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“A maximum of 46 Active EBU Members shall be allowed to participate (the “Participating Broadcasters”).” – Public rules of the 61st Eurovision Song Contest

The EBU’s favourite non-active member is back. Australia will once again grace the Eurovision stage in Stockholm. This times it feels very different, though. Their first appearance was at least an interesting novelty and there was a reasonable explanation for their participation. Ahead of Vienna, we were told that the Australian entry was strictly a one-time deal (unless they won) and that it was purely a way to celebrate Eurovision’s 60th anniversary. This time, Australia, are here to stay.

Now, I don’t have a particular hatred for Australia in Eurovision. I’m not the sort of person who tends to call the contest “EUROvision” in these sorts of debates. My big problem is that when asked why Australia are taking part, all any of us can do is shrug our shoulders. There’s no principle that allows them to enter other than “Why not?”. My problem is that I think rules are important.

Olympic boxer Luke Campbell flies during the last season of Dancing on Ice before its cancellation.

Olympic boxer Luke Campbell flies during the last season of Dancing on Ice before its cancellation.

To illustrate, I’m going to look at Dancing On Ice. For those who didn’t have it in their country, it was basically a low-rent figure skating version of Dancing With The Stars. It was never as successful as its ballroom cousin and there are many reasons for that, but I think an important one was its lack of respect for its own rules. Over the years, Dancing On Ice got increasingly obsessed with twists to the format. One year it had couples team up in routines to win double points for their solo performances. Another would see pairs of dancers face off in duels for immunity from elimination. A third required the celebs to vote to decide who left out of the bottom two. What’s more, every year, towards the end, they would dispense with dancing and require the celebs to learn the completely new discipline of flying about the rink on a wire.

Part of the appeal of Strictly/Dancing With The Stars is that it keeps things simple. Year to year, week to week, celebs and their partners aim to dance well, get good marks from the judges and win votes from viewers. By the end of each series it gets quite serious and is almost treated as a sport. That is due to the constancy of the rules and the integrity that brings to the competition. Meanwhile, Dancing on Ice came across as a cheap reality show.

Eurovision Australia Guy Sebastian

Stockholm is that way

Eurovision currently achieves the same feat as pro-celeb ballroom dancing. Juries and phone votes may come and go, but primarily the format has remained the same for decades. European countries sing their songs, then dodgy hosts make awkward chit chat with foreign spokespeople over malfunctioning satellite link ups as they give out points from 1 to 12. It’s this continuity that gives the contest its meaning. The achievements of Måns or Conchita are set in a context against the winners that came before.

That’s not to say rules cannot change, but if they do, there needs to be a good explanation and a solid, logical structure behind the new rule. It’s no good saying “eh, why not?” If ESC is going to start inviting non-active EBU members, there needs to be a defined path to entry.

Are China next, and if so, how do they get in?

Are China next, and, if so, how do they get in?

So what sort of changes should we make to the rule book? I don’t think anyone particularly wants Eurovision to descend into a global free-for-all. Any new rules to accommodate guest entrants ought to put a cap on how many and they should not push out active EBU members who want to take part. One guest per semi final seems reasonable, with the caveat that these invitations are subject to available space. Secondly, one could stipulate that guests have to be associate EBU members. If not, we would have to relax the requirement for EBU membership on the existing member states. Thirdly, I think it’s reasonable to request some track record of broadcasting the contest and attracting viewers. If there’s an established fanbase in the guest country who have proven they’re willing to watch live at God-knows-what o’clock, then the EBU can be assured of a useful televote. And really, if no one’s interested in the guest country, does their entry really represent that country? Does it mean anything?

What have the EBU done to their rules to accommodate Australia? Precisely nothing. I know there’s some who try to interpret part of the rules as justification for the Aussies to take part. It reads “Subject to a decision by the EBU in consultation with the Reference Group, the number of guaranteed places in the Final may be modified depending on circumstances.” Ignoring the fact that this is clearly intended to refer only to the number of finalists out of those eligible to enter, the question one has to ask is what circumstances? Last year it was the 60th Eurovision. This year the special circumstances are “Because we want to”. Can the EBU seriously take the emergency measures part of their rulebook, twist its meaning, and use it to fundamentally change its contest in perpetuity?

