No one country, at least, appears to have it in for the British. Eurovision acrimony between some countries is so bad that in 2009, a group of Azerbaijanis who voted for Armenia were summoned for questioning by authorities in Baku. Nonetheless, they are crying foul here in Britain.
Consider the evidence. Last year, Britain was sure that it had a winner when it unleashed Engelbert Humperdinck on the Eurovision masses. Yet the veteran crooner belted his heart out for queen and country, only to land second to last. That paled next to the Great British Humiliation of 2003. The Merseyside band Jemini failed to score a single point and was bested even by the likes of Ukraine’s Oleksandr Ponomaryov, who added insult to injury by wading through a song in English titled “Hasta la Vista.”
“The fact is that you have various blocs voting,” Terry Wogan, the longtime Eurovision commentator for the BBC, famously said before stepping down from the job in 2008. “You’ve got the Eastern Bloc, you’ve got the Balkans, you’ve got the Baltics. The Scandinavians have always voted for each other. We’ve got nobody to vote for us.”
Fighting fire with gasoline
After Eurovision began in the 1950s, the British enjoyed initial success — winning the contest no fewer than five times. A 2005 report by Oxford University even found that British acts — at least from 1992 to 2003 — enjoyed more goodwill from voters than those from many other nations, particularly France.
But until 1999, Eurovision acts had to sing in one of their nations’ official languages, and early British glory may have been partly linked to the status of English as a rare lingua franca in the region. When a parade of tight-jeaned Russian rockers, Swedish songstresses and even French pop acts hit the stage with catchy tunes in hyper-basic “Abba English,” it suddenly upped the ante for the Brits.
Observers say Britain’s involvement in the unpopular Iraq war and a parade of anti-European comments from British politicians probably haven’t helped, either. Yet, amid its losing streak, Britain has responded to fire with gasoline — either shucking onstage the likes of Scooch, a bubblegum dance band with members dressed like flight attendants, or dusting off past-their-prime stars.
Take Bonnie Tyler, please. This nation is holding out for a hero when the 61-year-old Welsh queen of the 1980s takes the stage in Malmo this week. But some who have caught her Eurovision act predict heartache to rival the Humperdinck debacle.
“I think the English have a complex; they need to stop blaming Europe and look inside themselves,” said William Lee Adams, the American editor and chief of wiwibloggs.com, a Eurovision fan site. “I mean, have you seen Bonnie Tyler? She looks like a reanimated corpse on stage. That’s just not going to stand up to Sweden. She was big in the ’80s, but someone needs to tell them this is 2013.”
Eliza Mackintosh contributed to this report.