My Referendum Playlist

Bucks_Fizz BPop LiveOn 19th June the guys and girls from the Leave campaign in the UK’s EU referendum were due to have their end of term party. In a big arena in Birmingham they were putting on BPop live, a concert featuring all your favourite Brexiteering pop stars. Except there aren’t any. The event had been plagued with pullouts as all their stars gradually discovered that they’d signed up for an anti-EU political rally.

Before it got cancelled today, there was just one last big name left over to entertain the assembled Ukippers and Tories. They were Cheryl, Mike and Jay, the leftover husk of what once was Bucks Fizz. They were a great fit for the occasion; relics of a bygone era when the UK used to rule the world, but have since been overtaken by harder-working continental rivals and are beset by destructive separatist in-fighting.

The veteran skirt-rippers were due to drop in on the festivities as part of their Land Of Make Believe Tour (I know). Their now cancelled appearance (I’m going on with my post anyway, damnit!) has made me think of which Eurovision entries I’d choose as my alternative soundtrack for the remain campaign. Eurovision is an evening where a continent can come together and celebrate the music that unites us, after all. These are the songs I’ll be humming on 23rd June.

Liam Reilly – Somewhere In Europe (Ireland 1990)

First up is Eurovision’s great paean to borderless visa-free travel. Liam’s song revels in his ability to hop on a cheap Ryanair flight. Without a thought for paperwork, he can be on the Champs Elyssee, then on the slightest whim, he can move on to Rome, or Seville, or Amsterdam. He can even go to the Black Forest, for some reason. All of it arranged easily on his mobile internet, with not a care for the data roaming charges.

InCulto – Eastern European Funk (Lithuania 2010)

Some may look on the flip side of free travel and worry about migrants taking our jobs. I think if more people were aware of Eastern Europeans’ hard-working commitment to playing inflatable instruments and wearing shiny pants, they would look on our Polish and Lithuanian friends much more kindly. This seminal work of 2010 proves we have nothing to fear.

Da Da Dam -Paradise Oskar (Finland 2011)

Oskar is smart. He knows his EU air quality directives by heart. While Boris Johnson goes “Da da dam da da dam dadada da dam. Brrr… Cripes!” this song highlight how the EU works continent-wide to invest in renewable energy, ensure clean oceans and work against climate change.

Idiot – Kali Briis Band (Estonia NF 2015)

“If there is something that you don’t know, that you dont’ know, tell a lie, tell a lie”. The purported £350 million cost of EU membership comes to mind.

Power To All Our Friends – Cliff Richard (United Kingdom 1973)

There’s a man growing flowers. There’s a woman making wine (probably in Cliff’s Portuguese Vineyard). There’s a man ploughing in the field. All of them have the power to sell their goods to the European Union on the same terms as their continental neighbours. Sir Cliff’s sadly overlooked second entry to Eurovision is a stirring anthem to the benefits of a single market. And it has some wonderful choreography.

Luta É Alegria – Homens Da Luta (Portugal 2011)

Homens Da Luta may have been protesting against cuts following the 2008 banking crisis, but many of the workers’ rights they hold so dear are protected by the European Union. The construction worker on the left is kept safe by EU health and safety legislation, while someone with such unreliable working patterns as a member of a revolutionary paramilitia can still get statutory paid annual leave. With the EU by your side, the struggle is joy!

My Słowianie – Donatan & Cleo (Poland 2014)

I don’t know about everyone, else, but when I watch Poland 2014, the first thing I think of is the EU’s generous subsidies to the dairy farming industry.

Si – Gigliola Cinquetti (Italy 1974)

Finally, I need a big, all-encompassing positive anthem. When you look for a Eurovision song to win you a referendum, you turn to Italy 1974. It was banned from Italian media that year in the run up to a referendum on divorce laws, for fear that it could be a hidden campaigning tool for the “Si” vote. I want to harness its undoubted power for those who say yes to the EU.

I do have an alternative all-encompassing anthem, mind.