This is what really sickens me about the change. The EBU don’t care about their own rules. Jon Ola Sand justifies the decision thus: “We strongly believe the Eurovision Song Contest has the potential to evolve organically into a truly global event. Australia’s continued participation is an exciting step in that direction”. The article on the Eurovision website continues by discussing cultural diversity and values of inclusiveness. All they care about is the global brand. The contest itself comes a distant second. It’s a decision about money, ego, corporate backslapping and greed. What started out as a celebration of 60 years of Eurovision is turning into a lasting tarnish on it legacy.

Posted in Australia, Eurovision Politics, Stockholm 2016 | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

My Dream National Final

electro velvet eurovision greatest hits

I have a dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will be able to choose its own Eurovision entrant and be proud that we chose them. I have a dream that one day talented singers and songwriters will look to the British national final as a worthwhile contest to enter. I have a dream that one day we will have a national final that is worth watching on its own merit. I’ll cross the stream. I have a dream.

I’m sure most British Eurovision fans share my hopes for a better tomorrow, however unrealistic they may be. I doubt I’m alone either in having my own specific ideas for how the BBC should do a national final. With the announcement that the BBC is going to return to a public selection for Stockholm 2016 (while being typically secretive about the details), we have the chance to dream.

I wouldn’t normally indulge into this sort of fantasy head-of-delegationing for fear it would come across as vanity, but the BBC pretty much matched the first part of my plans spot on with their announcement on Wednesday. It’s no use saying “I thought of that” after the event, so this is a handy way of getting my method down in writing in the hope I look clever later. That’s probably still vanity, but of a different sort.

1. Get your songs from a variety of sources

If the BBC are going to ask the public to choose the entry, an open submission process is a necessity. By inviting the great unwashed to have a go, the contest is given legitimacy. It’s difficult to claim a song represents a nation if the options given come from a narrow cabal of songwriters.

That said, there’s a strong chance that the songs submitted could end up being fucking awful. One just has to have a look at the Swiss song portal to see the sort of entries you can get when you go for a fully open process. There needs to be a backup. We need that narrow cabal.

Ed Sheeran with his BASCA Ivor Novello award

Ed Sheeran with his BASCA Ivor Novello award

The British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) is as good a cabal as you can get. They are an organised pool of professional songwriting talent who will take the contest seriously. Well-known songwriters will be much more willing to enter than big name performers. Entering Eurovision is not going to ruin the career of someone who professionally sits in the background.

Finally, it’s also worth having input from the record industry. Songs that have been sitting at the back of Sony or Universal’s cupboards probably won’t provide the strongest element to proceedings, but it’s worth getting them involved. If nothing else, it will provide connections for the other artists and their songs. At the end of the day, you want to be able to get some of these songs in the charts and they can only help.

The BBC have pretty much got this all right. I wouldn’t have asked OGAE to filter through the public submissions, based on their reputation for enjoying cheesy pop and ballads with a key change. While they may yet surprise me with their tastes and will at least filter out most novelty acts, their inclusion seems more a way for the BBC to palm off the responsibility and avoid the blame.

2. Promote it

“Graham, we’ll talk about how people can submit their songs for Eurovision in a minute, but first, here’s a film about the history of the bulldog clip.”

This is one thing I can criticise the BBC for. I have yet to see Graham Norton on the One Show sofa telling people how to enter their songs. I have yet to see an advert between shows. Hopefully that’s coming, because having an open submission is pretty useless if no one knows it’s happening. I’m sure there are a lot of great undiscovered bands and songwriters out there in the UK, but I doubt that many check the BBC Eurovision homepage on a daily basis. If the submission isn’t promoted, the public entrants become a self-selecting bunch and we get songs from people that have been waiting for their Eurovision chance. It’s a fair bet those will be in what they consider to be “Eurovision style”.

