Is the Eurovision Song Contest a political farce?

Will Spencer 10 May 2014

Many are the criticisms levelled at the Eurovision Song Contest, the final of which will be held in Copenhagen tonight. Most of its detractors are particularly irked by the conspicuous politicisation of the voting, which seems a bizarre grievance, given the unavoidably European nature of the event. The most conspicuous problem with the event as a form of musical entertainment is, surely, the largely universally appalling quality of the music itself.

Fortunately, though, no one is taking it seriously as a musical spectacle; even the presenters spend the evening searching for a cheap joke at every turn rather than focusing on the content of the songs. One might think this a cause for despair at an occasion which revolves around the act of singing, and one hopes that it is adequately humiliating for the people ostentatiously showcasing their lack of ability to Europe’s living rooms. However, it is precisely this unabashed farcicality which gives Eurovision its appeal. 

In the duplicitous, commercialised realm of the music world, its charm is unique. Alongside other televised music awards ceremonies and programmes, it possesses a refreshing honesty; namely, the none-too-implicit admittance that the ‘talent’ on display is purely perfunctory, secondary to the desire to simply put on an accessible show for a mass audience. 

Ceremonies such as the Brit Awards secretly have the same aim, of course, but take themselves reasonably seriously. Take, for instance, Alex Turner’s slurred lamentation of the state of music and the material importance of awards at the Brits: It may have been neither so fêted nor life-affirming as the NME would have us believe, but the online and media catcalls shrieking “How dare he?! Who does he think he is?!” betrayed pomposity and ignorance. 

Moreover, for every Eurovision Song Contest there is a plenitude of X Factor-esque contests designed to fill the pockets of bigwigs at record companies by duping gullible teenagers into believing they can make it as a star. Rather than undermine the competition, Eurovision’s politicisation gives it an added dimension which distracts from the music and turns it into a sort of bitching-by-voting, European-scale Big Brother. The sole fact that Engelbert Humperdinck was tempted on in 2012 lays bare the chasm between Eurovision and X Factor. The former is a relatively loveable paean to the prejudices within and without the European Union; the latter is crippling the music industry.