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Stats Corner- Juries who think alike

Montenegro vote eurovision 2016

With the jurors for this year’s Eurovision announced during the week, I’ve been thinking a bit about what they get up to. For the last couple of years, we’ve had access after the contest to the full jury vote and can see exactly who voted for who out of each five-member panel. I don’t necessarily think this leads to greater fairness in the vote, but it gives me some numbers to play with.

Many fans have been struck by how uniform some countries’ votes have been. There are certain sets of jurors who seem to have remarkably similar tastes. That may just be coincidence or down to broadcasters selecting jurors with similar backgrounds, or it may be something more pernicious. I thought I’d look at how the points are given out in a more scientific way than just looking at certain countries and saying that looks funny.

Each juror ranks all the songs in the final (other than their own country’s) from first to last. For both the 2014 and 2015 contests I’ve looked at each set of five placings a jury have given to each country in the final and taken the standard deviation of those scores. This gives a measure of how far apart these marks are spread; the higher the standard deviation the more varied the opinion of that song.

I then average these standard deviations for each national jury to give an overall standard deviation for each jury that year. I then average again to give a standard deviation over the two-year period my sample covers. This is a very small sample, so the results I’ve got are vulnerable to overstating the effect of one unusual set of jurors. It’s entirely possible my figures represent the result of chance variation. However, this is all the data we’ve got and the results are quite striking.

Eurovision jury variance 4

Everyone sticks pretty solidly to an average deviation of about 3 or 4 places. At the bottom, though, Azerbaijan and Montenegro are by some distance the juries with least variety of opinion.

It should probably be pointed out at this juncture that Montenegro’s result comes from an even more limited sample than most. They’re one of the countries whose jury vote was thrown out in 2015. One wonders how much more uniform it got.

So what happened to the other countries who have had a jury vote disqualified? This is probably the most interesting part to me. FYR Macedonia (jury votes disallowed in 2015) and Georgia (2014) are at the other extreme on my graph. The years for which I have non-disqualified data for these countries sees the two most diverse sets of jury opinions of the lot. When this transparency thing was set up, I pointed out that countries could try to arrange their votes so that they show enough variety to avoid suspicion. Is it possible that countries are trying this approach, but overdoing it? Perhaps a standard deviation of over 5 places is so abnormally spread that it should arouse suspicion.

I’ll update this graph after this year’s contest. It will be interesting to see if these outlying nations shuffle back into the pack. Such a move may be down to the evening out of an innocent coincidence. If a country is cheating, it could instead be that the fixers use the EBU’s transparency policy to figure out what “normal” looks like. If I was in charge of rigging a jury, it’s what I would be doing.

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Moments of Silence – Lost Eurovision Entries

Ovidiu Anton Moment of Silence

With the sad news that Romania won’t be participating this year, due to non-payment of EBU debts by its broadcaster, I’ve been thinking a bit about other entries that for one reason or another didn’t make it to Eurovision. I love looking into items of historical ESC trivia and there’s something fascinating about the missing piece of a contest that gets lost from history. I’ve dug up a few what-could-have-beens from Eurovisions past.

France 1974 – Dani – La Vie a 25 ans

This is probably the latest withdrawal of the lot. Dani was all set to compete in Brighton for the 1974 contest. She’d been drawn to appear at no. 14 in the running order and was there at the Dome to rehearse, but her Eurovision adventure got cut short when French president, Georges Pompidou, died four days before the contest. With Eurovision set for broadcast on the night of his funeral, the French broadcaster decided to withdraw. Dani instead watched from the audience and was shown on camera in between songs 13 and 15.

It was a pretty good song too. A strong top 4 aside, I don’t consider 1974 to be a great year. France would have been a welcome addition and would have got a high placing. I wouldn’t even rule out Dani beating ABBA. Georges Pompidou’s death could have changed music history.

Georgia 2009 – Stephane & 3G – We Don’t Wanna Put In

If you’re going to get yourself disqualified from Eurovision, then this is one helluva way to do it. I wasn’t yet a committed Eurofan in 2009, so only heard about the Georgian controversy in the newspapers. I presumed at the time that a song protesting against Russia’s invasion of South Ossetia and Abkhazia by hiding a reference to Vladimir Putin in its lyrics was going to be a serious and slightly mournful affair.

