Tag Archives: Eurovision

Playing the Eurovision Game

This year was another Eurovision Song Contest, and another where the ongoing pattern of the UK entry doing spectacularly badly continued, as it ended up in joint last place with 14 points. As is often the case the general opinion is that although the UK entry wasn’t perhaps a winner, “Even Ifâ€? sung by Andy Abraham certainly didn’t deserve the placing it received. Having accurately predicted a win by Russia before the show even started, Sir Terry Wogan is now questioning whether he will commentate in future years, on the basis that in his opinion it has ceased to be a song contest, with his comments being backed by a number of other notable figures.

The UK press is rife with accusations of political voting – an accusation that would maybe hold water if it wasn’t for the fact that all the scores are delivered via a national phone vote. But as the BBC highlighted earlier in the week, there still are some complex patterns at play. For example Doctor Derek Gatherer who correctly predicted a win for Serbia last year using an analysis of previous voting patterns, predicted a win for the Ukraine. Serbia were disadvantaged by only being heard in the final – as the host they do not participate in the semi-finals, a similar situation to the UK, Germany, France and Spain, all of whom were placed in the bottom half of the results. Whilst he didn’t predict the winner correctly – Ukraine came second, he said that Russia, the actual winner would do well, and also said that Turkey and Greece would do well, placed seventh and third respectively.

What actually shapes the voting is decades worth of politics. Whilst the rules stop countries for voting for their own song, there is little they can do about the significant minorities in some countries, particularly significant being the Russian minorities in the former Soviet republics, and the significant minorities in the former Yugoslav republics. Similar voting patterns have been around for years, for example the way Germany always gives a significant vote to Turkey thanks to the large Turkish minority in Germany.

The voting system itself also plays a part. By way of a quick recap (or introduction), the voting works like this. Firstly, each participating country holds a national phone vote. The result of this vote is taken and collated, and this is transferred into points for only the top ten in the phone vote, with twelve points for first place, ten for second, and then eight to one points for the remaining eight places. So for example if a song consistently scores mid-table in most phone votes, this wouldn’t be reflected in the points awarded – the voting system adds weight to songs which are locally very popular, so a song that goes down well in the former Yugoslav republics, but does really badly elsewhere, could easily have more points in the final total than a song that scored consistently, but rarely in the top ten across the whole of Europe. Along similar lines, the UK could probably do somewhat better if it participated as England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as the voting system gives more power to voters in smaller countries, with countries such as San Marino, Monaco and Andorra having equal voting power to big countries such as the UK, France and Germany.

However, the UK also doesn’t seem to play the Eurovision game quite as well as some of the new participants. When you look at the top three singers we have Dima Bilan, a big star who has had multiple number one hits in the Russian market, similarly Ani Lorak who sang for Ukraine is a well known artist across a number of European countries. In common with a number of other participants including third placed Kalomoira, they went on promotional tours with their songs around Europe in the run up to the competition. It’s also worth noting that all three of the songs came through the semi-finals so got exposure through those a couple of days before the main event. Compare this to Andy Abraham who came second in X-Factor in 2005, and one top twenty UK hit, and probably has never been heard of across the rest of Europe. Being heard once, very early on in the contest, and without much Europe-wide visibility for either the artist or the song, it’s not really surprising that it lost out as it did. Of course it is perfectly possibly for a Europe-wide unknown to win – just take a look at Lordi who produced a memorable song, along with a memorable performance, and received votes from almost everybody, but by going for an establish artist, and ensuring press coverage in other nations (Lordi made the UK news as arguments about their participation raged) ensures that people are aware of your song before they hear it on the night.

So assuming that the UK doesn’t just give up next year, what should we do? First off it needs to be a good song, and certainly gag John Barrowman when he spouts rubbish about what kind of songs do well – if you look back over UK entrants, the only time we’ve been top ten, indeed top three in the past decade was with a big ballad. But ultimately it’s also about how well it is promoted, about playing the game. Once it is selected by the UK, the people who are going to vote for it are spread across Europe, so it needs to be known there to figure in the minds of the voters.

Needless YouTube gives the opportunity for some comparison. First off, here is a clip of the UK performance:

Then this is the third placed Greek song:

This song came second from Ukraine:

The winning Russian song was this:

If you want to relive the whole set of twenty-five finalists, they have a special playlist just for you…

Is There Any Such Thing as a Eurovision Song?

Thank heavens there are some of the British public who have their heads screwed on and can recognise a half-decent song. I only watched about ten minutes of the main show, and the results show of this weekends annual effort to pick the British entry to Eurovision, and that was enough.

At one point, John Barrowman came out with the comment that ballads didn’t do very well in Eurovision – you only need to listen to what won for Ireland over a number of years – all big ballads… Based on their voting it is pretty clear what the judges thought would be good – cheesy, gimmicky songs – possibly true, you only need look back a couple of years to Lordi to confirm that, but what it also needs is a half decent song to go along with the gimmick. The gimmick to some extent is there to make your act stand out from the other forty odd in the competition – but once you’ve got that reminder it needs to be a decent song. To my mind there is a common misconception of what is a “Eurovision Song”, but when you look at the reality, that’s not correct. For example following on from Lordi there was a noticeable increase in rock numbers the next year – not that they did overly well. Cheesy europop has won at times, but other years it’s totally the opposite. The trick is producing a song that is memorable for the right reasons, and of course one that can rise above the political voting.