Once we have our acts and the whole show is set up then there’s a new promotional challenge. The BBC have to get people at home to watch it. A competition of songs you haven’t heard before by artists you don’t know can be a tough sell. The simple solution is to let people get to know the songs.

I’d launch the project by having a day where all the selected songs get premiered on BBC radio. Grimmy and Evans can have one each in the morning, with Scott Mills and Ken Bruce each championing another, then other people introducing the others (can you tell I don’t listen to either radio 1 or 2?). Add in further coverage on the One Show, campaigns by the acts on Twitter and Facebook, and BBC adverts directing you to listen to the songs on the website and you might get some public interest.

3. Put it on a big stage

Who wouldn't want to perfrom in front of this lot?

Who wouldn’t want to perform in front of this lot?

Now we come to the show itself. I think one of the most important things the BBC can do with the show is differentiate it visually from the X-Factor and The Voice. That means getting it out of the studio. The show should look more like a concert than a tv programme. They can easily sell out the Hammersmith Apollo and it would be the perfect venue. It’s not too big and expensive to run and the BBC are used to filming there. It can move around in future years, but it feels right to have the first one in the capital.

4. Sell records

A very simple thing. At some point in the night the host can casually mention that all the songs are available to download from itunes/google play and wherever else you buy music. If the songs are good, they will chart. Måns Zelmerlöw can make the top 20 off one Saturday night performance. Our entrant, who in my plan will already have had pre-promotion, can do the same. Voice cover versions have already performed the same trick, so there’s no reason to think a strong national final song can’t sell in big numbers if released on national final night.

5. Have a jury, not judges

Pretty much a no-brainer. I don’t think there are any fans out there who are interested in hearing what John Barrowman, Bruno Tonioli or Carrie Grant think of each song after it is performed. The audience won’t be told what to think at Eurovision, so they shouldn’t be led in their voting at the national final. Plus, it’s dull and it’s already done on every rubbish reality karaoke show going.

We should have a jury, though, whose sole function is to give out votes at the end. Include well-known music industry figures: DJs, music journalists (who will then handily write nice things about the show), songwriters, producers, promoters. No singers please. There are already singers on the stage. We don’t need a big star looking down on them as if they’re better than them. Even if it’s only Lulu.

6. Don’t pick a loser

Perhaps it’s less embarrassing than running over yourself with your car while throwing up potatoes, but Brian Harvey came last in our 2007 NF.

I won’t bore anyone with my convoluted scoring system for deciding the winner, but one thing I think should be avoided is a last place. We can do what the Danes and Norwegians do and send the top 4 to a superfinal before we give out voting figures. It’s a big enough risk for an artist to attach their name to the toxic Eurovision brand without adding the extra ignominy of coming last. This brings me to…

7. Don’t mention the E word

This is a hard one. Eurovision doesn’t have the best reputation in the UK. If you can somehow make a Eurovision national final without talking about Eurovision all the time it might help to make the show a success. You don’t need Graham Norton to host it. Other hosts are available who aren’t so linked to the camp Euro cheesefest of public perception. You don’t need a montage of the best and worst of ESC history. The more you reference ABBA as an example of ESC breeding success, the more desperate you sound. You certainly don’t need to call the show “Eurovision: Your Country Needs To Make It’s Mind Up for Europe”.

The show ought to be able to stand alone as a song contest. Over time a show like this could get good ratings if it’s not seen as Eurovision’s little cousin. You can add more prizes other than just Eurovision entry. Give them money, give them a spot on the BBC’s Glastonbury stage, give them airplay, give them a little trophy. It would be great if the focus of the programme would just simply be on finding a good song. Worrying about whether it fits Eurovision is an unnecessary distraction. If the UK like it, so will Europe.

This last element of my wishlist has largely been and gone. They can still call the show something different and focus less on past glories, but the announcement has strictly focused on Eurovision and quotes Mr Norton. There are still another five elements of my national final dream that have a chance of coming true over the coming months. Let’s hope I don’t wake up screaming.

