Eurovision, a huge media event on a par with the Super Bowl in this part of the world, is an international music smackdown seen by some as blending the drama of “American Idol” with the intrigue of a U.N. summit. Others call it a bloated parade of unadulterated cheese. Either way, as acts from 26 countries prepare for harmonic battle at the Eurovision finals in Sweden this week, the national mood in Britain is grim.
No British artist has won the coveted Eurovision title since 1997, and it’s not for lack of trying. As is so often the case on these isles where the English Channel doubles as a cultural gulf, the British smell a continental plot. At a time when Prime Minister David Cameron is pledging a referendum on whether to pull his nation out of the European Union, the grumbling here spotlights a basic question for the region: Is Britain out of tune with the rest of Europe?
Stereotyped by continentals as binge-drinking vacationers and monolingual louts, the English in particular consider themselves a much-maligned group that other Europeans love to hate. Thus, they contend, Eurovision is skewed against them. After all, although supposedly impartial juries of industry professionals also weigh in, a major portion of the votes used to decide the winner are phoned in by viewers on the continent.
In addition, though viewers can technically vote for any country but their own, a flurry of scholarly studies
from Oxford to Brussels has shown the call-in vote to be a reflection of the region’s body politic and ethnic ties. As sure as sunset on the Aegean Sea, Greece will vote for Cyprus, and vice versa. Have no fear, Belarus, Russia’s got your back. But while Britain has a fair-weather friend in Ireland, some here argue that this nation — in Eurovision, as with so many other things in Europe — is simply the odd man out.
In what has become a British tradition, everyone from soccer stars to media pundits to rank-and-file viewers publicly bemoaned the politics of Eurovision after last year’s loss. Just days before this year’s show, the BBC’s Eurovision Facebook page is peppered with cynicism. “It’s all political, underhand block voting, and, everyone hates us so we will never win it!!” complained Craig Studd in one post.
“They support each other” on the continent, said Brandon Ham, an 18-year-old musical theater major in Cardiff who sent out a tweet likening the Eurovision competition to a popularity contest. “I think they see us as something completely different.”
Mounted with enough lights, sound and costumes to make a Las Vegas stage look like an Amish town council meeting, Eurovision helped launch the careers of Abba and Celine Dion, with winning songs often going on to become international smash hits. Contestants come from the core nations of Europe and as far away as the Middle East and the Caucasus, with each national act performing original songs of three minutes or less.