UK Eurovision fans are tired.
Two days ago, 5th September 2021, The Daily Mail published an article titled “Even Macca couldn’t win Eurovision for Britain! Music bosses tell BBC they won’t humiliate their stars in the competition in a backlash against ‘anti-British bias”.
I am not going to attempt to hide my biases in this article. I’ve been a Eurovision fan for 18 years and much of that in more recent years has stemmed from everything the contest stands for in my eyes – international cooperation, unity, peace, togetherness, a pride in one’s culture coupled with an equal desire to share in the cultures of others, showcased in one week of some of the most talented artists from countries across Europe and the world. I am writing this article because I love the contest.
These are my observations on the Daily Mail article as a microcosmic example of the wider attitude of the UK media around Eurovision, and how we can do better.
The Daily Mail article: In depth
The headline starts with the assumption that not even Macca – Paul McCartney, for non-Brits – would not be able to win Eurovision were he to represent the UK. Later in the article, a “record industry boss” is quoted, saying that “we could have entered Paul McCartney backed by the Spice Girls and still ended up finishing in last place“.
The second piece of information that we are given is that BBC chiefs have “irritated” members of the UK music industry by asking them to submit acts to participate as national representatives in the contest. The contest is presented as a chore for artists to participate in, and a career-destroyer for artists. This is repeated later in the article, with the idea that the BBC are “arrogantly demanding” artists take part.
We then get our first mention of the B-word: Brexit. The source of “anti-UK bias” that these unnamed record executives believe is responsible for our poor results in recent years. Perhaps, as a British person, I don’t quite get the mainland European mindset. However, I find it hard to believe that anyone would be typing the telephone number into their mobile to vote for the UK and pause just before hitting the call button, thinking, “oh, but wait, they did Brexit.” Maybe that’s just me.
The article goes on to discuss James Newman’s 0-points result in 2021 and how the result was “greeted with huge cheers by the audience inside the arena in Rotterdam.” This is utterly dishonest, misrepresentative journalism. An audience cheering to support to an artist, phrased with such a strong victim mentality, in an attempt to reinforce the idea that the rest of Europe hates us. They don’t.
Before a description of how points are awarded, the article takes a moment to remind us that “voting at the Eurovision Song Contest has long been dogged with controversy amid claims of bloc voting by countries, in particular former Soviet nations.” Definitely making sure to pick out the Eastern European countries there to single out, and not the Nordics, Greece/Cyprus or Portugal/Spain. Funny which of those nationalities faces the most prejudice in UK society, too.
The article concludes with a dig at 2021 winners Måneskin, describing them as “glam rockers who took to the stage in flared lederhosen with their nipples out.” Even winning doesn’t protect you from media ridicule – certainly if you’re foreign, anyway.
Ultimately this is an article which provides no named sources and is based almost entirely on speculation and rumour. It exists simply to reinforce the narrative of Eurovision as a negative concept. And I feel like I just want to grab the writer of this article (Katie Hind, if you’re interested) and scream at her, and the quoted music industry bosses, and everyone else who perpetuates this narrative:
“Stop being the fucking victim. You’re not. You’re the ones responsible for this humiliation. You need to do better.”
But it’s not just one article…
The culture of Eurovision coverage in the UK media creates a vicious cycle, within which artists are ridiculed for participating and therefore making it significantly harder and less enticing for other acts to consider taking part themselves – regardless of their levels of fame or fortune.
The Daily Mail article that prompted this piece describes Eurovision as humiliating for an artist. And yet they continue to amplify that humiliation. Not even a month, they published an article with the headline “Eurovision flop James Newman and three members of Rudimental WIN High Court copyright row against Voice UK contestant who claimed 2013 hit ‘Waiting All Night’ ‘substantially reproduced’ 2006 song“. In an article which had nothing to do with the contest, they continued to push Newman’s unsuccessful result over his many successes as an artist – not ‘Brit Award-winning James Newman’, or ‘Number One artist James Newman’, but ‘Eurovision flop’.
The key pattern amongst UK mainstream media when it comes to coverage of the contest is the sense of arrogance and cultural supremacy which underlies it. Stories which suggest that we could send Adele/Paul McCartney/insert globally-famous British act here and still do poorly within the contest fail to recognise that the power of British Fame alone is not enough for them to succeed – they would need to present a good song, perform it well, and stand out from the rest of the competition to see victory. If fame were all that mattered, we’d be heading to San Marino in 2022.