Posted in National finals, Stockholm 2016, United Kingdom | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stats Corner – 2015 Results 2012 Style

Austria Eurovision nul points 2015 croppedThe Makemakes must have wanted to damage more than just their piano after the results came in last night. Together with Germany’s Ann-Sophie, the Austrian entrants had suffered the ignominy of leaving Eurovision with nul points. I think it’s fair to say that these are the best two nul-pointers of all time.

The big question for many Eurovision fans is not just one of whether Austria and Germany deserve to be ranked alongside Mil Etter Mil (Norway 1978), Opera (Turkey 1983) or, worst of all, Cry Baby (UK 2003). It’s also a question of how much the voting system is to blame.

Ann-Sophie with a big fat zero

Ann-Sophie with a big fat zero

Since the 2013 contest Eurovision has followed a different method to combine jury and phone votes. Each country ranks the entries first to last in each discipline, then the two rankings are combined to create the country’s 1-12 at the end. Previously the 1-12 points system had been used at every stage. Each juror gave out 1-12 points, these were added together to create a 1-12 jury score; which in turn was added to the 1-12 televote score to give a country’s result.

The advantage of the old system is it rewarded high achievement in one discipline, irrespective of how you did in the other. If you win the phone vote you will get points. The current system does the opposite. It penalises bad performance in one discipline irrespective of how you do in the other. If you’re bottom with the jury it doesn’t matter how much the public likes you. Consistency (and inoffensiveness) is key.

So what would have happened if we were fighting the 2015 Eurovision under 2012 rules? Like last year, I’ve done the numbers for the final.

2015 results 2012 style

Austria and Germany have reason to be aggrieved. While they’d still be near the bottom, they would have avoided the embarrassment of the zero. Austria would have got points from Latvia, Russia, Georgia and Israel, while Germany would have been saved by Finland, Belgium, Albania and the UK.

The UK would probably prefer the new system as they sit rock bottom, losing out to Germany based on only getting points from San Marino and Switzerland.

Further up the board, the big losers from the current system are Albania. Their surprisingly strong performance in the phone vote would have pushed them into the top ten. Probably the biggest winners were Russia. They would have slipped down to third if the old system was still in place.

Finally, I would like to point out that after I did this last year, I saw a lot of people claiming to show the 2012 style results and getting it wrong. These people simply convert the jury ranks into a 1-12 and then the phone ranks into a 1-12. They forget that the individual jurors also ranked 1-12. So if you see other people doing 2012 style results, take care.

Posted in Austria, Germany, Stats Corner, Vienna 2015 | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Why Eurovision fans should boo Russia, and why they shouldn’t

Putin_Poster2 slimIn November, Russia’s Channel One broadcast the latest in a string of theories about the fate of flight MH17, which had been shot down over Ukrainian airspace earlier in the year, killing all 298 passengers and crew. While the rest of the world had established that it had been hit by a missile fired by Russian-backed separatists, Channel One was presenting a more complicated picture. Having already shown how the plane had been shot down by Ukrainian forces in a botched assassination attempt against Putin and redirected into the warzone by dastardly Ukrainian air traffic controllers, this time the channel discovered previously unseen satellite images that purport to show a jet fighter firing a missile at the plane. These images were clearly faked and the most basic interest in checking the facts would have exposed the story as false. However, journalistic ethics on Channel One always come second to unquestioning support for the state line.

In Russian tv's crude fake,  the aircraft are out of proportion to the landscape and cloud patterns suggest  the base image is from 2012

In Russian tv’s crude fake, the aircraft are out of proportion to the landscape and cloud patterns suggest the base image is from 2012

The media in Russia, especially television, is closely controlled by the Kremlin. Of the biggest channels, Channel One and Russia 1 are state-owned (these are the ones who participate in Eurovision), while the third, NTV, is owned by the state-controlled energy giant, Gazprom. These three toe the Kremlin line. Those who do not, such as independent channel TV Rain, come under pressure. Their access to satellite platforms gets taken away and they get evicted from their studios. Satellite tv stations have also been banned from making money from commercials.