It took a couple of years for me to discover it was actually a clownish disco stomper advocating the shooting of someone, so that everyone can disco tonight and give sexy-ah.

United Kingdom 1956 – Dennis Lotis – Everybody Falls In Love With Someone

This may be pushing it a bit. The United Kingdom was never due to enter the inaugural Eurovision Song Contest. Exactly one week before the EBU decided to launch an international song competition, the BBC had given the green light to its own Festival of British Popular Songs. This contest would feature six monthly heats with the final in October, long after the contest in Lugano. The BBC decided to concentrate on this programme and observe the first Eurovision from a discreet distance. Had the dates matched up properly, though, the UK could have easily sent the winner, Everybody Falls In Love With Someone, as its first entry (or rather, one of its first entries, as each country had two that year).

The song was performed by Dennis Lotis in the final of The Festival of British Popular Songs, but he never recorded it. The show was more a competition for songs than singers. It was even performed by someone else in the heats. There are a few recordings around though; the one I’ve found on Youtube is by Matt Monro, who went on to represent the UK in 1964. I much prefer this to the UK’s eventual debut in 1957.

Turkey 1979 – Maria Rita Epik and 21. Peron – Seviyorum

You’ve got to know your obscure geopolitics for Eurovision. While these days you need a working knowledge of the Armenian-Azerbaijani war, in the late 70s it was the Oil Crisis. In the run up to the 1979 contest, Turkey had come under a great deal of pressure from its Arab neighbours to boycott the event in Israel, partly due to the crisis. Unfortunately for Maria Rita Epik and 21. Peron, this meant their song was eventually withdrawn. On the bright side, it did mean that the following year Turkey gave us one of the stranger Eurovision songs, in Pet’r Oil (Petroleum).

This song’s lively enough and features the same mixed gender group standing in a line formula that Turkey seemed to send every other year. It’s no Pet’r Oil, but it would have been one of Turkey’s better efforts of the era. Like their other early entries, though, I can’t see Seviyorum troubling the scorers if it went to Jerusalem.

Greece 1982 – Themis Adamantidis – Sarantapente Kopelies

This song was pulled out of the contest just two weeks before the show in Harrogate. There seems to be no great political incident for this withdrawal. It was just due to the fact the Greek minister of culture, Melina Mercouri, didn’t like it. Imagine having that power. One hopes John Whittingdale, the UK culture minister, never takes a moment between his searches for topless models and dominatrices on to google our entries.

One also hopes he has better taste in music than Mercouri did. This song is great. It’s got a funky little groove to it.

Serbia and Montenegro 2006 – No Name – Moja Ljubavi

It’s long been one of my favourite items of Eurovision trivia that the 2006 Serbia and Montenegro national final is considered by some to have been a contributing factor to Montenegro’s vote to become an independent country. Montenegro’s referendum was due just after Eurovision and national final night became the moment the campaign turned nasty. As the Montenegrin jurors voted en masse for Montenegrin boyband No Name’s song, boos rained down from the Serbian audience in Belgrade. The protests would continue as No Name attempted to do their winner’s reprise. Eventually, in an effort to avoid a riot, the Serbian runners up,  Flamingosi, took to the stage in No Names’s place and performed surrounded by the other Serbian representatives.

The result of the subsequent row was that Serbia and Montenegro withdrew from Eurovision. They would be back as separate countries the next year. What makes the whole thing even weirder for me is that Flamingosi were an embarrassing novelty act. The Montenegrin juries were right to pick No Name.

Israel 1980 – The Brothers & The Sisters – Pizmon Chozer

After winning the contest for the second time in a row in 1979, Israel decided that they weren’t going to be able to host it again in 1980. The costs were going to be too high. After hunting around for a replacement host, the EBU eventually settled on The Netherlands who would be able to put on a scaled-down Eurovision in The Hague on 19 April. Unfortunately this clashed with a national holiday in Israel, so the defending champions had to withdraw.