This pattern is visible across the UK media. Lorraine Kelly, columnist and TV presenter, has multiple instances of showing outright disdain for the contest, even directly to representatives themselves. In much the same way, Phillip Schofield, Piers Morgan and Jeremy Vine, among others, have expressed similar thoughts. Even the BBC themselves has fallen into this pattern, with Newman’s pre-contest interviews on BBC Radio Yorkshire questioning why he was even taking part at all.
Music bosses don’t want their artists just to face the shame of Eurovision. They don’t want artists to undergo the humiliation that the UK media bestows upon artists as a result of simply participating. In my other life as a sociology lecturer, I teach about stigma and the idea of how stigmatising labels become ‘sticky’ and hard to shake off. The contest holds a stigma in wider British culture, and those that hold power, including the media, are responsible for perpetuating that. They are also the ones that can most easily push the process of destigmatisation.
We can do better
Our attitude to the contest needs to change. It needs to move away from being fuelled by some deep-rooted superiority complex to one that fully embraces participation on a playing field of equals, all with the same motivations: to put on a good performance and entertain a crowd, and maybe show off a bit of our national talent and culture at the same time.
We cannot enter Eurovision with the intent to show everyone else that we’re better than them. We’re not. And we’re certainly not better than them if we make little to no effort to support our artists – we as in the country as a whole and we as in the delegation, broadcaster and media representing us. Perhaps my favourite article ever written addressing the contest is The Secret Challenges of Representing the UK at Eurovision. In this piece, VICE’s Michael Segalov spends time around the 2018 contest with SuRie, as well as other Eurovision fans, considering the cultural reputation of the contest in the UK and the experiences of artists selected to represent their country. It considers the challenges faced by the BBC as a public broadcaster being unable to promote their act (as a “product”), and how ultimately the delegation and broadcaster exists to work within their own interests with Eurovision, not in the interests of the artist putting themselves on the line in front of 180 million people. However, one of the most telling quotes comes from Benny Royston, a Eurovision expert:
One reason Brits love to mock Eurovision is because of our inflated sense of self-importance: we do very little to support our entries, or to hype and preview the show ourselves on British soil, and yet still assume we have some God-given right to victory.Royston, B. (2018) The Secret Challenges of Representing the UK at Eurovision.
I am the first person to be critical of the concept that media is consumed by audiences uncritically (I work in one of the most controversial genres myself, after all!), but there are no voices in our mainstream media representing an alternative viewpoint. It’s not that the dominant cultural narrative holds the contest in low esteem – it’s that the only narrative does. The attitude is pervasive, right down to Wogan and Norton’s commentary, which has become known for the way that it toes the line between genuine, loving amusement and an unkind snobbish, mockery. Artists are seen as products to push, singles to sell, viewers to attract, and fail to be viewed as human beings within the process. What’s more, after they take part, the stickiness of the Eurovision stigma label stays with them forever, prime to face the humiliation that the British media is willing to bestow upon them. All because we can’t get over our own damn national superiority complex.
The final word
For the final word in this article, I am going to hand it to fellow TES contributor Helen. When I first mentioned wanting to write this piece, she responded with the sentence which most accurately sums up the feeling of so many UK fans:
“We as fans shouldn’t have to apologise on behalf of our broadcaster every time they open their mouths.”– Groothuis, H. (2021) That Eurovision Site Team Facebook Chat
It should not be on us as fans to apologise on behalf of our broadcaster, our media, our delegation. If we want to do well, Eurovision can no longer be seen as a cheap way to achieve 8m viewers in a prime time television slot, tuning in to hear Norton laugh at foreigners. Only if the UK media fully embrace the ethos of the contest and enter it with an attitude of celebration rather than supremacy can we begin to make changes to the UK’s fate at the contest itself. In the meantime, it is a disgrace that artists who participate are treated with such humiliation and disdain. If we can’t get behind our own artists, how can we expect the rest of Europe to do so as well?
UK media, you need to do better for us to do better.
How do you feel that the UK can improve the national image of the contest? If you’re not in the UK, how is the coverage of the contest in your country? As always, let us know what you think in the comments below or on social media. Don’t forget to follow ‘That Eurovision Site’ over at Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Photo source: EBU/Thomas Hanses