In addition, there has been a recent crackdown on freedoms on the internet. Bloggers with over 3,000 readers now have to register as mass media, while the CEO and founder of VKontakte (VK), the Russian equivalent of Facebook, has been forced out and replaced by a friendly Oligarch. VK had previously been an important platform in the 2011 anti-Putin protests.

RT tries to promote itself as a counterpoint to biased Western news outlets.

RT promotes itself as a counterpoint to biased Western news outlets.

Following on from the 2011 protests, Kremlin tv has followed an increasingly nationalist theme. Samuel Johnson’s line about patriotism being the last refuge of the scoundrel comes to mind. While the country annexes parts of Ukraine, tv news leads the debate with stories of Ukrainian Nazis as they crucify children, blow up buses and shell civilians (and in doing so kill entirely made up 10 year olds). Of course these Nazis are encouraged and funded by the US and the EU. Meanwhile, Russia’s international propaganda station, RT (founded as Russia Today in 2005) is taking on greater prominence and telling the same lies to the wider world. Many of its journalists have quit the station, tired of working for a channel that has a complete disregard for the facts. I saw a poster for it in London the other day. They invite me to “Question More” and presumably not to believe other news sources’ misinformation.

In this context, I find it naive to think Russia’s state mouthpieces are not interested in their one chance a year for a three minute slot on television across Europe. Western media is justifiably negative towards Russia and they have a chance to present themselves in a different light. Russia has a clear strategy for Eurovision. For the third year in a row they will be sending a sweet and innocent young girl (or girls) to sing a big anthemic ballad about world peace. These clearly aren’t three separate artists each taking their own approach to the contest. It’s the same thing every time. Russia’s hand-picked entry is a cynically jury-friendly number that seeks to use big vocals and conventional ballad structure to achieve a result without any need to worry about doing something interesting or creative.

Aww, bless.

Aww, bless.

And the lyrics! Not a cliché is left unwarbled as they spout bland sentiments about coming together as one. The songs seem to have been written by a particularly unimaginative beauty pageant contestant. As someone who values high lyrical standards in his Eurovision songs, the Russian entries have a nails on chalkboard quality for me. I find it a physical effort to listen to them all the way through, before I even consider the politics. While, of the three, only last year’s entry referred to political specifics, with it’s lyrics about crossing a line to move closer to the crime(a), the hypocrisy of such an aggressively nationalistic regime sending this stuff is astounding.

These songs tell the continent that Russia isn’t the big undemocratic hate-filled warmonger we think it is. Russia also has pretty girls who love the world and its children. They also tell us that Russia isn’t some weird and backward foreign land; these songs are so slickly produced and formulaic they could almost be written by Swedes. In short, Russia’s songs invite the audience to question more.

This is why I will always defend those who boo Russia. They’re not booing the singers – they are mere puppets of the state media. They are booing the efforts of a country who is using the contest to adjust the image of their nation. They have every right to voice their objection to that image.

While discussing this with a non-Eurovision loving friend, she posed a very good question. Why does Russia do this? They know they are going to get booed. Why do something so inflammatory? It doesn’t work. They only draw attention to their misdemeanours. It’s an interesting question, because I think there’s another reason they turn up. I don’t think it’s just to project an image to the wider world. There’s also a useful message for their own people. To illustrate, have a look at this news report from Russia 1, the country’s other Eurovision broadcaster.

In this clip Russia 1 demonstrates how Western countries indoctrinate and sexualise their children by showing them genitalia in school textbooks and, most ridiculously, painting gay porn on the walls of their bedrooms. The video they use as proof is an obvious fake, which was originally made as a spoof of an American tv advert.

At the heart of Russia’s campaign against homosexuality, there is a nationalist agenda. The intention is to paint USA and Western Europe as a depraved pit of sin, where homosexuality is not just accepted, but strongly encouraged. Russia’s renewed Cold War is not just one fought with weapons in Ukraine and sanctions against Russian shops; it’s also presented as one of competing cultures and attitudes. Russia is the only one who can stand up for traditional family values.