It was a shame because this is a very charming little thing. It would have been a worthy successor to Hallelujah, although Israel wouldn’t have had to worry about hosting again.

Romania 2016 – Ovidiu Anton – Moment Of Silence

Poor Ovidiu had tried five times to represent his country at Eurovision, only for his eventual victory to be taken away by the mismanagement at TVR. I met him briefly at the London party. I was being too shy and retiring to ask for a photo, but his delegation came to me and included me in a toast they were doing. He seems a really nice guy.

Romania will definitely be back at some point. I think Ovidiu will be at the front of the queue to represent them when that time comes.

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2016 Lyric Review

Julie Frost Austria Eurovision

As an English-speaker, as an English Eurovision fan, lyrics are very important to me. Language, I find, as an English person, is vital in order to understand someone’s message. It is why I study the lyrics of Eurovision entries very closely. This is what I’m all about. I find some Eurovision songs have genius lyrics, that are just world-class. Others are in French. This is the blog post where I try to decide which is which. I can only hope to do it as well as Julie Frost did in this year’s Austrian final.

I think, overall, Julie would be reasonably impressed by this year’s efforts. Most of them are in English, for starters. There’s also a notable lack of the tiresome cliches about flying in the sky and swimming across oceans that normally make me want to jab at my eardrums with a rusty needle. There is on notable exception to that rule, yet it’s somehow one of the best songs this year.

If I were sorry lyrics

If I Were Sorry, by Frans piles on the cliches. As well as crossing deserts and climbing the highest mountain, he swims across the ocean, he runs a thousand miles. It works though, because he has his fingers crossed behind his back. The “if” is very powerful in the song. It holds up a sign throughout saying “In case you can’t tell, I’m being sarcastic”.

What I love about the lyrics is that everything is so well held together. There’s the theme of these cliched expressions of love while teasing that Frans won’t do these things and gradually brings in more detail about his relationship. It tells a story and then has the long-awaited payoff at the end.

My one concern is how focused Frans is on asphyxiation. He won’t take a break to breathe, threatens to hold his breath until his face turns blue, he’ll explode his lungs. If Frans ever is sorry, one fears for his physical wellbeing.

At the other end of the scale, Julie may be less impressed by Australia, although she’d be too nice to say so.

Sound of Silence lyrics

There’s nothing there, is there? Dami’s songwriters have just found a phrase they decided sounds cool and put hearts around it to try to make it meaningful. Three times. It’s a cop out. I’ll try to delve deeper into the verses.

Sound of Silence lyrics 2

We learn two things from this lyric. (1) Dami’s partner is absent, but they’re still together, (2) Dami has an iphone. This line really winds me up. It’s there to tell me how cool and modern Dami is. “Hey, look, she’s using new technology, just like all the kids. Everyone loves Apple and all their products”. It makes me cringe. I’m surprised it got past the EBU’s rule prohibiting commercial messages. Googling maps, as Teo did for Belarus, is a far more generic activity than conducting a video call on an Apple-only app.

Since I first started working on this post, the EBU has reached its judgement on the face time issue. Apparently “FaceTime” isn’t allowed, but “face time” is fine and Dami doesn’t sing the capital letters. The Australian delegation claim they are using the common alternative meaning of “face time” to mean speaking face to face in person. Two problems again. (1) This is rubbish; I’ve never heard anyone use face time like that. (2) The lyrics quite clearly say “But baby you’re not here with me,” so the face time is not in person. The Aussies are taking the piss.

While Australia has problems with lack of worthwhile content, you certainly couldn’t level that criticism at Germany. There’s a lot going on in this song; maybe slightly too much. There’s a story book metaphor, a dragon, and a keyless money chest full of love, all before we get to the main ghost imagery of the chorus.

Ghost lyrics

It might seem strange for two ghosts to haunt each other, but I quite like it. The song is all about a couple sort of breaking up but not quite separating their lives and still relying on each other. The idea of the ghost of the relationship sticking around them is a very interesting and evocative one. It also breathes life into the slightly tired “alone in a room together” line. They’re alone because no one else can see them!

