Eurovision: Why Western European acts fail

As Western media cannot seem to shut up about failing at the Eurovision Song Contest once again, I thought I would summarize my points from yesterday and also add some:

1. Eastern Europe used to be fairly united behind the iron curtain and now mainly consists of many small countries that only recently came into existence. Due to their size and lacking economies of scale, they still often share TV & Radio Stations and record labels. They often speak the same language. And their youth speaks better English than their Western European Counterparts (as their TV-show imports from the US are often not dubbed, only subbed). Therefore they culturally still have more in common than they have differences - especially when coming to taste of music.

However, they do not have much of a connection to Western Europe - again thanks to the iron curtain. Therefore it is quite natural that they would tend to vote for their neighboring countries.

Western Europeans need to get away from the idea that everybody hates them - it is simply a song contest and their songs are less popular in Eastern Europe (where the majority of the votes reside).

2. Many Western European countries only take this competition seriously when it comes to the final.

They repeatedly send acts that are not even very successful in their own country - often one has never heard of them before the competition and never hears abut them again after the competition.

Many of the more successful nations have a different approach. Sweden sent Carola Häggkvist to the Eurovision Song Contest three times: in 1983 (3rd), in 1991 (1st) and in 2006 (5th). Wikipedia: “She has been among Sweden’s most popular performers since the early 1980s”

Sweden also sent Charlotte Perrelli back to the Song Contest this year after winning it in 1999. She might have only finished 18th this year, but she still had three times as many points as Germany or the UK.

Russia’s Dima Bilan finished second in 2006 and returned to win it all this year. He’s had several No.1 hits in Russia.

The opportunity to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest still means something to artists in many Eastern European or Scandinavian countries - and the competition is fierce. This cannot be said about the acts coming from the UK, Germany, France or Spain.

It would be interesting to see what would happen if the UK would send Robbie Williams into the competition or if Germany would send either Scooter (recently No.1 Album in the UK) or Rammstein (who could be as successful as Lordi in 2006).

3. There are far more Eastern European (and also Scandinavian) migrants in Western Europe than vice versa - many migrated across Europe to find better jobs and a better life for their families. Thus they can vote for their home country from abroad - and by the way, this is not a conspiracy, they simply enjoy their home country’s music.

4. The migrant factor becomes even more important in the countries that dropped out in the semifinals. Many in those countries will not watch the finals if their act is not competing - thus the migrants (who more often than not will be watching if their home country’s act is still in the race) have an even greater opportunity to influence the votes from abroad in favor of their home country.

5. Expectations are way too high: With 43 entries this year, a country’s average chance of winning is an abyssmal 2.33% - 97.67% of the countries will not win and be terribly dissapointed. Failure is to be expected - and even more so when factoring in all the points above.

6. Nevertheless, I can understand Western Europe’s frustration, it has indeed become far more difficult to win the competition in the past 10 years. However, the real problem - if it is a problem - is that each countries’ votes are equally weighted, no matter whether 70 thousand people live in a country (Andorra) or more than 80 million (Germany). As a result, minority choices have a far greater chance of success. If this is a problem, it needs to be addressed - after all, it’s also an issue within the European Union.

However, can’t we just agree that it’s not about winning, but that it’s the taking part that matters? This contest is about Europe - a bold experiment which needs time and patience.

20 years ago Europe was still in the cold war, and now people are complaining about a song contest? Isn’t that slightly ridiculous?

3 Responses to “Eurovision: Why Western European acts fail”

  1. Bill Chapman Says:

    There’s a linguistic aspect to all of this. Would it not be fairer if every country’s song were sung in Esperanto?

    Esperanto works! I learned it in my late teens, and I’ve used it in speech and writing in a dozen countries over recent years. As a planned auxiliary language, it is easier to learn and use than national tongues.

  2. Kevin Says:

    Nice outside-the-box thinking!

    However my gut feeling tells me that viewing figures would probably drop considerably, as only very few people actually speak Esperanto.

    2007 was the first and only year that a non-English song won the contest since 1999, when they dropped the rule that each country’s act had to sing in one of its own national languages.

    Nevertheless - are there currently any songs in Esperanto? Would not mind listening to something to get a feeling for it…

  3. Eurovision 2011 Live Blog | Says:

    […] In past years there has been much controversy around the overperformance of Eastern European acts due to cross-voting, which I also commented on in 2008. In the following two years however, Western European acts won (in my eyes due to increased quality), so it will be interesting to see what happens tonight. […]

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