It rather fits the narrative, once a year, to have a beautiful blonde Russian girl on tv, the purer and more virtuous the better, and arrange for her to be relentlessly booed by a roomful of Western homosexuals.

While I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments of those who will be booing Russia at Eurovision this year, I think it’s worth bearing in mind that doing so also plays perfectly into their hands.

Posted in Russia, Vienna 2015, Eurovision Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Lyric Audit: Goodbye To Yesterday

Elina Born & Stig Rästa

For the past two years, I’ve written a blog post running through all the best and worst bits of Eurovision lyrics. It’s not something I cobble together in a few minutes. The post is a culmination of months’ worth of irksome syntactical grumbles and bewildered searches for meaning where there is none. Sometimes this even extends to the songs I love.

Goodbye To Yesterday, by Elina Born and Stig Rästa, is, as far as I’m concerned, by far and away the best song submitted for Vienna and it has great detail in the lyrics. I do, however, find it hard to pin down exactly what happens on the day the song covers. This requires more than a one-paragraph skim-through in my annual lyric audit.

I Woke up at 6AM

What stands out for me from the start is how incredible Stig’s body clock is. He hasn’t opened his eyes yet, but he knows the time. There’s obviously no alarm involved as that would wake Elina up, nor would it be likely to be light enough outside this time of year in Estonia for Stig to get a sense of daybreak. I thought it could be possible that Stig had overheard early-rising binmen or milkmen, but that would suggest it was a weekday morning. We know from later on in the song that Elina has nothing better to do than lay in bed all day, so that seems unlikely.

Anyway, after an indeterminate amount of time, in which Stig could easily have drifted back to sleep, he decides to make a move.

Got dressed so quietly

I find it interesting that Stig’s keys would jingle specifically at the door. Did Elina lock him in? It certainly would open up a whole new interpretation of the song. Many consider it a breakup song, but maybe it’s an escape. That could be why Stig is so precise with his timekeeping. He’s planned this run for freedom meticulously, fashioned some rudimentary keys to pick his way out of the house and has taken advantage of the fatal flaw in Elina’s secure compound: the complete incompetence of her guard dog. The stupid mutt has one job to do. It doesn’t let out a single woof as Elina’s man walks out of her life.

I didn't wanna wake you upOkay, so maybe this is about a consensual relationship. First impressions here suggest   Stig is playing the role of the guy who’s pulled and has second thoughts in the morning. It’s interesting how he walks out due to low self-esteem, but at this point it seems to be a fairly conventional story of a one night stand. Elina’s verse makes things more complicated.

why would you think like that

Something else is going on here. The story is developing. We’ve gone from a hostage/captor scenario, to a one-night stand, to some sort of ongoing relationship. It may be that they’ve known each other for a while, but have now only just got it on.

I like the first line above. It’s not a particularly original phrase, but the sentiment is interesting. Elina isn’t angry and isn’t attaching blame for Stig’s departure. She’s trying to understand. She can also anticipate his responses, so it seems they know each other very well and there may be hope for them together.

From this closeness one could think Elina and Stig are boyfriend and girlfriend. They’ve had a fight and in the morning Stig’s done a runner. This scenario doesn’t explain why Elina’s naked, though.

I wouldn't want it any other way

It’s a bit of an odd line, isn’t it? It seems principally designed to make the listener imagine Elina naked, sprawled out on a bed with a phone by her side, as if she’s presenting an unusually quiet night on Babestation.

The phone bit, doesn’t ring true. It should really be “playing with my phone”. Any normal person would be obsessively checking their texts, whatsapp, facebook and twitter for signs of Stig. The only conclusion one can make is that Elina expects Stig to phone her on the landline. Who uses the landline? I don’t think my last girlfriend even had my home phone number. Unless Stig works in a call centre, that phone’s not ringing.

Aside from Elina’s surprisingly old school approach to phone technology, the main thrust of the story of the song is fairly clear with Stig gone and Elina wanting him back, except for one detail.