It took me a google to understand “playing house”. Apparently house is a girlish children’s game when you make believe you and your friends are a mummy and daddy raising a family. Maybe the problem was Jamie-Lee came on a bit too strong.

You can learn a lot from Eurovision lyrics. Last year Georgia taught us all about the process of oximation, but I find this year’s Cypriot entry to be equally informative.

Alter Ego lyrics

See, when I first heard this I thought the lyrics were stupid: dawn and sunrise are the same thing. Turns out they’re not. Dawn is defined as the time when first light appears, as the sunlight is refracted over the Earth’s atmosphere. Sunrise is when you first actually see the Sun. The time difference between the two is typically about 30 minutes. Therefore, if one assumes that the events of this song occur on the day of the first semi final in Stockholm, then the first line above translates as “It’s about ten past four in the morning.”

This precise chronology then falls apart a bit. Somehow the Moon is still providing most of the light. And how is the singer then howling in the moonlight if he is under a spotlight? The spotlight is surely much more powerful than the Moon at any time of day or night. Perhaps he’s not turned the spotlight on? One has to ask, why is Francois from Minus One carrying such cumbersome lighting equipment round downtown Stockholm at stupid o’clock in the morning if he’s not going to turn it on? I think he needs to get a life.

Cyprus may get a bit confused about when the Moon comes out, but Belgium could certainly do with the benefit of their Sun expertise.

What's the Pressure Lyrics

Laura seems perfectly happy to accept the completely contradictory idea that the Sun will be out when it’s not daytime. Or, it might be possible that it’s so long after the day has done, that it’s now morning again.

Thankfully, Ireland are here to sort out all this Sunny-Moony talk. You see, Laura, “It’s only dark until the world turns round”. Nicky Byrne must be some sort of scientist. His song does, however, have its own problems. Sunlight is mostly your typical Eurovision fare about believing in yourself and taking your chance to live for the moment. Then there’s the chorus.

Sunlight lyrics 1

It’s a bit sexual-assaultish, isn’t it? I know Ireland haven’t won Eurovision in a long time and they needed to try something new in order to find non-Jedward success, but I don’t think anyone expected an uplifting soft rock ode to one’s right to indiscriminate frottage. The next lines take the song into more confusing territory.

Sunlight lyrics 2

It’s an interesting idea, that you can be a predatory sex pest, just as long as you’re still a virgin. It does beg the question: is this song about the Catholic church?

I can’t help but think of Bulgaria after studying Sunlight.

If Love Was a crime lyrics

Let’s hope it’s not that crime. My real problem with If Love Was A Crime is that it seems such a pointless and redundant premise. You could insert anything into that line and it would hold true. If eating Galaxy Ripples was a crime then I would be a criminal. There’s also not enough jeopardy in the verses to make Poli’s love forbidden.

Denmark also prove the old rule that if you put the word “love” in anything it becomes suitable fare for a pop song.

Soldiers of Love lyrics.png

It sounds quite nice, doesn’t it? I can imagine the Lighthouse X lads going out on a nice day’s marching with their amores. They can spend their afternoons together firing their Kalashnikovs of enchantment and throwing grenades of lust. Then they can have a romantic picnic on the killing fields, before they torch an enemy village of infatuation and walk off into the napalm sunset, as they chat convivially about their future together committing crimes against disharmony. Bless.

It is a bit concerning that you’re not allowed to leave the army of love though. It sounds a bit like the indefinite forced military service that is practised under the tyrannical regime of Isaias Afwerki in Eritrea. Denmark isn’t as liberal as it used to be.

I very much doubt that Jamala from Ukraine has such romantic notions of soldiers. Her song is a stark and brutal depiction of the 1944 Soviet oppression of the Crimean Tatars (any connection to current political events are, of course, purely in the ears of the beholder). I like how Jamala avoids euphemistic dancing around the subject. Strangers come to your house and kill you all. She doesn’t pull her punches.