On Saturday, and from the pre-publicity, it was pretty clear who everybody was pushing as our act. However Michelle Gayle’s seemed to be all gimmick and no song – they tried that last year, and look what happened…

True, I don’t think this Andy Abraham’s effort is stand out enough get through the political voting, but at least the public voted for a decent song…

At Least we Didn’t Come Last…

Another Eurovision, and another block vote spectacular!

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For a long while it looked as though the UK was heading for a repeat of their ‘nul points’ performance by Jemini in the 2003 contest. In the end a grand total of two out of the forty-two voting countries actually gave us points – the two countries that most often give us points, 7 points from Ireland, and top marks, a 12 from Malta. Ironically it was the Irish vote that relegated their own entry to last place.

Ironically, considering the mess when our song was selected, when Scooch ultimately won, the second placed song was a big ballad, and that is what won – a big ballad from Serbia. Having said that, whatever we would have put forward, I would have been surprised if we had come that much higher. Most of the western European countries were knocked out in the semi-final, and those that remained, including the big four who automatically qualify – the UK, Germany, France and Spain – were all in the bottom six.

There was a real eclectic mix of styles this time around, with glam rock from Sweeden, a German swing number, and traditional Irish folk (that came last with only Albania giving them any points at all). There was a definite Lordi effect though, with a noticeable increase in the more hard rock numbers.

However what I suspect will garner most complaints this year as in a number of recent years will be the block voting. Whilst in the past, it used to be quite amusing that Greece and Cyprus would always vote for each other for example, it didn’t seem to have that much of an effect. With the break up of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, large parts of the voting appeared to be being affected by these block votes tonight – indeed even the UK votes were from our traditional block with Ireland and Malta. However it was noticeable that on several occasions the audience in Finland booed 12 point votes that appeared to be blatantly political. Short of changing the voting system though, there is not really anything that can be done. Perhaps the only way we in the UK can increase our chances is to enter as four separate countries – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales – rather than the United Kingdom – then at least we can all vote for each other to increase our votes…

Update: A couple of related news items. Firstly, Malta have all but accused some of the other countries of cheating in the phone vote, plus parts of the German media are unhappy and demanding that Germany withdraw from the competition, and secondly, British MP’s are demanding changes to the voting system, or that the BBC withdraw from subsequent contests. Certainly it will be interesting to see quite what will happen if two of the big four broadcasters who bankroll the competition pull out…

Bookies Odds – Totally Wrong

So the bookies odds again proved hopeless to predict the outcome of a Eurovision vote. Tonight, the UK picked their entry for the upcoming competition in Finland, and this afternoon the bookies were predicting a win for Justin Hawkins, former Darkness front-man, offering 6/4 odds on him winning.

However in the programme tonight, he didn’t even make it to the final two, an announcement which saw him storm off stage. Indeed out of the six options, the two the British public picked for the final sing-off were placed fourth and sixth by the bookies odds, and the eventual winner was Scooch, the 10/1 outsiders placed last by the bookies (although there was a good deal of confusion when Terry Wogan messed up and announced the wrong winner).

Temporary Blip – Or a Total Change?

Now on the basis of all the pre-publicity, thanks to the number of Finns complaining about their entry, I thought that Finnish Rock Band Lordi would probably do fairly well. However, they pretty well walked away with the whole competition, beating the second place song by almost 50 points. Considering that Father Mitro Repo, who appeared on the BBC complaining about the band said that he thought it was a protest by youngsters annoyed that Finland had failed to score highly in Eurovision the previous year, perhaps the youngsters seem to have a better idea of what would go down well than the rest of the country!

In terms of the competition as a whole, Lordi stood out mainly because they were something a bit different. Indeed one of the old ladies at church today commented that she thought they were entertaining as a band – which did slightly surprise me. It did also help that Finland is in one of the many Eurovision voting blocks, which gave it a boost over and above the Russian entry, which as usual was helped by big votes from all the former Soviet Republics (which of course all have large Russian minority populations). Ireland made a big improvement by sending Brian Kennedy, who I first came across supporting the Corrs on tour a few years ago. Their song was really the kind of thing that won them the competition a number of times a few years ago, however with the block votes of the Balkan countries, the former Soviet republics and the Scandinavian countries they ended up in the middle running – enough to keep them in the top flight next year. The UK finished well down the rankings again – better than last year, but still in a spot where if we weren’t paying a large part of the costs of the competition we’d be relegated to the semi-final next year.

So the real question will be whether this is just a temporary blip, or whether the win by Lordi will result in something a bit different next year from the pop numbers and ballads that usually get performed. The thing is that they are not the first to try something different. For example the UK entry this year was a rap number, which didn’t do overly well, and the Germans put in a Country and Western song, which didn’t do much better either. Of course whether it is a change or not, trying to win against the block votes is getting increasingly difficult – and largely it won’t change much until the EBU come up with a voting system that can negate the effect of the block voting.