In 2008, it had been debated whether the nation of Georgia would compete at the following year’s song contest in Moscow due to the 2008 South Ossetia war. The Georgian broadcasting body announced that it would not be present at the 2009 song contest because it refused to perform in a country that ‘violates human rights and international laws’ and was concerned for the safety of its representatives. However, after Georgian three-piece Bzikebi won the 2008 Junior Eurovision in Cyprus, receiving the maximum 12 points from the Russian public, Georgia reversed it’s decision to withdraw. Stefan & 3G were selected for the 2009 contest after they performed their song ‘We Don’t Wanna Put In’ at a national final in Georgia. The song caused controversy as its lyrics were perceived as references to Vladimir Putin and its title and chorus ‘we don’t wanna put in’ as a (poorly) disguised way of saying ‘we don’t want Putin’. The Georgian broadcasting body denied these claims but were told by Eurovision to change the lyrics of the song or select a different song. Georgia complained that Eurovision had been put under pressure by Russia to reject the song and withdrew from the contest again.

put in single digi

Cover for Stefan & 3G’s 2008 single ‘We Don’t Wanna Put In’

Throughout Eurovision’s 60 year history, its annual events have been marred by politics. With countries voting for their neighbours and political allies and giving contestants from countries with poor international relations the cold shoulder. It often turns into a political poularity contest and the night of live music is quickly forgotten.

This year, celebrity chef Nigella Lawson- for some reason replacing Radio 1 DJ Scott Mills- gave the results of the British vote to the rest of Europe. Our maximum 12 points went to the overall winners Sweden, while our second largest amount of 10 points went to Australia. Yes, Australia. Our friends down under were invited to compete as a guest, possibly permanent, participant on Eurovision’s 60th birthday due to their political links with Europe. I found this a very strange decision from Eurovision to invite a country from outside of Europe on political grounds, when politics is something they supposedly want to eliminate from the contest. Anyway, the Australian entry was Guy Sebastian. Winner of the first Australian Idol in 2003 and a judge on the Australian X Factor, he is no stranger to singing competitions. His song ‘Tonight Again’ finished fifth on 196 points and topped off a successful Eurovision debut for the Aussies. Eurovision has considered the idea of similarly inviting guest participants to future editions of the song contest. If all the guest countries are going to be selected on political grounds, does that mean we could see the USA and China being involved in future?

Nigella Lawson revealing how the UK voted

Nigella Lawson revealing how the UK voted

The Eurovision Song Contest traditionally have two rounds that the contestants have to make it through before they can compete in the final. This year, Australia, Austria, France, Germany, Spain and the UK went directly to the final, bypassing the first two rounds. Australia went directly into the final because it was invited as a guest participant and, for now, was involved as a one-off. Austria went directly into the final because they won 2014’s contest with Conchita Wurst’s song ‘Rise Like A Phoenix’ and they were the host nation. So what about the other four? France, Germany, Spain and the UK were given a fast-track to the final as they are every year as a reward for being the top financial contributors to Eurovision. Which could be seen as buying a place in the final. When these four countries began getting an unconditional place in the final, they became known as the ‘big four’ due to the untouchable status in the first two elimination rounds. They are also there because Eurovision wants them there. When new countries in Eastern Europe such as Latvia and Belarus began competing, all the Eastern ‘bloc’ countries voted for each other, making the big four’s chances of reaching the final slimmer. Eurovision worried that the contest would become dominated by Eastern Europe and that it would lose viewers and its wealthy Western European contributors as a result. So they gave the big four direct routes to the final to ensure they would not be eliminated before it.

Is Eurovision a fair contest and a true celebration of music? Or are political and economic influences too great?

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