1944 lyrics

I love the cynical and dismissive rejection of the people that are attacking her homeland. The “Ha” is very important to me. My initial interpretation of “everyone dies” was as simple as it seems: that her people are coming under attack and everyone is dying. However, looking at it now, it seems directed elsewhere. I view it as saying that evil leaders such as Stalin (or Putin if you want to interpret it that way) may want to destroy the Tatars now, but every dictator eventually dies. Their regime won’t live forever and her people will be back. The lyrics work either way and that ambiguity is very attractive to me.

Best of all, 1944 has the best hidden swear words in a Eurovision Song since Krista’s Marry Me in 2013.

1944 lyrics 2

This year’s Ukrainian entry is deeply personal and based on genuine emotion. It’s the obvious winner of the 2016 Julie Frost award for best lyrics. World class.

Posted in Australia, Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Lyrics, Stockholm 2016, Ukraine | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Stats Corner – 2016 Semi Final Draw

2016 semi draw

I enjoy a good semi final draw. I’ve got the video of the draw playing as I write this. It’s quite fun to watch a pair of people try to be entertaining as they do some admin. I enjoy the dead-behind-the-eyes smiling as the hostess unfurls another bit of paper. I enjoy how they get noticeably bored by the end. I enjoy the excellent BING sound effect as the countries get added to the graphic.

However, the best thing about a semi final draw is that I get to make use of the massive, enormously complicated spreadsheet that I have built up over the last few years. While everyone else studies the draw to see if the usual suspects have drawn each other I try to use maths to get a bigger picture.

Hosts, Alexandra Pascalidou and Jovan Radomir, play a classic game of happy cop, bored cop at this year's allocation draw

Hosts, Alexandra Pascalidou and Jovan Radomir, play a classic game of happy cop, bored cop at this year’s allocation draw

As in past years, I’ve collated the results from Eurovisions going back to 2008 and for 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 then average the differences between the yearly scores and multiply them by the expected number of points in their semi (i.e. total number of points available divided by number of countries). This gives me an estimate of how many extra points the draw could be worth.

I’ve omitted Australia and Czech Republic from my results due to lack of useful data (although their points given have been taken into account). Australia due to only appearing once, Czech Republic due to a lack of points to usefully split out.

The draw might not be worth as many points in reality. That expected points assumes scores are spread fairly evenly from first to last, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true. At any rate, I’m more interested in comparing results than attaching a definite scoreboard quantity to the effect of the draw.

That’s the maths out of the way. Time for the graph for semi 1. One country does rather stand out.

2016 Semi 1 draw stats

If Deen isn’t out in the disco celebrating tonight, then he damn well should be. They’ve had a fantastic draw. Obviously, they’ve got Croatia and Montenegro, but the pots were always going to balance that out with the absence of Serbia and Slovenia. Where they’ve really done well is with their non-Balkan voters. I had a quick look over the backing data. Sweden, Finland, Austria, France and, really weirdly, San Marino are all regular sources of points for them.

At the other end of the scale, it’s another bad year for Moldova, as they narrowly pip Netherlands to the title of most screwed. What’s worse is that both have been drawn in the first half of the semi. Armenia are in the second half, but they are suffering from the absence of Georgia, Belgium, Ukraine and Germany.

Let’s go to semi 2

2016 Semi 2 draw stats

For the second year in a row, Lithuania have profited to a greater extent than anyone in their semi. As before they can rake in the votes from Ireland, Latvia and the UK. Poland have also done well and probably for similar reasons. I’m not quite sure how to explain FYR Macedonia’s high placing. The lazy interpretation would be that they’re in the same semi as Albania, but look where their buddy has ended up.

Albania are the biggest losers of the lot (although they did at least get second half). I think them and Serbia are basically Bosnia in reverse, missing out on votes from Sweden and Finland among other non-Balkan helpers. Belgium will also find out what the pressure is in a semi without Netherlands or France.

The good news for those blighted by bad luck is that the worst draws last year went to Israel and Montenegro. No matter who you’ve got voting in your semi, a good tune can always get you out of it.

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Return to Oz


australia 12 points


“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.

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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.

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