Does Eurovision retain its status as an entertainment/cultural moment for Brits these days; or are its sequined days in decline and as good as over, bar the singing?
Alright, full disclosure: I love Eurovision. Have done for about 10 years, ever since my friends and I, just out of University, were too skint to go out one Saturday night in May and turned that night’s big TV event and Graham Norton’s superb commentary into a drinking game.
We still do it every year but, while the rules of our game haven’t changed, has Eurovision’s place in popular culture for Brits shifted to a place of no return following more than two decades of failure after Katrina and the Waves’ 1997 victory with ‘Love Shine a Light’?
After James Newman returned to London with the dreaded nul points for ‘Embers’ in 2021, tabloid headlines rang out claims for another year of ‘anti-British bias’ at Eurovision, with accusations of political voting and the reality of Brexit effectively cutting off any scraps of pop music-related we could have hoped for (despite Embers not really being the UK’s best work).
In fact, such was the level of suspicion for biased voting, record label BMG who master-minded Newman’s entry are said to have refused to take part again in future years, with other major labels following suit in a bid to protect their artists and time.
An insider quote featured on the MailOnline went as far as to say: “The truth is we could have entered Paul McCartney backed by the Spice Girls and still ended up finishing in last place. The feeling inside the UK music industry is that there is now open bias against our acts.”
A resounding point of view from the record labels themselves, but what of the viewers’ opinions? You’d be forgiven for assuming that, after many hard years for British hopefuls on the big stage, their supporters had lost interest – but the actual viewing figures themselves tell a different story.
According to Eurovision World, 2021’s Grand Final saw a 6% increase in viewership in the UK to 2019 – with a total audience of 7.4M. Sure it’s not the 31M that tuned in for Italy beating England on penalties in the Euros, but it’s not a small number (in fact the biggest audience in Europe) and the important fact is that it’s growing.
But what does this mean for this year’s lamb to the slaugh- sorry, UK hopeful, TikTok star and Parlophone artist Sam Ryder, who is shooting for the moon (double sorry) with his upbeat, atmospheric track ‘SPACE MAN’? We already know from previous years that TikTok and Eurovision can complement each other well, with Iceland’s Dadi Freyr’s hit ‘Think About Things’ from the cancelled Eurovision 2020 finding a huge audience on the platform – could Sam Ryder be about to make the jump the other way to huge fame and success?
My take for Sam Ryder is that, whatever happens, the audience will be big but the pressure will be off. While Sam will naturally be hoping for success, the British public and record labels won’t be expecting anything, and as millions of us tune in again this year to Europe’s biggest song circus we can just enjoy it for what it is – pure pop pageantry.
So when it comes to the British public’s perception of Eurovision and whether it is a tired trivial pastime, I think the best thing we can all do is take a leaf out of the book of some of my favourite Eurovision acts over the years: let’s just not take it too seriously.