Why didn't you wake me up

Elina has doubts too. She’s sad now, but recognises that if her stupid dog had done its job and woke her up, she might have kicked Stig out anyway. There’s still a lot of room for ambiguity.

The line also makes Elina less of a victim. She may have been left behind and wants Stig back, and doesn’t have any clothes, but she doesn’t come across as desperate. The thought of a life without her man has crossed her mind.

let's try again and say goodbye to yesterday

Even here, I have no idea what they’re saying goodbye to. Most likely it’s the events before Stig walked, which could still either be an argument or a shag. Actually, what day is it? Did Stig walk out yesterday? Maybe they’ll carry on as usual and pretend Stig just went to the shops. “Yesterday”, doesn’t even have to be literal; it could be an event further back in their story that was the cause of their argument/shag/trip to the shops.

I love the lyrics to this song. The only other Eurovision entry I can think of that tells such a good story is Fairytale. Yet it’s also one of the great strengths of the song that they leave large parts of the narrative untold.

I may be picking the song apart and trying to figure out what’s actually going on, but the point isn’t for us to know everything. One can form a story for yourself and it becomes universal. Unlike its live presentation, not everything is black and white and I like it that way.

Posted in Estonia, Lyrics, Vienna 2015 | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments

Pros and Cons of the UK entry

electro velvet

So the big UK Eurovision reveal was last night and my thoughts on this year’s entry are, well, erm, I dunno. The reveal of Electro Velvet left me a little nonplussed. Twitter was naturally furious, but that’s pretty much the default response whatever we send. I’ve got plenty of good reasons to flit between love and hate, so taking inspiration from an old episode of Friends, I’m going to have to write a list of pros and cons. I just hope that Alex and Bianca don’t see it just as we’re about to get back together.

Pro – BBC have stepped out of their comfort zone

It’s such an unexpected approach for the BBC. I was all geared up to either hate the UK act for being a contrived ballad about world peace or love its contemporary pop sound, then they go and give us a genre act. There aren’t many of those currently on the plane to Vienna and I had been hoping someone would have picked something out of the generic pop mould. I wasn’t expecting us to be that country.

It also avoids the Eurovision cliche where a song is either about making the world a better place (Molly) or about winning Eurovision (Jade, Blue, Bonnie). It’s not called Shine either.

Con – It won’t be a hit

The flip side of it not being the credible pop song I was hoping for in my best case scenario is that I can’t see this getting big radio airplay or selling downloads by the electronic bucketload. That’s a shame, as it’s something the contest needs in the UK.

Muzzart won the televote this year in Belarus.

Muzzart won the televote this year in Belarus.

Pro – If someone else sent it, everyone would support it

Remember Muzzart? The electro swing act everyone loved in Belarus this year? Or !DelaDap the electro swing group everyone briefly went crazy over in the Austrian selection in 2012? My fear is that I’ve got BBC-goggles that cloud my judgement on this song.

Con – No one actually did send those songs

Pro – It’s identifiably British

I guess it’s more American than anything else, but if any European country were to send this sort of music, it ought to be us. This is the sort of era that Downton is currently set in and there’s probably a fair few people who think our upper classes still enjoy this sort of thing.

Con – Fat ankles

Everybody dance

Everybody dance

Pro – It should be easy to stage well

They’ll need a bunch of Charleston dancers, some of whom can double as backing singers. I’m hoping Alex and Bianca can Charleston too and there’s loads of instrumental parts to show it off. Throw in a bit where Alex dashes to the big mic to do his scat. It needs to be a bit crazy. The music video is a little on the tame and controlled side. If the singers aren’t a little out of breath at the end of their performance in the final, they’ve done it wrong.

 Con – It’s quite cheesy

The music video doesn’t exhibit  the cool aloofness that one might associate with this genre. !Deladap certainly had that. I don’t believe that Electro Velvet are part of any hip retro counterculture. This is more a Strictly Come Dancing interpretation of the Charleston than anything else. It doesn’t feel particularly authentic.

