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Mea culpa: The art of being wrong about Eurovision

by | May 16, 2018

Mea culpa: The art of being wrong about Eurovision

by | May 16, 2018 | Eurovision, Featured | 1 comment

People are wrong about the Eurovision Song Contest all the time. And that’s okay. After all, if we knew everything that was going to happen, there’d be no point in having a contest in the first place.

But when you write your thoughts on any kind of public forum – even a relatively small website like ours – it’s important to be able to put your hands up and acknowledge not only when you get things wrong, but why you get things wrong.

As the dust settles, then, this is my mea culpa (and not in a Catarina Pereira way) – a look at some of the things I totally failed to see coming at ESC 2018.

Where to start but with this year’s runner-up, Cyprus? I never truly believed in “Fuego”, even once the press centre hype had firmly kicked in. By the time of our final team predictions, I’d given into the inevitable and rated it the most likely winner (although not to the extent that it derailed our overall team prediction of an Israeli victory, thankfully). I still think it’s an absolute nothing of a song, albeit one that fits nicely into the current real-world pop music trend of using instrumental hooks instead of actual choruses. What I failed to grasp was exactly what you can achieve by performing the arse off a nothing of a song. The Cypriot staging was far more than just a tacky rehash of “Düm tek tek” or “Qele qele“; it was inspired by dark and interesting elements of entries like “LoveWave” too, making the whole thing a lot more modern and less inherently cheap.

And obviously the real ace in the pack was Eleni Foureira. What a performer, if you like that kind of thing. Beyond her dance moves, though, what I didn’t realise was just how warm, fun and personable she would be – not to mention meme-friendly, of course. The moment we saw fans in the arena holding up “YEAH YEAH FIRE” signs, I knew it was game over, and the only question was whether Cyprus could still be denied victory.

Of course, despite fan rumours to the contrary, Eleni didn’t actually win the semi-final and hence didn’t really merit her position at the very top of the betting odds. With that being the case, I still think there’s an element of groupthink involved in her result in the grand final. Would the juries have been quite as generous if they hadn’t known Cyprus was the favourite in the betting and if “Fuego” hadn’t been given a prime spot in the running order? I have my doubts – jurors are people too, after all, and just as susceptible to external influences as the rest of us. But the fact remains that Cyprus was the second favourite of the viewers at home, and I’m happy to hold my hands up and celebrate the island nation’s best finish on the scoreboard by some distance.

I’m not going to apologise for a prediction made from a position of cynicism as long as we have the likes of Azerbaijan and Armenia ranking each other in last place under all circumstances, but still: I assumed Russia could qualify for the final with anything, even a singer who can’t actually sing particularly well and a fairly limp and tired staging concept. After 2018, I’ll have to revise that to “almost anything”.

When you’re inside the fan bubble, it can be easy to forget that the Eurovision Song Contest is, first and foremost, a family light entertainment show. That explains why viewers warmed to Michał Szpak‘s cheesy balladry and Jack Sparrow styling in 2016 whereas the juries firmly rejected “Color Of Your Life”, and it also goes some way to explaining the jury/televoting disparity for this year’s Danish entry. Rasmussen and his band of pacifist marauders actually have a lot in common with Szpak – a familiar, almost parodic visual style (your standard Game of Thrones/Vikings motif), a non-threatening and easily accessible song, and an inherent naffness that they were happy to own rather than appearing embarrassed by. Add in some live backing vocals that brought far more life to the entry than it had shown in the Danish final, and it’s no wonder “Higher Ground” outperformed my expectations. Winning the semi-final televote is still a bit baffling though!

Jurywank. Should have known.

This is the biggie. So many of my assumptions went astray here: The voters did not respond badly to the obvious similarities between “You Let Me Walk Alone” and a certain Adele number. Literally nobody but me gives a damn whether the lyrics of a Eurovision song are a bit clunky and don’t seem to appreciate that there isn’t a 1:1 equivalence between the German “lassen” and the English “let”.

And then there’s Michael Schulte himself. “Singer who became famous singing cover versions on the internet” is such a tired old trope that I took against him immediately, especially as that background seemed at odds with the claim of “authenticity” being foisted on him by Peter Urban and the Unser Lied für Lissabon process in general. Not only did that sense of irritation cloud my initial judgement, but Michael has come across as a thoroughly decent guy in every interview since, far removed from the self-pitying wet blanket suggested by his lyrics, and that humility undoubtedly helped to make “…Alone” work as a package.

Most importantly of all, though, I totally misread how the song itself would connect with its audience. As Eurovision fans of a certain demographic, we can get so fixated on looking for “high-end” relatable content – with examples in 2018 including Netta’s body-positivity and #MeToo message, Italy’s carefully subtitled peace anthem, France’s hymn to refugee tolerance – that we overlook how a common human experience, a heteronormative family tale delivered simply and honestly, can be ultra-relatable for the people at home.

I still feel like the live staging was too dark and inorganic for an emotional song like Schulte’s, but nobody casting their votes on Saturday night seemed to mind. And how brilliant for Germany to get the much-needed confidence boost of a good result after several years of mediocrity (and worse). Would they mind sharing a few tips with the UK?

The Netherlands
Just kidding. Waylon’s still a douche.

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1 Comment

  1. mike

    LOL at the very last bit. Perfect summation of that. I missed Austria too. Shuda wuda cuda!!! I had Norway as winning everything – and the win in it’s semi proved that it could have gone there – but the draw and juries always trip me up in the end.
    Oh and LOLOLOLOL at Sweden tele(not)vote 🙂

1 Comment

  1. mike

    LOL at the very last bit. Perfect summation of that. I missed Austria too. Shuda wuda cuda!!! I had Norway as winning everything – and the win in it’s semi proved that it could have gone there – but the draw and juries always trip me up in the end.
    Oh and LOLOLOLOL at Sweden tele(not)vote 🙂

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