Written by Jasmine Waters
You guessed it – another year has passed with the UK performing badly at the Eurovision Song Contest. Except, to add insult to injury, the 2021 Grand Final gifted us no points at all. Something that should be almost impossible under the 2016 changes to the voting system. This may seem like a usual occurrence but is something that has only happened to good old Blighty once before, in 2003. As expected, legions of Brits took to social media to express their condolences, disgust and proclamations of why we even bother trying at all. Can we really blame it all on Brexit, or are we actually the most hated country in the European continent?
It’s no secret that the United Kingdom has a rocky relationship with many of its European counterparts on a wider socio-political level. As we’ve come to learn over the last 65 years, you can’t have Eurovision performance without politics, and in many cases, one shouldn’t be without the other. A major side effect of Euro-etiquette is allegiant voting. Much like getting a high-flying job, sometimes it’s more about who you know (just look at Greece and Cyprus). These voting cliques often leave the UK like the only child that can’t make friends on the playground. However, the reasoning for why is not something that can ever be certain.
For the last five years, the rhetoric pouring out of Britain’s every orifice has told Europe to keep their deals and opportunities to themselves. Understandably, the effects are enough to ruffle a few feathers at a light-hearted singing contest. Where a Eurovision appearance can shoot European contestants to stardom (just like ABBA), it’s viewed as nothing more than career destroying territory for the UK. We’re firmly invested in the belief that we shouldn’t be competing in Eurovision at all, convinced in our denial that political correctness will scorn us before we set foot on Europe’s biggest stage. If this genuinely is the case, we’ve arguably earned it. In one fell swoop, we’ve managed to alienate most other participants, now only deemed close through geographical location. Our stereotypes are held up by the likes of Amanda Holden, our daytime talk shows fuel the fire of boycott, despite Eurovision being amazing value for money in terms of viewer engagement. The fact we don’t tend to vote politically certainly works in our favour. But if we don’t take our Eurovision outings seriously, how will anyone else?
When the contest is rooted so heavily in inclusion and regarded highly by everyone except us, it’s lazy to resort to a xenophobic answer. What if our music is just terrible? 2021’s entry came in the form of James Newman, who submitted the middling vibes of Embers after an obviously thwarted attempt to compete in 2020. Described by some as a song that might be best suited as background sound for a Love Island VT, it arguably wasn’t our best – but certainly wasn’t our worst. Unlike the embarrassing fallout for Jemini, our entry was harmless and enjoyable, performed by a likable guy with a great voice. The problem could be initially dissected into two parts (if we leave politics at the door momentarily). There’s the fact we’re up against countries who are sending their best and beloved chart-toppers, whereas we’ve only known poor James for three seconds prior to his Eurovision debut. There’s also a distinct sense of heritage and culture present in any European entries; something we arguably have never authentically had at all.
It didn’t always used to be this way, though. The United Kingdom has won the contest a total of five times, fronted by well-known performers like Lulu and Katrina and the Waves. We even managed to come 5th in 2009, after an onslaught of terrible songs and embarrassing scores (remember flying the flag for Scooch?). Statistically, we’re well overdue for a chance to be on the left-hand side of the leaderboard, but it feels like it’s game over for good. It might soothe our public conscience to know we’re not usually alone in these defeats. Germany, Spain and the Netherlands each scored 0 points in the public vote of this year’s final, while past winners like Israel and Russia have come under fire in recent years despite performing well. Even if we convinced a BRIT award winner to participate (though Gina G did win a Grammy while coming 8th), political spite may chase us for succeeding, like it plagues us when losing.
In the midst of it all, James was extremely gracious in defeat. It was humbling and heart-warming to see his fellow competitors rally around him in his hour of need, although the cynic could regard this as purely public showmanship. There’s no way anyone could definitively say we do badly exclusively at the hands of politics, or just because our songs are forgettable at best or excruciating at worst. But despite this age-old tug-of-war, we definitely do not understand Eurovision anymore. We don’t embody the unrelenting charm of Iceland, the rooted heritage of Ukraine or the pure performance sexiness of Italy. In a divided nation, we have lost a collective identity that shows in what and who we choose to represent us. We should see our participation in Eurovision as an act of wholesome pride, using it as a springboard to experiment and play with exactly the kind of Great Britain we could be. Until we change our thinking, let’s cheer for Ireland and hope they give us some points in return.
Featured images courtesy of Pexels. No changes have been made to these images.