Pro – It has a very strong USP

It’s “the 1920s Charleston one”. It seems very unlikely that anyone else will send anything like it this year and it will be nigh on impossible to forget come the end of the night. Unlike some of our entries, this isn’t trying to please everyone. It will have it’s own target market and there will be some people who love it. Hopefully.

Con – It won’t win

This has absolutely no chance of bringing Eurovision back to Blighty. With a good staging, good camera angles, good vocals and a lucky draw, it might squeeze into the top half of the leaderboard. It certainly won’t give us any release from the normal post-show gripes about Europe hating us, everyone voting for each other and how it’s all political. In a few years time, a comedian called Russell will be inducting it into a Eurovision Hall of Shame and ask what on Earth we were thinking.

Pro – It’s a lot of fun

You can dance to it, you can tap your feet, you can smile. Isn’t that what Eurovision is all about? I can imagine my friends sitting around the tv at our Eurovision party enjoying it a lot; in the same way they loved Iceland last year and Greece the year before.

I’ve watched it a few times again this morning. I’ve decided I like it now. It’s not going to cure all of the UK’s Eurovision ills, but it’s unfair of me to expect it to. If I was the sort of person that made a regularly updated list of my favourite entries, Electro Velvet would probably make the top ten. I can’t complain about that.

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Stats Corner – 2015 Semi Final Draw

2015 semi draw It was the semi final allocation draw yesterday, so Eurovision fans have been playing one of their favourite games.

“Country x is in the same semi as countries y and z. They’re bound to qualify.”

“Yeah, but they’re not in there with countries w or v. Plus y don’t really vote for them that much. And what about country a? Their draw is amazing!”

“What, a? What are you talking about? b aren’t in that semi and c pulled out because of their political dispute with d!”

“Whoa, let’s not bring politics into this. It’s a song contest.”

Alas, there are more than 26 countries competing this year, so I’ll have to end that little scene there. I am instinctively sceptical with these sorts of discussions. The real picture may be more complicated. Does one pair of countries’ mutual love affair really make that much difference when there could be fifteen other countries in the semi who won’t vote for either? This is where I open up excel and start investigating.

I’ve collated the results from Eurovisions going back to 2008 and each year I’ve compared how many points each country received from those voting in this year’s semi 1 with those voting in semi 2. I’ve used the same method as from 2013, except I’ve started using points from finals where countries qualify. It’s not perfect, because the semi is somewhat of a different beast, but otherwise there are too many gaps in the data.

I’ve excluded Czech Republic as an entrant, but have included the points they gave out. They’ve entered so rarely and scored so few points that there’s just no way I can try to derive any conclusions from their records.

So were my richly drawn characters correct about country x? Let’s have a look at semi 1.

2015 Semi 1 draw stats It turns out Belgium are the big winners. It makes a sort of sense. They’re in the same semi as Netherlands and may also get some nice votes from the French and Russians who can’t spell Belarus.

Finland have also done well, having been placed with their odd little bloc of Estonia and Hungary. Denmark will probably have no choice but to vote for them too as they don’t have Iceland or their Scandis in semi 1. Denmark are handily on the left hand side of the graph.

What’s surprising, though, is how badly Moldova and Romania do, despite being drawn together. Armenia also do far worse than the countries who you would normally place with them in the ex-Soviet bloc.

Time for semi 2.

2015 Semi 2 draw stats

Lithuania are the big winners here and the biggest winners of the lot. This may seem surprising when they don’t have Russia and co with them, but they do have UK, Ireland and Latvia on hand.

Israel are at the other end of the scale as the biggest losers. My knowledge of Jewish diaspora clearly isn’t what it used to be, as I thought UK and Poland could be a good source of points for them.

Azerbaijan are surprisingly on the negative side of the graph, which is surprising when you see they have the big Azeri diasporas of Malta and Cyprus in their semi. I guess they are more reliant on Russia and co.

Of course, none of this stuff takes any account of song quality, running order position, whether an entry’s called “Warrior” or not or any of the other really important things in deciding a Eurovision winner. This stuff is not designed to make predictions about results. I just take the “who’s got a good draw” game more seriously than most.

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